Kitchen miscellany with our chef of the week: Benjamin Orpwood, executive chef of Daniel San – a casual, retro-hip Japanese eatery in Sydney's Manly. We pick his brains for tips on sushi-eating, how to decipher fresh fish from bad, and where to get down in Tokyo.
By
April Smallwood

5 Jan 2015 - 12:43 PM  UPDATED 28 Jan 2015 - 2:57 PM

When it comes to pickled ginger, pink is bad. It’s been dyed. It should be the same colour as the fresh stuff. Ginger of a high grade remains white after being cut, while poor-quality stuff will turn brown or green, which is why it's often dyed pink. Ginger should be eaten as a condiment with sushi and sashimi. I tend to have it afterwards, not with each mouthful.
 
You’re probably eating nigiri wrong. Nigiri is a combo of cold, raw fish over warm rice, and is the most revered form of sushi. As much experience is required to make it, it is generally only served at specialist sushi bars in Japan. To eat it, you should pick it up with your hands, not chopsticks. Secondly, season the fish only (not the rice) with soy sauce – this is done by turning the sushi upside-down.

Why the wasabi, daikon and soy? These things aid digestion. All raw food contains bacteria, most of it non-harmful, however it's still present, and as the food won’t be cooked, the bacteria won’t be killed, which is why we have such high standards of produce and temperature control in the kitchen. Wasabi and ginger have antibacterial properties; daikon (white radish) aids the stomach in producing acids to break down the raw food; and soy sauce is high in salt, which zaps bacteria.
 
You have to see Gordon Ramsay trying to make sushi. He completely underestimates the skill and difficulty involved. The real key in sushi and sashimi is consistency, which comes from the slicing, the quality control, the storage, the size of the rice, the thickness of the fish. Here's the YouTube video of Gordon massively struggling while working in Aaya – a Michelin sushi restaurant in London's West End.
 
You won't find many Japanese eating salmon. It's a river fish and considered inferior to white flesh fish like kingfish. However, Australians can't get enough salmon. When it comes to "sashimi-grade", this refers to a method of killing fish that involves a rod stabbed behind the animal’s left or right eye. A true sashimi-grade fish will have been caught and killed by hand as fast as possible, this means there is little stress to the fish and results in a superior product.
 
When buying fresh whole fish, you have to touch it. This will reveal more about freshness than merely assessing it with your eyes. Press and run a finger across the fish, just beneath the length of the fin. Does each spike perk up individually as your finger passes by? This indicates freshness for the muscles in the fish are still intact and yet to disintegrate. Look for firmness, bright eyes you can see through and a pink belly.
 
Did you ever see Lost in Translation? My top tip for visiting Tokyo is to go to the Park Hyatt, where the movie was filmed, head to the New York Bar. It is, in my opinion, one of the best bars in the world – it has the views, amazing food and classic cocktails, plus a live jazz band. And you can still smoke a cigar in there! For fans of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Jiro’s son Dose has a sushi restaurant in Roppongi, Sukiyabashi Jiro, and this is much easier to get a table at. I also recommend Jomon yakitori bar in Roppongi – it's open until 5am. Just saying.

 

Ben Orpwood runs the show at Daniel San in Sydney's Manly.

@benjaminorpwood