Su, or Rice Vinegar, is deeply embedded in the Japanese culture, both as a cooking element and as a health elixir. You may be most familiar with rice vinegar as an essential part of sushi rice, as well as present in dressings such as carrot ginger. But did you know that people actually drink vinegar as a heath aid? Full of antioxidants and essential amino acids, rice vinegar aids everything from immunity to digestion and much more. In Japan, there are currently even vinegar cafes and bars all across the country that serve up shots and drinks for the health conscious masses.
Made simply from rice and water through fermentation, rice vinegar, like all vinegars, has that acidic punch that on its own can be hard to swallow to many of us. Sushi, however, is how many of us in the states has come in contact with rice vinegar. Shari (sushi rice) is usually seasoned with a blend of rice vinegar, sake, salt and sugar. Equally important as the fish itself, sushi would not be sushi without a well-composed shari. We spoke with Chef Shinichi Inoue of Sushi Inoue, omakase sushi restaurant in Harlem, as he uses his own proprietary selection and blend for his sushi rice.
Chef Inoue’s proprietary red rice vinegar. Would you do a shot? You can actually see the tint on his sushi rice, and the flavor is incredibly subtle.
Chef Inoue, as all the sushi chefs do, considers rice vinegar so important to the sushi making process; utilizing not only in making shari, but also curing a certain types of seafood, rinsing seafood to enhance its flavor, and killing bacteria. And needless to say, mastering how to use rice vinegar in the sushi making would be the signature of each sushi chef. In Chef Inoue’’s case, he maximizes two types of rice vinegar, Aka-zu (red vinegar) and Shiro-zu (white vinegar) to make two types of shari in totally different taste profile. Aka-zu has a mellow flavor while Shiro-zu is clean, for example. He uses shari seasoned with Aka-zu for certain types of fish like Toro (fatty tuna), mackerel and conger eel in order to achieve greater harmony. Shari seasoned with shiro-zu is great for clean and subtle flavored seafood like fluke and shrimp.
Chef Inoue emphasizes the importance of rice vinegar in sushi preparation steps, including curing and marinating fish, seasoning sushi rice, and washing.
According to Chef Inoue, using a little vinegar diluted with water not only cleans bivalves such as oysters and clams, but also lightly marinades them, ultimately making them sweeter. Finally, the antibacterial properties of rice vinegar help keep everything clean, including a sushi chef’s hands. Could rice vinegar be the ultimate panacea? We’re ready to believe.
Skillful technique is required to make tasty sushi rice. Sushi-zu (rice vinegar mix made for sushi) is poured over freshly cooked, piping hot rice.