If you’ve eaten sushi from Bi-Lo, Bert’s Market, Roper Hospital or Locals Bar, you’ve eaten Marcos Ramirez’s rolls. Here, the Tobo Sushi owner spills secrets about the outsourced sushi trade:
“You need to put much more care into it, because when people see fish changing color, you don’t sell it,” Ramirez says. “In a restaurant, you’ve already sold it.” But the prospect of customer inspection is just one reason that rolls sold in the grocery store tend to be fresher: Supermarkets are regulated more rigorously than restaurant kitchens, including by agencies such as the S.C. Department of Agriculture.
Additionally, Ramirez says, “you get a bigger portion for your money.” Still, Ramirez concedes that the advantages associated with supermarket sushi vanish when too much time passes. “One thing I don’t like is the product sitting too long,” he says. It’s not the fish quality that concerns Ramirez, it’s the flavor of the rice that tends to degrade.
If Ramirez is preparing rolls for Bi-Lo or another grab-and-go setting, he doesn’t fuss with tempura. “It’s going to be refrigerated so long that you lose the crunchiness,” he says. The consistent temperature of a cooler also interferes with the hot-cold contrast he aims to create with his restaurant rolls, which he can fill with pricy ingredients that wouldn’t fly at the grocery store. “I do tempura Maine lobster with crab with cream cheese and avocado, and on top I put filet mignon, so the cream cheese is going to be a little bit melted.”
Sushi fans in the Charleston area prefer rolls made with cooked seafood. Ramirez isn’t sure why.
One of the knocks on sushi sold by supermarkets and hospitals is it’s not fresh. Genuinely fresh seafood is the last thing you want, Ramirez says. “It’s really dangerous to eat,” he says. “Parasites can harm you really bad. So the best way is to freeze the fish for up to four days.” That’s Ramirez’s approach, even when dealing with high-quality Scottish salmon for restaurant menus and special events. “I make sure you can eat a piece of fish without having to think there may be something in it.”