Why You Won’t Look At Sashimi The Same Way Again

This is the first of a 3-part blogpost series on various F&B masterclasses organised by e2i to connect workers and industry practitioners with industry experts.

Participants benefit from learning best practices, deepening their skillsets and mastering skills in their career to be future-ready.

I attended a sashimi masterclass at Food Japan recently, and was served some “green tea”. Chef Kenjiro Hashida told the class to take a sip – we did – and then he asked for a show of hands to indicate who had drank the green tea. I did drink it but I couldn’t raise my hand. (@_@) I had picked up a cup of what looked like green tea, but it tasted as if I had bitten into a juicy, yummy steak. It really confused my senses. Turns out this was done on purpose.

Kenjiro Hashida sashimi.

Sashimi with “green tea” that did not taste like your regular green tea

 Kenjiro Hashida

Chef Hashida conducting the Masterclass

The green tea served was actually gyokuro tea – the highest grade of green tea in Japan. Gyokuro tea is prized for its savory “umami” flavor (hence the resemblance to meat) as the tea leaves are grown in the shade for about 3 weeks prior to harvest. The ‘stress’ to the plant (as it tries to reach upwards for the sunlight) causes its levels of the amino acid theanine to increase. It is during this process that the sweetness and umami flavor is induced. Because of its exquisite taste, gyokuro tea doesn’t come cheap. 😉

~ How to brew tea like a Tea Master ~

If you’ve bought pricey tea, you might want to know how to brew it well to extract the best flavor from the tea leaves. Chef Hashida shared that a common mistake people make when brewing tea at home is by using water that is too hot. If the water is over 60 degrees Celsius, the fragrance of the tea leaves is killed. Sellers know this so they include branches of the plant in “cheap tea”, and the tea tastes sweet even if brewed using (overly) hot water.

What tea masters do is to use water that’s at 45 degrees Celsius. For 10g of tea leaves, use 120cc of water. Then see if you can taste the difference 😉 For the gyokuro tea, interestingly, the chef used 20g of tea leaves, 150cc of water, and 2 ice cubes. The result is a smooth and refreshing brew, that has an amazing umami taste. It’s nothing like the bitter or bland ‘green tea’ you drink in regular sushi places in Singapore.

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As for the sashimi, we had hirame (or flounder) with sea urchin from Hokkaido.

The real kicker was when we were told to pour the gyokuro tea from our teacup onto the sashimi. What???!!! Don’t we usually consume them separately?

Gyokuro tea and hirame sashimi

As you have probably guessed, the sashimi tasted so good! It was truly a novel experience. The lady seated in front of me couldn’t help raising the little platter to her lips after she had eaten the sashimi so she could drink the tea which remained. 😀

 Chef Kenjiro Hashida

The chef told us that kombu seaweed gives many Japanese dishes their umami flavor, but when you put the sashimi slices onto kombu seaweed (in hopes of getting the umami flavor on the fish), the seaweed will absorb moisture from the sashimi, leaving the latter tasting dry. To get around this, the chef cleverly combines kombu seaweed, salt, sugar and water to get a special extract he contains in a spray bottle, and sprays it onto sashimi instead. An added advantage is that this gives the fish more moisture, on top of that yummy umami taste.

For garnishing, the chef uses the chrysanthemum flower, gyokuro tea leaves, a “vegetable caviar” (which is the tonburi from Akita prefecture), etc. And the result is too pretty:

 Kenjiro Hashida hirame sashimi

~ ‘Tea Flower Oil’ ~

Besides the kombu seaweed extract, the chef also sprays on some ‘tea flower oil’ which he imports directly from Japan.

Chef Hashida shared that for every product he purchases for his restaurant, he visits the factory to find out how it’s made. Regarding the ‘tea flower oil’ (which he also keeps in a spray bottle), he says that during the farming of tea, the flowers from the plant will drop off after some time, and elderly Japanese women will pick them up. From some 300kg of flowers, only about 1 litre of oil can be extracted. Thus, you’ll shell out S$60 for 100cc of the previous liquid if you’d like to buy it in Japan. It is this attention to detail and dedication to his craft that I believe compels diners to have meals at Hashida Sushi (Singapore) – an omakase dinner costs anything between S$350 and S$500.

Chef Hashida’s F&B Business Advice

  1. Think about what your customers want. People crave that ‘umami’ taste in their food. That taste comes from amino acids.
  2. (When possible) follow the seasons and utilize (or create) unique techniques.
  3. Be generous in sharing with and learning from other chefs.

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As a very sweet finale to an insightful session, we were each given a Merlion Monaka. The ingredients in the filling include kaya, miso and white chocolate. It’s quite extraordinary. I’ve read that it costs about S$5 in Chef Hashida’s other restaurant, Hashida Garo.

 Hashida Garo

 Hashida Garo Merlion MonakaHashida Sushi

I’m definitely in awe of how Japanese chefs keep on innovating and improving, so as to bring the best dining experience to their customers. On top of that, the chef seemed very open to sharing tips and techniques.

Anyone in the F&B business should keep an eye out for the masterclasses organized by e2i as they offer access to these top chefs at a very affordable price. Even if you’re not in the Japanese cuisine business, you will surely be impressed by the quality of the gyokuro tea, and possibly be able to incorporate it into your cafe or restaurant’s menu. Even if you end up charging a premium for the beverage or its inspired dish, discerning diners would still be willing to pay.

Because, honestly speaking, it’s tough going back to regular sashimi and green tea after trying Chef Hashida’s version of hirame sashimi and that special brew of gyokuro tea.

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Read Part 2 of this series right here now, and find out why bottled green tea is not such a great idea after all, and how some people can earn upwards of S$2,000 A DAY recording events on paper. Then click here to read Part 3 and find out how Singapore actually won gold awards at the Culinary Olympics too! 🙂

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