Making raw good

September 10, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

"It's pretty. It's healthy," said Terri Calliope, as she and her 16-year-old son, John, recently sampled a variety of appetizers and entrees at the sushi bar at the House of Kobe restaurant in Hagerstown.

John said he didn't like the Japanese fare when he first tried it, but now he does.

What is sushi?

"Sushi is raw fish with rice," said Masahiro Hirai, owner of House of Kobe restaurants in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md.

A sushi Web site,, broadens sushi's definition to include anything made with vinegared rice.

Actually, about half of the seafood used in sushi is raw, Hirai said. The other 50 percent may be smoked, broiled, baked or steamed.


Raw fish, served chilled, sliced and arranged without rice, is called sashimi, Hirai said. Sashimi usually is served as an appetizer, he added.

Terri Calliope first tasted sushi about 1981 at Hirai's first House of Kobe location on Antietam Street in Hagerstown.

There was not much demand for sushi when Hirai began offering it.

Now he estimates he has about 500 customers per week. Sushi has become popular - especially among younger people, Hirai said.

This trend actually is quite old. Southeast Asians introduced the technique of pickling in the seventh century, according to The Japanese used rice to pack fish, and as the fish fermented, the pressed fish pickled.

The result, Nare-Sushi, took two months to a year to process. In the 15th and 16th centuries, fermentation time was shortened and rice added. Vinegar was introduced in the 17th century.

The recipe most similar to what is served today was introduced in Tokyo in the 1820s by Hanaya Yohei. He served his treats, which included sashimi or seafood combined with vinegared rice - fresh and fast from his sushi stall - a custom that has carried over to today's sushi bar.

"Sushi is a healthy food," Hirai said. You can eat as much as you want without getting full, he added.

The edible art of sushi is complemented and flavored with the colors and tastes of seasonings and sauces. There are ginger and spicy hot wasabe, the Japanese form of horseradish, which can be combined with soy sauce for dipping.

Ingredients include nori, sheets of seaweed used to wrap ingredients as rolls. Seafood includes tuna, salmon, shrimp, eel, squid, clams, scallops and crab. Imitation crab - crab sticks - also are used.

Cucumbers, asparagus and avocados also are found in sushi. In a typical Americanization of the cuisine, House of Kobe features Mexican Paradise - avocado wrapped eel served with spicy sauce.

Chef John Walla of Hagerstown has taught three or four sessions of a sushi-making class through Hagerstown Community College's Center for Continuing Education. He's been making it for about 10 years, mostly for parties, he said.

Sushi, artfully constructed, is eye-catching with colorful parts.

Terri Calliope said she occasionally makes sushi at home using ingredients that can include raw tuna and imitation crab, but she doesn't make it for company.

The rice for sushi must be heavily starchy, short-grained rice, Walla said. Everyday long-grained rice is not sticky enough. Some area grocery stores and local gourmet shops carry the rice and other accouterments.

Hirai makes rice in an automatic rice maker and said he doesn't make sushi at home.

"Too much preparation."

Is it safe to eat raw seafood?

People who have liver disorders or weakened immune systems are at risk for getting sick and should not eat raw or undercooked fish or shellfish, according to information on the Web site of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at

If you are going to try to do it yourself, the FDA recommends standard safe food-handling practices should be observed when handling raw seafood.

  • Always wash hands, cutting boards, dishes and utensils with hot, soapy water before and after they come in contact with raw seafood.

  • Separate raw seafood from other foods in your grocery-shopping cart, refrigerator and while preparing and handling foods at home.

  • Use one cutting board for raw seafood products and another one for fresh fruits and vegetables.

  • Place cooked food on a clean plate. If you put cooked food on an unwashed plate that previously held raw seafood, bacteria from the raw food could contaminate the cooked food.

  • Don't use sauce that was used to marinate seafood on cooked foods, unless it is boiled before applying.
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