[The Myth of Sushi, or Why You Really Don’t Want Fresh Fish in Your Nigiri]

Trevor Corson, sushi concierge, and the author of the excellent The Story of Sushi, talked to Primal Cut about the many misconceptions about sushi and fresh fish.

You say that people’s obsession with freshness in sushi is completely missing the point. Why?

TC: That’s the thing that everybody says, it’s just a knee-jerk assumption that would seem to make sense on the surface. People associate flavors with freshness. Freshness isn’t really the issue. Every good sushi chef, a serious sushi chef, is actually aging the fish. It’s the same way that beef develops flavor after being aged after a few weeks. The aging process is just much faster. We’re talking about days rather than weeks. A good sushi chef is actually letting the fish age just enough for the proteins to break down into the flavor molecules. Tasty amino acids increase with aging. The problem is that it’s a compromise, because as fish ages the texture starts to degrade. Every great sushi chef is a master of compromise.

So why do you think diners focus so much on freshness, on talking about how fresh a piece of fish was?

Maybe because they don’t understand the process. A lot of the original prep techniques were not about freshness at all but about aging. Hopefully a good chef is able to get the information about when the fish was caught and how long it took to get to the restaurant, and maybe taste it, too, and then he will keep an eye on that development of flavor over the next couple of days. It might well be that actually a fish is going to taste better after the Friday or Tuesday that it arrives.

So fresher isn’t always better?

The truth is, a piece of tuna caught right in front of you, carved up and eaten, won’t taste like all that much. And that’s as fresh as it gets. You need the development of flavor.

What about the notion that you shouldn’t eat fish or get sushi on Mondays? Anthony Bourdain put that out there, and every foodie seems to have embraced it.

It’s kinda silly. I often do my guided sushi dinners on Mondays in New York and I’ve never noticed that there’s any degradation. The better, more conscientious placds are getting constant deliveries during the week, not just one big dump a couple or a few times a week.