Sashimi-grade Fish

Wednesday, 16 March 2011 | Tags: ,

For our research into a cookbook called Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook, featured on our series Anna & Kristina's Grocery Bag, we learned all about fish used in making sashimi (raw dishes). Here's what you need to know...


  • Sushi and sashimi, finger-sized pieces of raw fish or shellfish on a bed of rice and vegetables, have been a part of Japanese cuisine for centuries. In recent years, it has made its way to the West.

  • Most fish contain naturally-occurring parasites that can be harmful (even fatal) to humans, so it’s extremely important to ensure the fish was properly treated before consumption.

  • Sashimi is served raw, chilled, sliced, and elegantly arranged on vegetables, often served with soy sauce or ponzu sauce, along with wasabi, red pepper, and green onions. It is odourless and delicate, and usually eaten (using chopsticks) before other types of sushi.

  • Sashimi-grade fish varieties include:

    • Salmon (sake)
    • Tuna (maguro) or tuna belly (toro)
    • Snapper or sea bream (tai)
    • Halibut (hirame)
    • Squid (ika)
    • Octopus (tako)
    • Yellowtail (hamachi)
    • Sea bass (suzuki)
    • Horse Mackerel (aji)
    • Kingfish or sea trout (masu)
    • Bonito (katsuo)
    • Red clam (akagai)
    • Horseneck clam or geoduck (mirugai)
    • Abalone (awi)

Raw Fish Cautions

  • There are surprisingly few guidelines when it comes to determining what can be considered sushi or sashimi-grade fish!

    • In the US, the FDA’s Food Code recommends one of the following three kinds of freezing conditions to retailers who sell fish intended for raw consumption: 1) freezing and storing seafood at -20°C or below for 7 days total; 2) freezing at -35°C or below until solid and storing at -35°C or below for 15 hours; 3) freezing at -35°C or below until solid and storing at -20°C or below for 24 hours.

  • Parasites are a fact of life when you eat meat, which is why humans have been cooking much of their food for thousands of years.

  • Deep freezing also kills bacteria, though some can survive because a home freezer simply isn’t cold enough.

  • Parasites to watch out for include:

    • Cod worms found in cod, haddock, Pollock, and hake are easily visible to the naked eye and are easily removed if you catch them. Some reputable fish houses “candle” their fish by putting the fillets on a light box to detect any worms. This is part of the reason cod is never seen at a sushi bar.

    • Seal worms are found in salmon, mackerel, Pacfic rockfish, jacksmelt, some halibut, and other flounders, even shad on the West Coast. The worms are small, brown, and curled up like a spring. You can miss them if you don’t look carefully, but if you are looking (and always look with jacksmelt and herring) you can pick them out. Mackerel is treated with vinegar in sushi preparation.

    • Neither cod nor seal worms will kill you, but they can be unpleasant.

    • Tapeworms, however, are far nastier and live in so many freshwater fish that it’s foolish to consider eating raw wild trout, sturgeon, walleye, or largemouth bass.

  • Farmed fish from the United States, Canada, Norway, Britain, New Zealand, and Japan are generally considered safe for sushi and sashimi. These countries have very strict standards and regulations about how farmed fish are bred, raised, and processed, meaning that they tend to be free of parasites and bacteria that wild fish are susceptible to.

  • Sushi restaurants have sources that are different from consumer grocery stores and specifically purchase food items that are meant to be eaten raw. Most fish served in restaurants has been flash frozen within hours of being harvested; the fish is frozen in seconds under extremely cold temperatures. Not only does this preserve freshness, it kills any parasites that the fish may harbour.

  • While some grocery stores now offer sushi or sashimi-grade fish, and their own sushi bars, don’t assume that any fish on display is safe uncooked unless it is specifically labeled as such.

  • Most home freezers are not able to freeze a piece of fish as quickly or to as cold a temperature as flash freezing and therefore may not kill all parasites. Home freezing also does not deal with other pathogens that might be introduced in the handling process (such as bacteria on your counter) and can also negatively affect the texture and flavour of the fish. For these reasons, it’s not an accepted practice to freeze fish from the regular supermarket at home to make it safe for raw consumption.

  • Traditionally, ginger was served with sushi to cleanse the palate when eaten between different kinds of sushi. However, ginger also has minor anti-microbial properties, and it is thought that eating it with raw foods can assist in preventing sickness if there is any contamination of the product.

  • In addition to adding flavour and spice to sushi, wasabi also exhibits similar anti-microbial characteristics.

Storing Sashimi-Grade Fish

  • While fresh fish can last for a few days before being cooked or prepared, sushi or sashimi-grade fish is best consumed within a day, especially if it has been sitting out or has been unrefrigerated for any length of time.

  • If you’re bringing leftovers home, put the takeaway box on a tray of crushed ice in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

  • Keeping sashimi as cold as possible slows the breakdown of naturally-occurring oils that cause rancidity in fresh fish.

  • As with any raw fish, use your eyes and nose to judge if it is safe to eat. Fish that is turning rancid has a distinctly fishy odour and appears dull, patchy, or develop spots of milky liquid.


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