A close relative to herring or white anchovies, gizzard shad is far more popular in Japan than it is in the United States. Because it is such an oily, intensely flavored fish, tradition dictates that it should first be salted or brined, then washed or soaked with fermented rice wine before being crafted into sushi. Finding the perfect formula of time and technique for this little fish is a rite of passage for sushi chefs.
Kohada is the specific term for baby shad that are between two and four inches long. At this stage of their growth, their skin is silvery blueish green along the spine, fading quickly to a brilliant silver body that looks like jewelry. The flesh underneath is pink, like a grapefruit.
While some masters salt their shad for days. others insist on merely a few minutes. Susumu Ii, the chef/owner at Sushi Ii in Newport Beach, isn’t much of a talker so I don’t know the whole story behind his kohada. But I can tell you this: It is absolutely delicious. And beautiful. The chef drapes a single jewel-like fillet over a diminutive lump of lukewarm rice. The flesh is elegantly gashed to reveal the contrasting flesh underneath. I wrote about Sushi Ii recently for the Orange County Register.