Other Names: Bergstockrose or Japanischer kren (German); Japanese horseradish; raifort du Japon (French); saan kwai (Chinese).
General Description: Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) has a fleshy rhizome, resembling but not related to horseradish, which is grated and prepared in a fresh green paste that is the essential condiment for sashimi and sushi. This native Japanese plant is an evergreen that grows in wet, cool mountain river valleys along streambeds and on sandbars. Wasabi, which has found widespread popularity in Western cuisine, has a short-lived hotness that subsides into a pleasant, mild vegetable flavor. The pure, clean pungency of wasabi is especially valued in Japanese cuisine because it produces an enzyme action that helps kill germs and parasites when eating raw fish and is said to help digestion. Wasabi is one of the rarest vegetables in the world because it’s among the most difficult to grow. In Japan, fresh wasabi, which like horseradish will induce tears, is preferred, and its leaves are often used as an aromatic decoration. Elsewhere, wasabi is most commonly sold either dried as pale green powder or as a green paste.
Purchase and Avoid: Fresh wasabi is occasionally available in Asian and specialty markets; expect it to be expensive. Choose whole, firm roots and avoid any that are slimy or deteriorating. Many widely available brands of wasabi powder and wasabi paste consist mainly of colored horseradish, mustard, and cornstarch, or may include parts of the plant other than the prized root. Frozen prepared true wasabi paste, sold by Japanese specialty suppliers, is of high quality.
Storage: Store fresh wasabi in the refrigerator up to 1 month, wrapped in damp paper towels. Rinse in cold water once a week. Refrigerate opened wasabi paste.
- Trim off any dark edges from fresh wasabi root and scrub with a soft brush, peeling if desired.
- Grate wasabi in a circular motion using a fine grater or nutmeg grater. Sushi chefs use a sharkskin grater because it gives the wasabi a smooth, soft, and aromatic finish. After grating, mash the fresh wasabi with the back side of a knife to release more flavor.
- Compress the fresh wasabi into a ball and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes at room temperature to develop its flavor.
Serving Suggestions: When eating sushi, spread a little wasabi paste on the fish, then dip the rice side of the sushi into soy sauce so the sauce doesn’t touch the wasabi. Top tofu and tempura vegetables with soy sauce and wasabi paste. Season Bloody Marys and mashed potatoes with grated wasabi.
Food Affinities: Asparagus, beef, cod, cucumber, ginger, potato, salmon, sashimi, scallops, sesame oil, sesame seed, shiitake mushroom, soba noodles, sushi, tuna.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com