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Famed Seattle Chef Shiro Has Been Cutting Sushi for More Than Five Decades

The 73-year-old shared tips over the weekend at Pike Place Market.

Shiro at Pike Place Market.
Shiro at Pike Place Market.
Kayla Dawson

Getting the chance to eat sushi at Shiro's requires a reservation on most days. Getting to watch the restaurant's retired owner breaking down a local albacore, answer questions, and then being gifted the freshest sushi you'll ever eat? Well, it was certainly worth a little rainy wait in line.

On Sunday, famed Seattle sushi chef Shiromost recently of Belltown restaurant Shiro's—drew over 200 people to the atrium of Pike Place Market for the release of his new book, Shiro: Wit, Wisdom and Recipes from a Sushi Pioneer (Chin Music Press.) The Pike Place Market "At the Table" culinary program helped to coordinate the well-executed event, setting up video for a close-up look at Shiro at work.

A question and answer session was especially enlightening and entertaining. Example question: What makes you stand out as a sushi chef? "I'm old," he said wryly, adding "I'm not most special, only most experienced. I'm 73 years old and I've been cutting sushi for over 50 years." Still, he says he enjoys cutting fish and serving sushi.

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Salmon fans might be surprised to learn that Shiro would never serve fresh salmon as sushi or sashimi. As he explained, because salmon are born in fresh water, they can have certain parasites. So, even if they're caught in the ocean, they could still be harmful. Instead, he freezes fish for at least 48 hours before he'll cut it and serve it raw. "In Japan, all the chefs have to take a test to become sushi chef. Not here," he says of one of the biggest sushi differences between the US and abroad.

Another difference? The local quality of the fish. Because the islands of Japan are completely surrounded by water, there is more availability of local fish. With excellent transportation, it's easy to ship a fresh-caught fish to another island within one to two days of catching it.

To find the best fish yourself, he recommends not buying anything that's wrapped already. "Fish that's fresh doesn't smell like fish. Wrapped fish, you can't smell. Buy from someone who knows if the fish was caught within the last few days," he recommends.

The biggest takeaway, though, was that Shiro's recommendations for how to eat sushi follows the trend of eating locally and seasonally. Rather than sticking to the five fish usually in a sampler platter, he says to ask the chef what's shun, or in a proper season. In the summer, he likes spot prawns from hood canal, in the winter, oysters and other seasonal Northwest fish.

Oh, and if you're looking to copy his knife selection, he has one piece of advice: Use a sharp one.

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