Neighboring diners will go green with envy when your food arrives. A look on their faces will say: “What in the world is that beautiful dish?”
“Oshizushi!” relays Sushi Huku’s blithe band of sushi chefs to inquisitive diners.
Sushi Huku offers two versions of oshizushi, which literally translates to “pressed box” sushi, in reference to the preparation method. Chefs use an oshizushi-hako mold — rectangular wooden but nowadays plastic — for forming.
It is “one of the oldest forms of sushi,” Huku head chef Jerome Oh said. The process, which originated in Osaka, Japan, involves delicately layering ingredients in the hako mold and firmly pressing down on its lid, with a few 180-degree rotations in between to ensure an evenly formed rectangular sushi cake. The cake is then removed and sliced into smaller rectangular bites resembling finger sandwiches that you might nosh on during afternoon tea.
“Back in the old days of Japan, people used to press rice with mackerel and add vinegar to preserve the fish. They would then wrap the oshizushi in banana leaves and carry it around with them to eat later on in the day,” Oh said.
The traditional version, called battera ($14.95), features slivers of this pickled mackerel, called shimi saba, which is simple in appearance and subdued in flavor. The “Kondo box” ($14.95), a vibrant version named after its inventor and former Huku chef Matsuo Kondo, entices those who prefer a little fusion punch to their sushi.
I find both oshizushi styles a feast for the eyes and mouth, and a showcase for the sushi restaurant’s adherence to ingredient quality and tradition that keep bringing me back.
Oh demonstrates how to make traditional battera by layering ingredients topside first in the hako. He starts with the shimi saba, followed by a blanket of sushi rice, a minced blend of pickled ginger and minty shiso (perilla leaf) and then a final layer of rice.
After a few cycles of pressing and forming the battera, Oh flips the hako upside down and gently eases the oshizushi out of the box. He applies a finishing touch by laying a thin, emerald sheet of rehydrated kelp on top and then cuts and plates the oshizushi. If you like deep, oily flavors associated with mackerel cut by a touch of vinegar, you will enjoy this nod to a traditional form of sushi.
The Kondo box sits on the opposite end of the oshizushi taste spectrum. First, a rainbow of tuna, yellowtail, shrimp and salmon go in the box. Then rice, orange pellets of masago (smelt roe), garlic wasabi mayonnaise, bits of crunchy tenkasu (fried tempura batter), avocado and more rice, all followed in that order again. Oh presses and forms the oshizushi, saying, “You don’t want to press down too hard because obviously the sushi rice has to have its individual texture.”
Oh plates the Kondo box with intertwined lines of garlic wasabi mayonnaise and spicy sriracha sauce (for swabbing) on the dish’s outer edge. He then tops each individual serving of oshizushi with a dab of sriracha and green molecules of wasabi tobiko (flying fish eggs), purposely laid on crimson slabs of tuna for color contrast. This version has bolder flavors than the battera. And the soft fish and rice, contrasted against crunchy tenkasu and poppy fish eggs, add an enjoyable textural dimension.
If you want to experience the old and new Japan, try both styles of oshizushi. These Japanese finger sandwiches also go well with hot ocha (tea) if you happen to find yourself there in the afternoon.SUSHI HUKU 6300 Powers Ferry Road, No. 800, Atlanta. 770-956-9559 Food: traditional Japanese sushi restaurant Service: excellent; private tatami rooms can be reserved upon request Vegetarian selections: vegetable rolls and sushi, vegetable tempura, pickle appetizers and vegetarian-friendly noodles Price range: $$ Credit cards: Discover, MasterCard, Visa, American Express Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Mondays-Fridays; 5:30 -10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; closed Sundays Children: yes Parking: in lot Reservations: yes Wheelchair access: yes Smoking: no Noise level: moderate Patio: no Takeout: yes