The heat spreads from the tongue, lighting up the hard palate, then the nostrils, rushing toward the forehead as tears spring to the eyes. At Denver sushi restaurants, this singular sensation overwhelms taste buds after even just the tiniest bead of wasabi. With its brilliant green hue and its potent punch, one might wonder what in the world this stuff is made of. The answer? That depends.Wasabi the plant (not the condiment) grows along streams and riverbeds in Japan, and resembles a warty carrot, or a ginger root tinged green. To make the condiment, chefs grate the root with graters made of sharkskin. The wasabi must be grated so finely that it becomes a paste—making this a time-consuming endeavor. On top of that, wasabi must be made to order, never batch-made ahead of service. That’s because the flavors lose all their intensity in just 15–20 minutes.Wasabi’s short shelf life and the plant’s scarcity in the US mean that even in some of the best restaurants in Denver, such as Sushi Sasa and Sushi Den, it’s rare to find true wasabi. Luckily, the root plant is a close cousin to horseradish; therefore most restaurants in Denver—and the rest of the country—serve a blend of horseradish and mustard that’s a near-doppelgänger of true wasabi, without wasabi’s herbal notes.Pro Tip: Although many diners mix wasabi into a pool of soy sauce for dunking, this is often considered bad form, especially in restaurants that use genuine wasabi—the saltiness of the soy overwhelms wasabi’s delicate flavor.
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