Wasabi is that astringent, mustardy-tasting dollop molded into a small green peak and served with a similar mound of pickled ginger alongside raw fish (sashimi) in Japanese restaurants and sushi bars. It is the thin green layer served between raw fish and rice patties (sushi) and is as natural an accompaniment to these Japanese food as mustard is to a hot dog.
Wasabi is one of the few flavours that have resisted migrating to other cuisines. It is authentically and completely Japanese where it grows in swampy ground by mountain streams. The root, which is the part of the plant eaten, looks like ginger and is usually about 4 or 5 inches long. In Japan, wasabi is served freshly grated or in thin slices as a condiment. It is rarely available fresh outside Japan but is sold here pickled or powdered, usually in small (one or two ounce) cans. Larger cans are available to restaurants but this kind of wasabi may be diluted with powdered mustard to cut the cost. Not surprisingly, the wasabi offered in most sushi bars is more bitter and less aromatic than what you might make at home. In fact, in some sushi bars wasabi is referred to as namida which means tears. Good wasabi has a nice herbal smell and makes a tasty substitute for English style hot mustard.
Wasabi is usually served as a paste. A tablespoon of powder is mixed with a teaspoon of water and let to stand, covered, for about 15 minutes. Mix this paste with soy sauce to make a tasty dipping sauce. A small tin of wasabi will last about six months after it is opened. After that it loses its taste and bite.
Frozen whole wasabi root will be available for the first time in Montreal this January at the Japanese store Miyamoto, 382 Victoria Ave. in Westmount.
|© Barry Lazar 2000