Sushi 101: Uchi’s Chef Tyson Cole Shares What You Want to Know About Sushi, But Were Afraid to Ask
Soy sauce - a little (or none) goes a long way
Don’t put your sushi in the soy sauce. You don’t sit rice in soy sauce, if you even use soy sauce. You should wipe only a small amount of soy. Try to use as little soy sauce as possible, especially if the restaurant serves your sushi with other yakumi, or sauces and accents that are meant to go with your order. The Japanese never serve soy sauce with sushi. You have to ask for it. There’s a reason for that.
Wasabi - not like butter
Don’t make a paste. You’re not supposed to make a paste, mortar, putty, or anything gloppy with wasabi and soy sauce. I’ve seen so many people take their wasabi “paste” and spread it on their sushi like they’re buttering toast. Then, they line up the pickled ginger on top like roof shingles. You can’t even see the fish! And when they eat it and the wasabi knocks their eyes back into their head.
This is used to cleanse your palate. It’s not to eat with your sushi. Not only is it pickled, but it’s ginger. Two really strong flavors. So when people put that on their sushi, you know what they taste? Pickled ginger!
Order one at a time
Sushi is a delicacy. If you eat it one bite at a time, right when it’s made, you’re eating when it’s at its best. That long paper list they give you at many sushi places makes people think they have to order everything right then and there. When you place a large order, the chef makes all of it at once, which takes time, which makes the first piece old by the time they’ve finished the final piece. Then, when it gets to your table, it sits even longer as you work your way through it. If you want mediocre or bad sushi, order it that way. If you want good sushi, don’t order it all at once.
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Eat your sushi immediately when you get it
With fresh French fries, you have only a few minutes to eat them until they’re soggy and gross. Same with sushi. It’s supposed to be cold fish and warm rice. Eat it when it’s served. Otherwise it’s just dying on your plate.
A word about chopsticks
You don’t need them as much as you think you do. Sushi was originally made to eat with your hands. The only time you need chopsticks is for sashimi. Everything else, you can eat with your hands. Even nigiri, which is a piece of fish served on a small pod of rice.
Cheap sushi is an oxymoron
Half-price appetizer sushi …cheap sushi … that’s a bad idea. Sushi should not be used to save money. It means you’re eating bad fish. Period.
Skip the Spicy Tuna Roll
The two most popular sushi rolls in America are: the California roll and the Spicy Tuna roll. California because it’s delicious. It’s the perfect combination of cucumber for texture, avocado for creaminess and a little fat, and crab for sweetness. California rolls are great. On the other hand, spicy tuna rolls come from sushi chefs in America trying to get rid of their older tuna with spicy mayonnaise. I would eat 1,001 things at a sushi bar other than a spicy tuna roll.
Respect your sushi chefs
The good ones really know what they’re doing. If you have a chance to eat sushi, always do it at the sushi bar. Every sushi chef has a stash that they want to share. Just trust they’re going to give you something good.
Bigger is not better
Sushi is supposed to be bite-sized, and the rice is supposed to fall apart in your mouth. It’s a delicacy. It’s supposed to be small, simple, and clean, not overloaded with rice and a bunch of other crap.
Don’t be high maintenance
It’s okay to ask for the occasional substitution. But when it comes to taste, the customer is not always right. Some substitutions are simple and that’s fine, like a California roll with no crab. That’s fine. But if you come to Uchi and ask for Hamachi belly, cut extra thin, with no skin, on small rice balls, with a slice of lemon on top, and spicy sauce on the side, the answer will be, “No.”
It’s supposed to be warm and it’s supposed to be soft. It’s not supposed to be sticky, hard, or crunchy. Sushi has everything to do with the rice, not the fish. You read food blogs that don’t know what they’re talking about, saying they had sushi fall apart on them (probably because they soaked it in soy sauce), and that the rice was too soft. Would you rather the rice be super sticky so it can absorb a lake of soy sauce and still maintain some structure? Gross. That’s not how it’s supposed to be.
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What to know about mackerel (saba)
This is the number one type of sushi fish that is known for food poisoning. Saba is a very oily and particularly strong tasting fish. It’s the cheapest fish you can buy, and most restaurants cure it with salt so they can hold it for a long time. Some restaurants hold it for up to a week or ten days. That is where the food poisoning comes in. Some people really like saba, but if you don’t trust the sushi restaurant, it’s not smart to order this stuff. Note: At Uchi, we buy all of our mackerel fresh and cure it in-house each day. Whatever is not used that day is then moved to our grilled mackerel dish, Saba Shio. After that, whatever is not used is discarded.
Beware of too much escolar
Not many people know this, but escolar is a natural laxative. It’s a great fish to use for sushi, but order it only in small amounts. There are some big horror stories attached to it and those who have consumed too much of it.
It is meant to be enjoyed when it’s very fresh and cold. It’s amazing how well it goes with sushi. It’s so clean and delicate. A lot of people don’t know how to enjoy sake. They’ll order a bottle of hot sake and sip on that for their whole meal. It’s disgusting. In Japan, the only time they drink warm sake is at festivals when it’s cold outside, sort of like how we drink mulled wine at holiday festivals. You wouldn’t drink that stuff on a regular basis, though, especially because it’s made from cheap wine. Guess what? Warm sake is also cheap. If you’re going to pair your sake with sushi, be sure to order cold sake. Don’t mess with the warm stuff.
One bite nigiri
Nigiri is the sushi rice pressed together with a slice of some sort of fish on top. You really shouldn’t take two bites. It’s supposed to be one bite. Unfortunately, some restaurants get carried away with the size of their nigiri. If it’s just too big, hold it with your fingers. Smear a dab of soy sauce on top of the fish (not the rice) and take a bite. Then take the second bite without setting it down.
Clean your plate
If you’re in Japan or in a real Japanese restaurant, don’t ever, ever, ever leave anything on your plate. You eat everything. Their philosophy is, “We’re an island nation. We barely have enough resources. So when you have something on your plate, you better be thankful for it. And you better eat it.”
Avoid pre-sliced sushi
If you go to a sushi bar and everything is pre-sliced, it’s not a good sushi bar. You see pre-sliced sushi at a lot of restaurants. It means it’s cheap. It means the restaurant is cutting corners. They’re not paying attention to the product or respect to the fish. They’re exposing the fish to more air, which is breaking it down and ruining its texture.
Colorful fish does not always equal fresh fish
Ever seen someone take a look at a block of bright red tuna in a sushi case and say, “Man, that tuna looks so fresh!” There are five kinds of fish that Americans typically consume for sushi: tuna, salmon, yellowtail, eel, and a whitefish. You can buy any of those fish in a precut, preformed, preweighed block. You’ll notice the tuna is really red, and the salmon is really orange. That’s from the nitrates used to package the fish. Many sushi restaurants order that way because the fish is cheap and they don’t need skilled labor to make their sushi. Bottom line: If it doesn’t look natural, it probably isn’t.
Chef Tyson Cole
Hai Hospitality partner/executive chef
Tyson Cole will tell you that his early memories of food were far from exotic. He grew up in Florida with typical suburban fare and didn’t crave anything beyond spaghetti and sandwiches. After heading to Texas for school and finding himself unable to pay for his classes at the University of Texas, student Tyson needed a job, and fast. After days of pavement pounding, he finally ended up with a dishwashing job at Kyoto. Before he took the job, he had never even tried sushi. But once he did, he was hooked, and not just on sushi, but on Japanese culture and language. Tyson educated himself on every aspect of the cuisine. Even surprising himself with his skill and dexterity with the knife, he quickly worked his way from dishwasher to head sushi chef. Tyson then moved to Austin’s top sushi restaurant at the time, Musashino, where he completed an intensive traditional apprenticeship under owner, Takehiko Fuse. The two spent time in Japan, where Tyson experienced the food and culture while gaining technical skill. In May of 2003, Uchi opened with Tyson as Executive Chef and co-owner. Tyson’s seamless blending of global ingredients with traditional Japanese flavors to create his celebrated “perfect bite” gained him local, regional, and national attention and Uchi soon became one of the top fine dining destinations in Austin. He was awarded a coveted spot on Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs of 2005 list. In May 2011, Tyson received a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest; and celebrated a James Beard Foundation Semi-Finalist nod for Outstanding Chef in 2016. He opened his second restaurant in Austin, Uchiko, in July 2010 and celebrated the release of Uchi the Cookbook in March 2011. In 2012, he opened an Uchi in Houston, Uchi Dallas in June 2015, and a new concept, Uchiba, in Dallas in January 2018. In 2015, what was formerly known as Uchi Restaurant Group changed its name to Hai Hospitality, a sign of the evolution of the brand and the path ahead. In 2018, Chef Cole opened a new concept, LORO Asian Smokehouse & Bar, in Austin with barbecue legend Aaron Franklin; as well as Uchi in Denver. Hai Hospitality will also open Uchi Miami and LORO Dallas in Summer 2020, and Uchiko and LORO in Houston in 2021.
Uchi is anticipated to open Summer 2020 and is located at
240 Northwest 25th St., Miami, FL 33127.