What makes something a delicacy? Perhaps it is the rare nature of the food, the unique taste, the fineness of preparation, or some other generally pleasing intrinsic quality. In the case of uni, each of these apply.
Uni is the Japanese name for the edible part of sea urchin. Within the pointy spines of the sea urchin lies a treat for any adventurous diver. While it is colloquially referred to as the roe (eggs), uni is actually the organs that produce the roe — the sea urchin’s gonads. It ranges in color, from rich gold to light yellow, and has a creamy consistency that almost melts in your mouth. Uni has a light, sweet, somewhat briny flavor with an aroma similar to a bouquet of flowers. While cherished by many throughout the world, be aware that uni can be an acquired taste for some.
Harvesting uni is a very delicate process. A sea urchin contains five lobes, and harvesters must be careful because the meat falls apart easily. Uni is harvested all around the world, predominantly along the coasts of California and Maine.
Uni can be enjoyed at Zama anytime as sashimi, and is featured from time to time in sushi rolls. Try it by itself, with some soy sauce and wasabi. It is a good source of vitamins A, C and E, protein, fiber, iodine and calcium. The Japanese consider uni to be an aphrodisiac, so perhaps enjoy this delicacy with someone you love.
You’re probably familiar with unagi – freshwater eel is a common ingredient in sushi (and our previous blog feature). A much lesser known type of eel is emerging as a favorite among sushi lovers: Anago.
Often translated as “conger eel,” anago refers to any marine eel that does not migrate from freshwater to sea or vice versa. The anago is rarely farmed. Most anago comes from the wild, predominantly out of the seas of Japan.
It’s a rare item, but if you come across anago at Zama, enjoy it as nigiri or sashimi, rather than the typical barbeque-style of unagi. Leaner than unagi, this eel is light, soft and fragile. No soy sauce or wasabi is needed for this delicious dish.
It’s said that “unagi,” or freshwater eel, has been a delicacy in Japan for thousands of years. Unagi is prized for more than just delicious flavor. With plenty of protein, vitamin A and E, it’s believed to give people stamina. For this reason, unagi is traditionally eaten in the summer months, but we think it’s good all year round.
As a popular ingredient of Japanese cuisine, you’ll find unagi in a variety of preparations at Zama. The Vetri Roll features a paper thin slice of daikon radish wrapped around barbeque unagi, crispy shallots, tempura flakes, scallion and shiso. The maki roll is then drizzled with a white-truffle eel glaze, and topped with a tuft of uni sauce-dressed cucumber (if you don’t know much about uni, look for a post next week). Or, for a truly unmasked unagi tasting, you can try it as nigiri.
Sustainability is an issue for the farming of many aquatic delicacies. Unagi is no exception. Wild eel populations around the world are declining severely. Habitat alteration, overexploitation, climate change, pollution and disease all factors in the decline. For this reason, Zama uses only high quality, Japanese farm-raised unagi.
Be on the lookout for upcoming posts about anago, uni, and other delicious seafood found at Zama.
Recently we encountered a few technical difficulties and unfortunately, some of our blog posts were lost. As we roll out some of the previous posts, here are a few reviews from around Philly. Click the links to read the full articles.
From Adam Erace in Philadelphia Weekly: “Hot or cold, raw or cooked, Japanese food in Philadelphia hasn’t had a moment like this since Morimoto opened in 2001.”
“Sixteen pieces of sashimi have never looked as good as they did on Zama’s frost-white unfurled scroll of a plate each precise slice of fish shimmering like iridescent gemstones.”
From Phyllis Stein-Novack in South Philly Review: “I sat at the sushi bar, where I watched chef/owner Hiroyuki ‘Zama’ Tanaka and his staff select fresh ingredients and transform them into colorful, tasty, edible art.”
“Rittenhouse Square needs a quiet, peaceful place like this.”
From Benjamin Wallace in Philadelphia Magazine: “More exotic offerings during my visits included a giant clam, which had a just-out-of-the-ocean gleam and freshness of flavor.”
From Craig LaBan in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Not only is his fish work there the best of his career – with a sharper focus on ingredients and elegant composition – but the restaurant as a whole is the most impressive all-around Japanese destination to open in this town since Morimoto.”
“What a nice surprise to find a Japanese restaurant that pays attention to the dessert course. But by that time, it was already clear that Zama – both the chef and the restaurant – is turning out to be something special.”
To most Philadelphians, hearing the word “tobiko” may not conger up much of an image. At Zama, we are passionate about tobiko, so we’d like to change that. If you’re among those who don’t know, “tobiko” is the Japanese word for flying fish roe, used commonly in sushi. You’ll find wasabi tobiko, a green derivative of its namesake, in our Wasabi Lobster roll (pictured below).
Tobiko is larger than masago (or capelin roe), but smaller than salmon roe. It is often orange in color with a mild smoky/salty taste and crunchy texture. To give it a green coloration, we prepare it with generous helping of wasabi. It can be also be dyed pale orange (with yuzu), or jet black (squid ink).
Japanese cuisine uses many other interesting ingredients, a few of which we will be detailing here on our blog every week.
Chef Zama is proud to be a part of the vibrant food community in Philadelphia. One of the best spots in the city, French restaurant Bibou was named one of GQ’s Top 10 New Restaurants of 2010, run by Chef Pierre Calmels. We invited Chef Calmels and his sous chef, Ron Fougeray, into our kitchen to make the Bibou Roll. This addition to our Celebrity Roll Series is believed to be the first-of-its-kind, an escargot sushi roll.
The escargot is sauteed with shallots, edamame beans and shiho in a soy dashi butter, set atop tempura haricot vert and fennel maki. A portion of proceeds from the roll goes to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
Our Celebrity Roll Series seems to be a hit. With each celebrity roll sold, $1 is donated to that celebrity’s charity of choice. We’ve raised over $5,000 so far and counting. Chefs, athletes, and musicians have all been included in the series that won Philadelphia Magazine’s 2011 Best of Philly award for “Replacement for the Wall at the Palm.” To commemorate the series, we’ve compiled an elegant photograph slideshow detailing each roll.
Do you have any ideas for the next Celebrity Roll? Let us know, either here or on Facebook.
The first Celebrity Roll we feature was unveiled in early August of this year.
The Zahav Roll is a collaboration between Chef Zama and Chef Michael Solomonov. Inspired by the award-winning cuisine that Chef Solomonov creates at his Old City restaurant Zahav, the hand roll creatively fuses the Japanese and Israeli culinary traditions together.
As Chef Zama details in the video, the meaty hand roll is stuffed with sushi rice, black sesame-edamame hummus, and tuna, all wrapped tight in red shiso soy paper. Delicious edamame falafel is served alongside the four hand rolls and Zama’s spin on tzatziki: yuzu juice and crème fraîche. Each element of the dish collides on the plate for a true fusion experience.
$1 of each Celebrity Roll benefits a charity of the celebrity’s choice. Chef Solomonov chose the Philadelphia Police Athletic League (PAL). PAL is “Cops Helping Kids,” by providing free educational, athletic and cultural after-school programs for youth to become successful and productive citizens.
Welcome to the new online home of Zama Restaurant!
The last few days have been a bit tumultuous with our website name change. Unfortunately, when we changed the name a few unexpected changes came along with it, and our previous blog posts were all lost.
So, in the coming days and weeks we will be re-introducing parts of our Celebrity Roll Series. You can also expect in-depth coverage on some of the fine seafood we use at Zama, plus new videos in the very near future.