Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk to Japanese Sushi

Open Sushi

I’ve noticed that the Japanese restaurants I frequent have been much less busy recently. I wondered if the Japanese earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster was effecting the fish, and this was a danger I should pay attention to. Apparently, not so much, instead, irrational fear of the unknown is a bigger reason why people are not eating sushi this spring.

Kai Sushi White Tuna appetizer

NPR posed the question to Masashi Kusakabe, director of the Nakaminato Laboratory for Marine Radioecology not far from Tokyo. The research center is devoted to figuring out precisely what happens to radioactive material that gets into the ocean.

Kusakabe says what’s been getting into the Pacific Ocean near Fukushima is mostly radioactive iodine. It dissolves in water, and experiments have shown that the iodine tends to concentrate in algae. Then it gets even more concentrated as it works its way up the food chain.

Kusakabe says that might sound bad, “but the iodine we’re talking about now is iodine -131, which has a very short half-life at eight days.”

Every eight days, half of the iodine goes away. So after a few weeks, there’s not much iodine-131 left in a fish. Kusakabe says radioactive cesium is a lot worse: Its half-life is measured in decades, not days. But so far, much less cesium has gotten into the ocean at Fukushima.  Also, the ocean is so vast that radioactive materials are heavily diluted by the time they travel even a few miles.

So the Japanese fish most likely to become contaminated are the ones that spend their entire lives right near the Fukushima power plant. And the government isn’t letting fishing vessels anywhere near the place.

But what about the ocean-going fish that show up on sashimi platters — fish like salmon and tuna? Might they be contaminated by radioactive material from the power plant?

“I don’t think so,” he says, “because tuna move everywhere. They travel, you know, maybe hundreds of kilometers, so they never stay there.”

A tuna might swim by the Fukushima plant. But it wouldn’t hang around long enough to become seriously contaminated.

Kusakabe says the biggest threat to the Japanese fishing industry right now isn’t radiation. It’s fear.

(click here to continue reading Sushi Science: Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk : NPR.)

Fresh Copper River Sockeye Salmon

Horse Mackerel Latitudes at Mirai Sushi

not the best photo, but damn, was this delicious. Not sure exactly what fish this was, other than being a seasonal special offering that the server called “Horse Mackerel”

Last one Mirai had, or I would have ordered a second. (maybe)

Mirai Sushi is probably my most favorite sushi restaurant in Chicago, such deliciousness unmatched by typical Japanese-esque places.

I’ve had one meal at Mirai where the service was a bit spotty, but in all my visits over the years, I have never had food that was not spectacular.

For Sushi at Home, Skip the Fish

Can’t go wrong with making your own sushi, and it isn’t that difficult, especially if you skip using fish, and concentrate upon utilizing other yummy foods: avocado, peppers, cilantro, lox, whatever sounds good.

Philly Roll

Mark Bittman writes:

The Minimalist – For Sushi at Home, Skip the Fish – NYTimes.com: “The rice-making is easy, and far from mysterious. You need good short-grain white rice (you can use brown rice, of course, but it’s not the same thing), rice vinegar, sugar, salt and kelp (or konbu, a kind of seaweed). Some sake is nice, but it is not essential. You blend the vinegar, sugar, salt and kelp, remove the kelp, then let the sweetened vinegar (now called awasezu) sit at room temperature or in the refrigerator for as long as you like. (I haven’t tested to see how long it will last, but several days are certainly fine.)

You cook the rice, adding a little sake to the water if you have it; the proportions are about one-and-a-half parts water to one part rice, though you can get away with less water if you have a rice cooker.

When the rice is done, you let it sit for 15 minutes or so, then you fold in about a half-cup of awasezu for every two cups of cooked rice. You do this gently, so as not to crush the rice, but it’s not as painstaking a process as it’s sometimes made out to be.”


I’ll let you know how my experiment goes, or read more about Mark Bittman’s experience

Forming the rice looks easier than it is. The rice is very sticky, so you need to wet your hands between forming each piece. (You’ll note that most sushi chefs do this, too.) Mr. Ueki proceeded to rip off shapes of all kinds: hand-molded nigiri, mat-rolled maki, a kind of “box” sushi called oshigata that is popular in Osaka. (I bought a gadget for making oshigata for $5 online; it works), and a variety of less-formally molded shapes. These, when I got home and began to work myself, turned out to be my favorite. Even a nicely formed nigiri sushi can take some time.

Once I got the hang of it, I was producing hand rolls in a variety of forms without much trouble. Ultimately I found three favorites. First is a quarter sheet of nori, smeared lightly with rice (about a tablespoon, not much more) and topped with a couple of bits of whatever — say umeboshi and tofu — then rolled, cigar- or cone-like. Next is a small rounded pile of rice (again, about a tablespoon) with, say, a pile of chopped seasoned greens on top and a thin band of nori wrapped around its side (like the popular sushi made with uni). Finally, a small pile of rice, crudely shaped but vaguely nigiri-ish, with something on top — prosciutto turned out to be my favorite. (I never said these were vegan.) All of these were crude yet recognizable forms of shapes that Mr. Ueki had demonstrated.