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The Food of Japan Culinary Delights for the Body and Soul

Traveling and seeking Japanese food

Food journalist, Christopher K. Loew's report on Japanese food from his participation in a foreign media tour in Japan.

American TV show to feature Ehime yellowtail and sea bream

"Culinary Travels with Dave Eckert" is a popular show on the Wealth TV Channel, distributed by cable and satellite service providers in USA. The show was previously aired on the Public Broadcasting Service between 1996 until 2009, with more than 200 episodes. Unlike cooking shows or restaurant reviews, Culinary Travels presents themed segments showing a region, the local ingredients, and local specialty dishes.

MAFF invited Eckert to Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku Island in September 2009 to help introduce Japanese cuisine to the USA. The show was filmed in Matsuyama and Uwajima cities. The episode focused on seafood, as the prefecture is a leading producer of farmed yellowtail and sea bream.Eckert and his crew visited the local fish market in Uwajima City and ate yellowtail in a variety of dishes, including Carpaccio and buri-shabu.

Buri-shabu is made in much the same way as beef shabu shabu, but with yellowtail. Dashi stock, made of water, sake and konbu (kelp) is heated at the table in an earthenware pot over a portable gas stove. Vegetables can include napa cabbage, Tokyo negi (like a leek), carrot, shitake and enoki mushrooms, mizuna (leafy greens of the turnip family), and silky tofu. Individual dipping bowls contain grated daikon radish, chopped green onion and ponzu sauce. The thinly sliced yellowtail is held in the chopsticks and slowly passed through the hot dashi stock about three times taking care not to overcook it. Then it is dipped in the ponzu bowl and eaten.

Grilled sea bream with cold somen noodles (taimen) is an Ehime specialty.

Grilled sea bream with cold somen noodles (taimen) is an Ehime specialty.

Sea bream was served grilled on cold somen noodles. This is known as tai-men, and includes sliced shitake mushrooms, thinly sliced egg, chopped green onion, and shoga (ginger) paste, a shiso leaf, and optional items like crab-flavored surimi and tomato.

The next day, the crew boated to a small island to see aquafarm cages and observe the feeding of yellowtail and harvesting of sea bream. The calm, warm waters and good circulation provided by tidal currents provide an ideal location for aquaculture. Eckert said that in all his travels for the show, boating through the emerald islands off the coast of Ehime was the most beautiful.

Sea bream are bled and iced immediately after harvesting.

Sea bream are bled and iced immediately after harvesting.

In the afternoon, the crew moved to Kaisen Hokuto, a seaside restaurant in Matsuyama where Eckert sampled fish dishes paired with sake. Like wine, sake has different levels of sweetness and acidity, and must be chosen to complement the fish without overpowering it.

Sake is categorized into types according to the percentage of the rice grain that is milled away. Milling takes away proteins and fats that might influence the taste, resulting in mellower sake. To be labeled as “honjozo” 30 percent of the rice grain must be milled away, while for “ginjo” and “daiginjo” more than 40 and 50 percent, respectively, must be removed. While heating makes sake taste milder, ginjo and daiginjo are often served cold.

A sweet sake is not overpowered by the savoriness of the ikezukuri-style sea bream sashimi.

A sweet sake is not overpowered by the savoriness of the ikezukuri-style sea bream sashimi.

Two measures on the label give some indication of taste. Sake Meter Value or SMV, (also known as “Nihonshudo”) is a measure of specific gravity ranging from -6 to +7. A dry sake would have a higher value and a sweet sake would have a low negative value. “Sando” is a measure of acidity. Higher acidity can offset dryness to give the sake more body or heaviness.

In the show, Hiroshi Sutoh, president of sake producer Seiryo Shuzo Co. Ltd. served Eckert cold Kijoshu Seiryo rich sweet dessert sake with a sea bream head and collar cooked in sweet sauce. Had the sake been less full bodied, the sweetness of the sauce would have overpowered it. On the other hand, Ai San San Junmai, a medium-dry sake, served at 52 degrees Celsius matched tiger pufferfish (fugu) sashimi, a winter dish.

Additional dishes were prepared but not shown in the show due to time constraints. Deep-fried gobi and horse mackerel was served with Iyo Densetsu high-alcohol sake, which had the effect of cutting the oiliness. Barracuda sushi marinated in vinegar and wrapped in a shiso leaf was to be taken at the same time as a sip of light and smooth Miyosakae Tenmi junmai daiginjo sake served cold, which offset the vinegar taste. A sea bream ikezukuri or “lifelike presentation” was served with Miyosakae sweet sake, so that the savoriness of the sea bream would not overpower the sake.

Chris Loew
Chris Loew

Chris Loew is an editor for SeafoodSource.com and Global Investing, a stock investing newsletter. Based in Osaka, Japan, he was born and raised in the USA, and has worked in a Japanese meat importing company, and as an export director for Seattle food companies.

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