What is nigiri
Nigiri or nigiri sushi is sushi rice, shaped by hand into a bite-sized cube and topped with raw fish, shrimp, crab, squid, sea urchin or other seafood. Sushi rice is not just rice; it is Japanese short grain rice that is flavoured with rice vinegar, sugar and salt.
The dish is one of the traditional forms of sushi and was the first “modern” type that was served in the nineteenth century.
Nigiri is the most artistic type of sushi. First of all, the sushi rice must achieve a perfect balance between cooked rice, sushi vinegar, salt and sweet. The nature of that perfect balance varies from chef to chef, and the pressure with which the rice is condensed into a block also contributes to the magic of nigiri. The true sushi master distinguishes himself from his competitors because he knows how to perfectly apply the pressure.
There is another form of nigiri: the nigiri boat, or gunkan. Here too, the sushi chef forms small cubes of rice by hand. He wraps a piece of nori around it so that is slightly higher than the rice. This creates a kind of bowl on top of the rice, in which, for example, salmon eggs (ikura nigiri), crab (kani nigiri) or smelt eggs (masago nigiri) are spooned.
Did you know...
If you eat at the establishment of three-star chef Jiro Ono, one of the best sushi chefs in the world, you can forget the soy sauce as a side dish. Instead, Jiro covers his nigiri just before serving with nikiri, a sweet-salty glaze made from soy sauce, dashi, mirin, and sake. This allows the master to fully control the taste experience of his customers.
How to make nigiri
After it has been ordered by the customer, nigiri is freshly prepared by sushi masters, piece by piece. A lump of sushi rice is kneaded into the right shape. Then the topping – often a slice of salmon, tuna or the tail of a shrimp – is taken in the hand, adding a small amount of wasabi. Then the rice goes on and the sushi master presses the whole into shape according to a fixed ritual. When the nigiri is placed on the plate, it is with reverence – an edible work of art. Nigiri is usually served with pickled ginger slices and a bowl of shoyu (soy sauce).
How to eat
Nigiri is eaten with the fingers in the chic sushi restaurants of Japan. You only dip the fish in the soy sauce, not the rice, because dipping the rice reduces both the taste and the consistency of the grains. Always put the entire piece of nigiri in your mouth – a good sushi chef makes the size specific for that purpose. Eat ginger slices in between nigiri bites.