Ultimate simplicity leads to purity

I took myself to see "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" yesterday. Sometimes, when
I want to be fully enveloped by the experience, I go to the movies alone. I go in the late afternoon, when it's less crowded. I sit in the back row.
I kick off my shoes and fold my knees into my chest. I'm not sure that
I move at all until the credits roll. 

I have been reading a book by Trevor Corson called The Story of Sushi. While watching the film, I was reminded of a practice he describes in which patrons of traditional sushi bars ask the chef for omakase, a series of small plates served one after another that are crafted around the day's freshest ingredients. To ask for omakase is to surrender, to say to the chef, "I leave it up to you." 

Yesterday, I felt like was served omakase. Each scene was like a small plate, a simple vignette that could stand alone, but flowed seamlessly into the next. There was the "ebb and flow of the menu" that Jiro describes when he talks about his own process of designing the day's meal. Lighter flavors lead to heavier dishes. The palate is cleansed between different kinds of fish with a piece of ginger. Scenes about familial duty, obligation, overfishing, and death are interspersed with bicycle rides through Tokyo streets that conjure the role of ginger. 

The film was brilliant. I went home hungry for the sushi made by a man in his 80's, who in dreams has "visions of sushi." 

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One of the things that is so mesmerizing to me about Jiro is his dedication to quality. There are only one or two seatings of dinner each night because he can only find that much fish that meets his standards. We watch his son toast individual sheets of nori over coals, so that each is perfectly crisp. An apprentice makes a Japanese egg dish hundreds of times before he gets it right. Each of the elements of the meal is handled with care.

One of the most basic elements of Japanese cuisine is dashi, a broth made of kelp, or kombu, and flakes of dried bonita fish, katsuobusi.
"Ultimate simplicity leads to purity," Masuhiro Yamamoto writes. Dashi
is undeniably simple, but it is the foundation for any great Japanese meal. 

4 cups water
2 pieces of kombu (approx. 5" x 5")
1/2 cup katsuobushi

Soak the kombu in the water overnight.
Place the pot over medium heat. Allow the water to slowly approach boiling.
Remove the kombu as soon as it floats to the surface. 
Add katsuobushi.
Remove from heat. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes and then strain through
a fine sieve or cheesecloth. 

This post is part of a series: a Week of Fish. Look out for posts that demystify sustainable seafood, a guide to fishmongers in NYC and beyond, and 5 tips for keeping fish fresh.