He literally wrote the book on sushi
And has a lot to say about how to make the rice just right
The 61-year-old chef started working in a Japanese restaurant in 1978 in Korea and later worked at Ariake, a Japanese restaurant at The Shilla Seoul.
He climbed up the ladder one rung at a time and eventually took the helm of the restaurant at the five-star hotel restaurant and ran it for 18 years. He embarked on a new chapter in 2003 by opening his own sushi restaurant, Sushi Hyo, in the posh neighborhood of Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.
His sushi was loved so much that his restaurant was always packed with gastronomes, but Ahn was not satisfied only with making sushi in the kitchen.
The chef recently published a book entitled “Sushi Walk.” The book traces Ahn’s 42-year-long life with sushi.
“I published this book to deliver some background information about sushi and some do’s and don’ts for those who enjoy sushi,” said Ahn during a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo.
“It’s too bad to see an expat eating Korean food with the wrong etiquette. Sushi is Japanese food, but we can appreciate its genuine taste when we know their culture and table manners.”
Ahn also wanted to add precise information about sushi to his publication.
“The highlight of sushi is rice, not the fish. Depending on the texture of fish, the size of the rice varies.”
Ahn stresses the importance of rice throughout his book.
When making sushi, rice is first seasoned with vinegar. That vinegared rice is called shari in Japanese. The rice got its name from sarira, which is a white, bead-like object found from cremated ashes of Buddhist monks.
Rice is so important in sushi that Ahn says people who want to become sushi chefs in Japan spend their first two years washing and boiling rice at the beginning of their careers.
“I would say sushi made by the hands of a chef is a craft produced at 36.5 degrees Celsius [97.7 degrees Fahrenheit].
“Just cooked rice is seasoned with vinegar and a little bit of salt first. Then the rice is cooled down with a fan to the similar temperature of a human,” said Ahn.
“After that, you have to hold an adequate amount of rice in your hand and press to make rice that is soft yet hard. The taste of your sushi depends on the rice you make.”
The sushi master shares his own way of making rice. When he lifts up the pressed rice, “a ray of light should penetrate the grains of rice.”
“That softness of the rice is the art of making sushi,” Ahn added.
Thus Ahn suggests his customers eat sushi with their fingers.
“Sushi becomes tastier when you appreciate it with your eyes and with touches of your fingers. The pressed rice does not easily fall apart when it is dipped into soy sauce. You will never know this new world of taste when you only use chopsticks.”
The ratio of raw fish and pressed rice is meticulously calculated depending on types of fish by a chef, and that is the essence of handmade sushi. But people who refrain from consuming carbohydrates often rip sushi away from rice and only eat raw fish. When looking at those people, Ahn feels sorry.
“When you go to Japan, you can find some restaurants which put a sign written in Korean that says, ‘Eat sushi together with rice.’ You can ask for less rice when placing an order, but [getting rid of rice from sushi] is breaking a balance created by a chef. It’s so sad to see that happen as a cook.”
Another widespread belief about eating assorted sushi is starting with white fish and moving on to red fish and wrapping up the meal with blue fish for the finale.
But Ahn begs to differ.
He recommends his customers eat a piece of sushi topped with white fish and then red fish, followed by shell fish and crustaceans. By eating sushi in that order, Ahn says different tastes of fish would explode in the mouth as if they are dancing together.
“If you eat [sushi topped with] vinegar-marinated mackerel as for the last piece, all the different flavors in your mouth would come to a halt.”
Ahn makes sushi as if he dances. He moves his wrist rhythmically to grab an adequate amount of rice in his hand and then puts a dab of wasabi on the rice along with a slice of fish. Sometimes the chef claps his hands in order to move from this stage to the next, and every move of his is so natural just as water runs.
Ahn shared more tips on eating sushi. He says soy sauce goes well with sushi topped with red fish, while salt is suitable for white fish.
Soy sauce must be soaked on the side of the fish not on the rice.
Between different kinds of sushi, agari, or hot green tea, is recommended instead of pickled ginger for those who want to refresh their mouth.
When a chef grinds fresh wasabi, Ahn says it is better to put the wasabi on the top of the fish instead of mixing it together with soy sauce.
Ahn is already over 60 years old, but he still dreams of a few things.
“I want to make a sushi school and nurture chef hopefuls. I want to open my own sushi restaurant in Japan and operate it at least for six months.
“Another dream of mine is building a small house in the middle of the mountain and inviting my friends over and serving them my own styles of Japanese food. I wonder if I can make these dreams come true in 10 years,” said Ahn with a laugh.
BY SEO JEONG-MIN email@example.com
초밥은 36.5℃가 만들어내는 ‘손의 예술’…생선마다 밥 크기 달라
“초밥의 주인공은 밥이에요. 생선은 부재료죠. 생선의 질감과 쫄깃함에 따라 밥의 크기가 다 달라요.”
‘한국의 미스터 초밥왕’ 안효주(61) 셰프가 최근 책 『초밥산책』(여백출판사)을 냈다. 1978년 일식에 입문해 신라호텔 일식당 ‘아리아케’ 주방장을 거쳐 일식당 ‘스시효’를 운영하기까지, 42년 초밥 인생의 노하우를 담은 책이다.
“초밥 매니어들을 위해 관련 지식과 에티켓을 전달하려 만든 책이에요. 외국인이 한식 먹을 때 우리 식사 예절을 무시하면 속상하잖아요. 일식인 초밥도 이왕이면 그들의 문화와 식사 예절 등을 공부해 맛을 제대로 느껴 보자는 거죠.”
이 책에서 안 셰프는 ‘밥’의 중요성을 특히 강조했다. 식초로 간을 한 흰밥의 밥알을 일본어로 ‘샤리’라고 부르는데, 부처님 몸에서 나온 사리와 닮았다고 붙여진 이름이란다. 지금도 일본에선 초밥 조리사가 되려면 처음 2년은 쌀을 씻고 밥만 짓게 한다고 했다.
“셰프가 손으로 쥐어 만드는 ‘쥠초밥’은 36.5℃가 만들어내는 수예품이에요. 갓 지은 밥을 식초·소금으로 양념한 후 부채로 수분을 날려서 사람의 체온인 36.5℃로 식힌 다음, 손에 쥐고 얼마나 밥을 부드러우면서도 단단하게 쥐는가에 초밥 맛이 달렸죠.”
그만의 노하우는 ‘손으로 밥알을 쥐었을 때 밥알 사이로 빛이 보여야 한다’이다. 밥알끼리 너무 단단하게 붙지 않게 쥐면 밥알 사이로 빛이 새어 나온다고 한다. 그는 “바로 그 부드러움이 초밥의 미학”이라고 했다. 그래서 손님도 초밥을 손으로 먹어볼 것을 제안한다.
“시각, 미각에 촉각까지 느꼈을 때 초밥은 더 맛있어지거든요. 간장을 찍을 때도 쉽게 풀어지지 않고요. 젓가락으로는 모르는 세계를 한 번 느껴보세요.”
그는 다이어트 한다고 초밥에서 밥을 떼고 먹는 이들을 보면 안타깝다고 했다.
“일본에 가면 한국말로 ‘밥은 떼 내지 말고 드세요’라고 쓴 식당도 있어요. 주문할 때 ‘밥을 조금만 달라’고 하면 되는데 정성스레 맛의 균형을 맞춰 놓은 걸 무너뜨리니까 셰프 입장에선 속상하죠.”
보통 초밥은 흰 살 생선, 붉은 살 생선, 등 푸른 생선 순으로 먹는다고 알려졌지만 안 셰프의 생각은 다르다. 그는 흰 살, 붉은 살, 조개류, 갑각류를 한 점씩 퐁당퐁당 먹도록 유도한다. “미각이 춤을 추듯” 강약을 조절하기 때문이다.
“마지막으로 식초로 간한 고등어를 먹으면 휘모리장단에 내내 춤추던 감각이 순간 동작을 멈추고 천천히 숨을 고르게 되죠.”
그가 초밥을 만드는 모습도 춤을 추는 것 같다. 리드미컬하게 손목을 움직여 밥을 쥐고 와사비를 묻혀 생선을 올리고, 다음 동작으로 가기 위해 손바닥을 탁탁 부딪치고. 모든 동작이 물 흐르듯 막힘이 없다.
안 셰프는 붉은 살 생선은 간장에, 흰 살 생선은 소금에 찍어 먹으면 더 맛있다고 조언했다. 간장은 밥알 쪽이 아니라 생선 살에 묻혀 먹을 것. 생선 종류가 바뀔 때마다 입을 개운하게 하려면 생강보다 오차를 마실 것. 생 와사비를 갈아주면 간장에 풀지 말고 생선 살에 조금씩 올려 먹을 것. 그가 전해준 팁이다.
환갑을 넘긴 현역 셰프가 꼽은 꿈은 세 가지다. “후배·제자를 양성할 수 있는 초밥 학교를 만들고, 일본에서 6개월이라도 초밥집을 운영하고, 산속에 작은 집을 짓고 지인들을 초대해 규칙 없는 나만의 일식을 대접하는 일입니다. 10년 안에 다 해낼 수 있을지 모르겠네요(웃음).”
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