Preparing Kuruma Ebi (車海老 / Penaeus japonica) for Nigiri Sushi

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Kuruma Ebi (車海老 / Penaeus japonica) is the most common shrimp served at traditional Edomae sushi restaurants. In order to bring out the shrimp ‘s most authentic flavour, the shrimp s are kept alive until the very last moment, and cooked only minutes before being served to the customers. Historically, it used to be cooked in the morning, chilled, and peel, before being served to the customers when they arrived later in the day. In order to keep the shrimp s alive throughout the day. The shrimp s are actually delivered alive in styrofoam boxes that are equipped with portable oxygen pumps, a small application of modern day technology not previously available to chefs.

During preparation, the shrimp s are skewered with a long bamboo skewer and boiled in hot water. The bamboo stick prevents the shrimp s’ muscles from contracting and thus becoming the wrong shape for nigiri. During the boiling process, the shrimp s change from a dull grey colour into a bright red colour, a trait only seen in wild shrimp s, with farmed Kuruma Ebi taking on a orangish hue. After boiling, the shrimp s are then chilling in an ice bath, but only just until the outside is cold, whilst the inside is still warm. Compared to other tane/fish which are served at room temperature, Kuruma Ebi is served warm in order to bring out it’s flavour. The shrimp is then quickly peeled, cut and served as nigiri. In certain restaurants, the Tomalley of the shrimp, also knows as the shrimp’s miso in Japanese, is added in-between the rice, wasabi and shrimp in order to accentuate the richness of the shrimp and balance out the wasabi.

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Kuruma Ebi is in season twice a year during late spring, when the sea around Japan starts to become warmer and winter, but are available all year round from different parts of Japan. They spawn during the summer. Just like Kohada, as it grows, its name also changes:

  • 5cm- Saimaki Ebi (才巻海老)
  • 10-15cm- Maki Ebi (巻海老)
  • 15-20cm- Kuruma Ebi ( 車海老)
  • >20cm- Daisha/Oguruma Ebi (代車海老/尾車海老)

Most high end sushi restaurants in Japan actually use Oguruma Ebi to make nigiri instead of Kuruma ebi but even then it’s still called Kuruma Ebi in for simplicities sake. This also means that for one shrimp, two pieces of nigiri can be made, with the shrimp being cut in half after the nigiri is made. The example shown in the blog is for one shrimp per nigiri.

Some older customers request for their Kuruma Ebi to be served raw (odori/踊り), which not typically done. For sweeter shrimp such as Botan and Ama ebi, it is far more common. The taste of Kuruma Ebi is more savoury than sweet however, and therefore not the most suitable for eating raw. However, as the customers that typically order this are typically customers who have gone to high end sushi restaurants many times, we believe that they understand what they are ordering. Most newcomers would never order this as they would have never eaten it before, as the default way Kuruma ebi is served is boiled.

Edomae-style Kuruma Ebi Preperation:

Start by skewering the shrimp using a long bamboo skewer. Insert the skewer from the head-end of the shrimp, but only insert it from where the legs start, as the head of the prawn is too tough. When skewering the prawns, hold the prawns with pressure as it prevents them for jumping. If held lightly, the prawn will be able to sense it and jump away.

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Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Place the shrimp in the boiling water and cook for 3 to 4 minutes depending on size at the rolling boil. The shrimp should turn a bright red colour. We do 4 minutes at the restaurant for shrimp that are typically around 20 to 23cm in length.

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Once cooked, immediately transfer to an ice bath to chill the shrimp. Only chill until the outside is cold to touch and not any longer. You want to maintain the warmth of the shrimp.

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The shrimp bends if not skewered correctly.

Once cooked, the shrimp are brought out to the counter.

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The head and shells of the shrimp are only removed at the counter, as they help to preserve the warmth of the shrimp until the very last moment. After peeling, the belly of the shrimp is cut open and nigiri is made. The tomalley in the heads of the shrimp are used as seasoning along with wasabi. Alternatively, the heads are grilled over a charcoal grill and served to the guest.

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