Metaphors be with you. Let’s cut the mustard to get to the chase: in a sushi restaurant, tuna comes mainly in 3 different cuts: Akami, Chutoro and Otoro. There are many people who will use terms like “melts in the mouth”, “meaty flavor” or even “moist” to describe these cuts of tuna. To these people, the fatty otoro is the be all and end all of tuna.
But here’s my take.
In a sushi restaurant, especially if you specify “Okonomi” or “Omakase”, the chef will start with the lightest-tasting and the leanest fish and progress to stronger-tasting and fatter cuts usually ending with Otoro, the fattest cut of tuna.
Otoro is a light pink, almost white piece of tuna that usually comes from the belly of the tuna. People usually wax lyrical about how it “melts in the mouth”.
And that is my problem with Otoro. I pop it in my mouth and it disintegrates almost immediately without much chewing, coating your mouth with fat and very little else. Oftimes there’s almost no flavor except that of a lingering question of “did I just eat something”?
Of course, not much of this makes any difference with lots of people today who prefer to chew the fat. The straight-forward, predictable (read: boring) flavor of otoro is lost to people who immediately dip it in Wasabi-laden soy sauce to experience – since fat is an excellent carrier of flavor – salty spicy Horseradish.
Chutoro with Hamachi in the background
The chutoro is a happy mix of fat and flesh. Like a premium burger patty of rib eye and sirloin, there is enough fat in chutoro to disintegrate satisfactorily in your mouth while having enough flesh to give flavor.
In fact, if you ask a sushi expert, chutoro is just about the fattiest tuna they’d eat. If he says otoro, then he’s not eaten enough sushi.
And then we have the Akami which is simply the red flesh of the tuna. Japan’s foremost Sushi expert Jiro Ono feels that this where the essence and subtle flavors of tuna lay.
Some sushi chefs may marinate the red Akami flesh in their house marinade but very often a brush of the sushi chef’s secret Nikiri is all is needed to elevate the subtlety.
So next time when you’re seated by the counter, do take the time to appreciate the flavors of the fish painstakingly prepared for you.
Akami Maguro marinating in Nikiri