Sashimi Grade: What's the deal?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by litlmike, Nov 30, 2011.

  1. litlmike

    litlmike

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    What makes some types of sashimi safe to eat?  How do you know if it is safe to eat?

    Meaning, how do I know if I go to buy some salmon, that it would be safe to eat raw?  I had been buying salmon from Costco and preparing sashimi for myself, until a friend of mine who is a chef, told me that I shouldn't do that unless it is sashimi grade fish.  I asked Costco, but they had no idea if their fish is sashimi grade.  How can I tell what qualifies to eat raw and safely?
     
  2. chefross

    chefross

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    Firstly any fish that you buy at a grocery chain is not going to be Sashimi grade.

    The whole idea behind making and eating Sushi and/or Sashimi is that the fish is as fresh from the water as possible.

    There is no way to tell this when buying fish at the grocery store.

    Fish purchased directly from a fish monger MAY guarantee freshness and that depends on location.

    A fish house in Des Moines Iowa selling cod, salmon, what-have-you is not going to be as fresh as say the market under the Brooklyn Bridge in New York city or Pikes Market in Seattle.
     
  3. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    WHOA......I beg to differ ChefRoss....location is not always a determining factor, it's a good starting point but I've seen many a fish place on a coast use frozen shtuff, and many places in the midwest flying in fresh fish.    

    Isn't some sashimi frozen at a very low temp to kill parasites...?  Not sure on this point.
     
  4. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Sashimi or Sushi Grade is a lose term, with no legal meaning; and hence it's meaning is more "aspirational" than real.

    It means top grade.

    I don't know what the percentages are but a huge amount of fish sold in the BEST sushi-ya was frozen on the boat.  For instance, the odds of anyone on this forum eating fresh fish from Japanese waters outside of Japan are very low.    

    In fact, freezing is considered the best way of making sure the fish are parasite free when sold.

    If you want to do a good job of cutting and serving raw fish, but don't know enough about fish to tell by eye whether or not it's "sashimi grade," that's the place to begin.

    Start by learning to buy whole, wild, salt-water, fresh fish; by looking look at the eyes, the gills, the condition of the skin, and smelling it.  Learn to "fabrciate" it for cooking.  When you can cut a whole fish into glass smooth fillets -- stop and take a look at them.  That's sashimi grade. 

    There are supers which do carry "sushi grade."  In my neck of the woods they aren't at all uncommon, but are rare to the point of non-existence through most of North America.  Super, specialty fish market, or something in between:  Look for a fish monger who has his fish on ice -- not wrapped in covered trays in an open refrigerator gondola -- and who will let you examine the fish before you buy.

    It's no different for buying larger fish which the fish monger fabricated.  If it's wild fish, looks good, feels good and smells good, it is almost certainly good; even if it was frozen.      

    Farmed and fresh water fish present other issues.  Some you want to avoid, and I don't want to get into it.

    Bottom Line:  Know your fish, know your fish monger.  Don't serve raw fish until you do.  If you don't have sources for top grade, wild, saltwater fish in your area forget about making sashimi altogether. 

    Hope this helps,

    BDL
     
  5. chefross

    chefross

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    Shroomgirl I DID say "...May guarantee freshness and that depends on location..." 

    Secondly then.......I have to ask if serving Sushi and Sashimi in America is more or less going through the motions without making the real thing.

    Since only the best fresh fish available can be eaten raw, doesn't it seem to reason that since we, here in America, are unable to have the most fresh product available we should be making nor serving it?

    Of course there are those fish which are available to us on both coasts, but unless...a Chicago restaurant, for instance,  has fresh fish flown in daily can it honestly say that their Sushi Sashimi is the freshest available?
     
  6. sherbel

    sherbel

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    I think you missed the gist of what both shroomgirl and BDL wrote in their posts; world-class sushi chefs (Masa Takayama is one example) use some frozen fish, in particular frozen tuna. It's not just carelessly frozen, it's blast-chilled and frozen within minutes of being caught, and it's quality is superb. Sushi chefs who are serious about their tuna will store it in freezers (Thermo freezers) that maintain a temperature in the neighborhood of -87F. It's done this way to ensure excellence.

    "Sushi and Sashimi in America" is a broad brush indeed; and I don't think that you can generalize as to the quality of several thousand restaurants that serve sushi/sashimi. Some are excellent, some are so-so, some are no doubt very nasty. I think a resourceful chef can serve excellent sushi almost anywhere, given the technology of fast shipping and blast freezing.
     
  7. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Posted by Chefross  
    No.  There are some wonderful sushi-ya in the US serving truly excellent and excellently prepared fish.
    False premise.  If you're going to eat fresh fish raw it should be high quality, but "only the best," is pushing it.  There's a fairly wide range.
    There's some truth to this, but it's more a matter of the competition and the sophistication of the clientele than availability.  The clientele is a big key.  At some point sushi-ya owners get wise to the fact that very few of their customers want much in the way of variety; prefer American style rolls with a lot going on, to the very simple, traditional sashimi and sushi presentations which really put a premium on quality; and wouldn't know quality fish if it mugged them when they left.  There's no percentage in going to the expense and trouble of getting a wide variety of truly great fish if your dinner clientele raves about rolls filled with "spicy scallops" you made at lunch.  I learned this from a friend who used to wholesale fish before opening his own sushi place, Kaya Sushi, in Marina Del Rey.  He and his restaurant went through the process of adjusting their product down to their clientele's taste -- but at least they did it with Dave's wry humor.

    Areas with a lot of competition and a sophisticated clientele typically have several truly excellent restaurants.  LA's K-Town is a very good example, with some Korean "Japanese restaurants," serving sashimi as good as anywhere.   West Los Angeles, even though wealthier, doesn't have nearly as many good sushi-ya.

    I'm not sure what it's like in the rest of the country, but would venture to say that the same rules apply.  Where there's a sophisticated clientele and enough demand for concentrated competition, you'll find good sushi.  Of course, that's true for dim sum, papusas, and just about anything else. 

    A lot of fish is flown all over the country, to the point where "today's catch" from the other coast is not at all uncommon.  No doubt, there's more than one restaurant in Chi going out of its way to source the very best fish available in the US. 

    Fresh, in this context, may not mean what you think it does.  Quite a bit of very good fish is "fresh frozen," and that goes for Japan too.  It's nice to get fish that came out of the water the same day, or live fish from the tank... but not always possible. 

    BDL
     
  8. chefross

    chefross

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    Thanks for the information.

    I find that I have had pre-conceived notions that are totally off base.

    I stand corrected and am grateful for the info.
     
  9. shroomgirl

    shroomgirl

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    thanks BDL for explainin' in detail.....

    thanks Ross for the acknowledgement.....nice to see, happens very rarely.
     
  10. chefedb

    chefedb

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    Fish that has been ,frozen aboard factory type ships is healthier and better then flown in , that takes a few days in most cases before it reaches you. I was told Sushi Grade meant clear and fresh, whatever that means.
     
  11. kyheirloomer

    kyheirloomer

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    Fresh is a nebulous quality at best. For anyone more than 50 miles from the coast, "fresh" (that is, unfrozen) fish is, at a minimum, three to four days out of the water.

    On the other hand, as Ed notes, FAS fish is as close to flopping as to make no never mind. The fish are caught, cleaned, fabricated, and flash frozen in about two hours.

    The key to maintaining that quality is to defrost it properly.
     
  12. shaunmac

    shaunmac

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    for what its worth, i took a food safety class through a former restaurant employer of mine and the person teaching the class said that all "sushi grade" fish must be frozen down to a certain temp to kill (or slow to be technical i guess) the bacteria similarly to what cooking the fish would do. Don't know if thats 100% true just figured i'd share.
     
  13. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    The theory with freezing "sushi grade" fish intended for raw consumption is that freezing kills the parasites, not the bacteria.  But since there's no legal or industry standard, and no penalty for a seller using it when and however he likes, the term has only as much meaning as the seller gives it. 

    BDL
     
  14. chefedb

    chefedb

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    There are many forms of bacteria that lives in frozen states. Main reason the fish monger calls it sashimi grade is $$$$$$$ he can charge more.
     
  15. ooji

    ooji

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    As an avid fisherman/cook who lived in Japan for 15 years and ate sushi/sashimi at least every week. The only fish that a quality sushi-ya sells that has been frozen is Tuna/Maguro, because it changes the the taste for the better. Kaiten-zushi/fast food utilizes a lot of frozen fish to keep cost down. It is true that most US sushi-ya concentrate on rolls and the quality really is not good. I found if I want good sashimi and nigiri sushi that it has to come from a place that only prepares traditional Japanese rolls, nigiri and sashimi. What I learned in Japan is that most Ocean fish are parasite free and they know of the ones that may be at risk, like large mahi mahi (actually seen worms in ones I caught). I have no clue about how the US market defines sashimi grade, but it does appear to be better quality and freezing would fix the parasite problem. Now for salmon, because they don't want to eat frozen fish, all Japanese sushi/sashimi salmon has be salted whole to kill parasites, because it is also a fresh water fish. I hope your Costco salmon was previously frozen, smoked or salted.
     
  16. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    Posted by Ooji  

    I never lived in Japan and am not much of a fisherman, so hate to disagree.  But your conclusion doesn't reflect the variety of fish available in good Japanese sushi-ya, nor modern Japanese fishing practices; which includes fishing far beyond home waters and flash freezing fish which will not be sold within a day or two (at most!) of the catch.  The alternative is economically non-feasible short trips and schlepping huge, fuel wasting, quantities of ice.  Seeing the fish appearing "fresh" in the fish market or the sushi-ya presentation case doesn't mean it was never frozen. 

    Your comments about salmon remind me of something amusing in the "share the joy" sort of way we get watching others' "foodgasms."  There are few things in life as pleasant as watching a Japanese tourist/gourmand eating in a good US sushi-ya during one of the west coast's wild salmon runs. 
     
  17. ooji

    ooji

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    Sounds like you don't have the knowledge to disagree. Long range fishing boats are targeting a couple types of fish, mostly Tuna and Marlin. Most of the fish in a Sushi-ya is near shore or bay fish and NEVER frozen unless it's not sold and then goes on sale for huge discounts and usually only used as fishing bait.
     
     
  18. boar_d_laze

    boar_d_laze

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    New York Times, 2004.

    I didn't say I'd never been to Japan, hadn't eaten in excellent sushi-ya there, or was unaware of what goes on. 

    BDL
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2011
  19. benway

    benway

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    If a fish is sashimi grade it is absolutely probable it was at one time frozen, even tuna and even in Japan.  This is always a sensitive food subject especially here in America where the idea of eating raw animals is less well received.  I don't think I've ever seen anything but tuna called sashimi-grade before which makes sense for a couple of reasons.  1. Tuna is spread uniformly throughout the world's oceans and some of it is caught quite far away.  2. Tuna is by far the most popular fish for raw preparations.  I work seasonally on an Alaskan salmon seining ship which is the same gear that most commercial Tuna is caught with but on a much smaller scale. Tuna seiners are enormous.  Big enough to carry helicopters which are used to spot the schools.  A single set can bring 200,000 lbs which is double the biggest salmon set we've ever caught.  The difference is that a Tuna seiner can easily store that in its hold where as we'll require a bigger tender to come vacuum those fish directly out of our net.

    To give the short answer, if I was buying tuna for sashimi I would want to thaw it myself.  I would look for a block of fish that was frozen and cut with a saw.  If that had ever thawed it would be easy to tell as the sharp edges would be gone.  This fish can also be packed densely and shipped long distances without trouble.

    As for Salmon... I used my summers to practice technique daily as I have an unlimited supply of fish to work on.  I gave some simple instruction to another crew but failed to mention the hazards of eating raw salmon.  Weeks later I heard about how the whole crew was down after eating never-frozen Salmon.  So even straight out of the water salmon is hardly "sashimi grade."  Having eaten plenty of Salmon that is just minutes old and stuff that has made its way back the states, the biggest difference is in the texture.  In super fresh salmon all the flesh is contracted making for an all-round firmer animal that is very pleasing.  But sashimi? Slice it thin enough and the textural difference is negligible IMO.

    Also a lot of fish, like cod, is taken in the winter season as the colder waters kill the worms.  When I'd make cod that was caught in our nets, I'd hold the filets up the light to cut out the wormy bits before cooking.
     
  20. litlmike

    litlmike

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    Well...well... there are a lot of competing ideas as to what this all means, I guess I am not alone.

    Follow up question:

    Let's forget about quality for a moment, in the sense of texture or taste, since this is for personal use

    How do we know if fish (say salmon) is safe to eat raw?  If it is 3-4 days out from being caught?  If it has been frozen?  Can we freeze it at home to kill parasites?  What temperature would it have to freeze too?