What is Ebi (Prawns)?
The term ebi in Japanese refers to two orders of decapods, namely shrimps and prawns. In Japan, ebi in a culinary context or as a sushi ingredient usually refers to the kuruma shrimp. There are also other species that play an important role in Japanese cuisine and sushi.
Especially in Japan, ebi is considered one of the representative high-class ingredients for Edomae style sushi. Some refer to ebi as one of the “kings of sushi” because of its good taste and beautiful look [Masuo, 1987].
Ebi as Ingredient for Sushi or Sashimi
To prevent ebi from curling up during cooking, they are placed on a skewer. Without this preparation it would not be possible to form the shrimp onto a nigiri. After cooking for a short time, the shrimp are quenched in ice water for a short time. Ebi is most tasty when it is served shortly after preparation, still slightly warm. In addition to a thin glaze of soy sauce, freshly grated wasabi or tomalley is suitable as a garnish.
In truth, ebi is an outstanding nigiri neta who deserves the best place in saramori because it is something that is naturally delicious.
- Jiro Ono, Sushi Chef (Sukiyabashi Jiro) [Satomi, 2016]
Ebi plays a fundamental role in Japanese cuisine. Extensive use is made of ebi as hand-pressed sushi (nigiri-zushi), cut into small pieces as the filling of a sushi roll (maki-zushi), baked as tempura or grilled over an open fire.
Even small and medium-sized species are caught in significant quantities and are important resources of commercial fishing and a component of Japanese cuisine. Both in terms of taste and ecology, wild shrimp, which have been carefully and sustainably taken from their natural habitat, are preferable to those from industrial aquaculture. High-quality sushi restaurants, with a demand for the highest level of freshness, keep the shrimp alive in tanks (ikesu, 生け簀) or boxes until they are prepared. In more “ordinary” sushi restaurants, on the other hand, the shrimp are cooked in the morning, peeled and kept refrigerated until they are served. Very inexpensive restaurants often use pre-cooked and deep-frozen products, but these do not have much in common with the previously mentioned methods in terms of taste.
Variants of Ebi
As diverse as the types of shrimp are, as great is their use in Japanese cuisine. For example, the lightly salted head of the botan shrimp (botan ebi, ボタンエビ), previously coated with potato starch or flour, is considered particularly tasty. The brain of the botan ebi is also considered a very special delicacy. Although most people think of cooked shrimp when they hear ebi sushi, they are also highly prized as a raw dish, such as northern prawn (ama ebi, アマエビ).
It is said that the fresher the raw meat is, the sweeter it tastes. Odori ebi (踊り海老), literally dancing prawn, describes ebi that are either served to the guest alive or are killed shortly before being prepared by the chef. The head of the still living ebi is cut off, peeled and then, still twitching, served on the plate. During the dying process the muscles twitch and contract so that it looks like the prawn is dancing.
The kuruma prawn is only suitable for raw preparation to a limited extent, its raw meat lacks the characteristic sweetness of the other ebi species, a more tasty alternative is botan ebi.
Although ebi is a term for several genera and thus includes many species, the culinary term, especially in Japan, refers to the kuruma prawn (kuruma ebi, クルマエビ). Only a few or very high-quality foreign restaurants make a distinction between the kuruma prawn and, for example, a black tiger prawn (ushi ebi, ウシエビ). Especially outside Japan, the term ebi is used very inflationary for all kinds of shrimp and prawns, which often differ significantly from the kuruma prawn not only in size and taste but also in price.
Unfortunately, ebi sushi, mostly in western countries, does not receive the culinary recognition it deserves. The reason for this is either carelessness or lack of expertise in preparation. If the meat is porched too long, it becomes tough and bland, leaving a shrimp that resembles rubber rather than a delicacy. Ebi is a delicate product whose quality and aromas are quickly destroyed if it is stored for too long or served at the wrong temperature. Freshly caught ebi should be preferred to frozen ones, as their texture is much more pleasing. It goes without saying that a small western sushi restaurant would not import live Japanese kuruma prawn. However, as a customer, you should make sure that you are not fobbed off with low-quality farmed shrimp from Southeast Asia.
The season for ebi starts in spring and ends in autumn. In late autumn they begin to build up fat reserves for the winter and are then particularly tasty.
Ebi in Japan
The name ebi derives from the ancient Japanese reading of the word for grape (葡萄) and refers to the animal's color. The Japanese characters for ebi 海老 are composed of the character for “sea” (海) and “old age” (老). This combination is an allegory to the curved back and antennae, reminiscent of an old man's beard.
Characteristics & Ecology of Ebi (Prawns)
Prawns or shrimps have an elongated, more or less cylindrical and laterally slightly compressed body with a thin shell. They carry long antennae and have only small grasping organs. The legs in the rear part of the body are formed into swimming organs. The head usually forms a forward extension.
Further information on the author can be found in the section on image credits.
Video about Ebi
Species of Ebi
The following species are regarded as authentic. Either historically, according to the area of distribution or according to the common practice in today's gastronomy:
Common Names, Scientific Name
Northern prawn, Northern shrimp, deepwater prawn
Pandalus borealis eous
Pacific white shrimp, king prawn, whiteleg shrimp
botan shrimp, pink prawn
western king prawn
green tiger prawn
Japanese tiger prawn, kuruma prawn
morotoge shrimp, morotogeaka-ebi
Dokdo shrimp, Toyama shrimp
Asian tiger shrimp, black tiger prawn, giant tiger prawn
The following species can be considered subsitutes. Either on the basis of genetic relationship or because they are similar in taste or appearance:
Common Names, Scientific Name
Argentine red shrimp
tenshi no ebi
Western blue shrimp, angel shrimp
References & Further Reading
- [Bauer, 2004]: Raymond T. Bauer. Remarkable Shrimps: Adaptations and Natural History of the Carideans, Animal Natural History Series Vol. 7. University of Oklahoma Press, Oklahoma. 2004.
- [Heiter, 2007]: Celeste Heiter. The Sushi Book. Things Asian Press. 2007.
- [Hosking, 2015]: Richard Hosking. A Dictionary of Japanese Food: Ingredients & Culture. Tuttle Publishing, North Clarendon. 2015.
- [Lowry, 2005]: Dave Lowry. Connoisseur's Guide to Sushi: Everything You Need to Know About Sushi Varieties And Accompaniments, Etiquette And Dining Tips And More. The Harvard Common Press, Boston. 2005.
- [Masui & Masui, 2004]: Kazuko Masui, Chihiro Masui. Sushi Secrets. Hachette Illustrated, London. 2004.
- [Masuo, 1987]: Yoshino Masuo. Sushi. Gakken Co. Ltd., Tokyo. 1987.
- [Ross, 2001]: Lindsay G. Ross. Prawns of Japan and the World. CRC Press, Boca Raton. 2001.
- [Satomi, 2016]: Shinzo Satomi. Sukiyabashi Jiro. Vertical Inc., New York. 2016.
- [Seward, 2006]: Jack Seward. Outrageous Japanese (言ってはいけない!!危ないにほんご). Tuttle Publishing, North Clarendon. 2006.
Dennis Schilder. Ebi Sushi (Kurumaebi), 鮨紀文, Sushi Kibun Ginza, Kuruma Ebi (車海老 / Japanese Tiger Prawn). License: Copyrighted ©.