By Cindy Atoji Keene
Sashimi chef Chris Gould admits that he never even ate a piece of raw fish until he was 21 years old. As a self-described “white boy from Maine,” Gould, 28, has now been making up for lost time by training under top sushi chefs, applying his expertise in French and Spanish cuisine to create inventive Japanese fusion cuisine. “I was pretty open to whatever the classicist sushi pros had to tell me,” said Gould, who said it takes years to fully master not just the ways to butcher the fish but also proper handling and knowledge of Hamachi (yellowtail) to Hirame (fluke).
At the helm of the newly redesigned Uni Sashimi Bar in Boston, Gould pushes the envelope, crafting the freshest seafood from as far as Japan, Australia, or New Zealand, as well as local New England fishermen, into avant-garde interpretations. “We don’t pretend to be a traditional sashimi bar,” said Gould, whose culinary creations include combing salmon from Scotland with fermented black beans and ginger, or sea urchin from Maine with quail egg yolk, caviar and chives.
Whether breaking down a 150-pound tuna pulled from local waters or a petite red snapper from the famed Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Gould admits that slicing a rare catch that can cost as much as $60 a pound or more doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. “It’s not like cutting up a cucumber, which you can mess up and just throw away. You need every single piece of fish and you don’t want to waste any of it,” said Gould.
Q: What are the steps for preparing good sashimi?
A: First and foremost, the quality of the fish has to be absolutely fresh and treated very nicely from start to finish, not just thrown around in a box. Butchering the fish is also very important; if you have a dull knife, it breaks down the flesh, making it soft, and then you don’t get a nice firm piece of fish. Depending on the fat content, the fish should be sliced thick or thin. Every fish is different in the ways that it needs to be prepared.
Q: People either love sushi or hate it. What would you suggest for a beginner?
A: I suggest they try the Hamachi, which is a soft fatty white fish that has a nice texture to it. One of the biggest reasons people shy away from sushi and sashimi is the texture issue; they get a little sketched out by soft stuff, but tuna is firm.
Q: I think one of the concerns when eating raw fish is the freshness.
A: We take pride if we are serving Saba from Japan, for example, it’s shipped overnight and we have it the day after it came out of the water. It’s a beautiful piece of fatty mackerel, rather than something that was frozen and spent two years in a warehouse in New Jersey.
Q: How do you experiment to come up with new dishes?
A: Usually I start with a product I want to showcase, then play around with 20 or so different ingredients that would pair well with it. I try to incorporate unique flavors that compliment the fish, whether rose apple puree with pomegranate or fermented Chinese black beans. You often see pickled ginger with the fish since the acidity and a little bit of spiciness cleanses the palate.
Q: What’s the proper way to eat sashimi?
A: Traditional sashimi should be eaten simply with a dab of soy from a chopstick, not dunked into soy like a swimming pool. Sashimi should be eaten with chopsticks, not your hands, while nigiri and maki (two types of sushi with rice) can be eaten with your hands. That’s why the rice is there. Maki and Nigiri were the first forms of fast food in Japan.
Q: What is your best knife?
A: I have a couple of favorite Masamoto knives. They are very well made and nicely balanced. A knife like that will cost you $500-$600 but last forever. I sharpen our knives daily to keep them nice and razor sharp. Everything takes longer if a knife is dull.
Q: What do you think of conveyer belt sushi, which is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.?
A: Conveyer belt sushi is about the worst form of sushi. Sushi is only good when it is fresh — warm rice and cold fish.