How to choose fresh fish for sushi and sashimi

DIY Sushi

You're having one of those do-it-yourself weekends. Your bathroom is a new "sea foam" color, you gave your car an oil change and there is something resembling a wooden deck in your yard. Why stop there? Why not make sushi? Sounds like a plan. But first, how are you going to ensure that the fish you're buying is fresh and safe to consume?

Frozen vs. Fresh

Most people assume that the best sushi requires only the freshest fish. This is true. But a lot of the sushi you may have eaten at your local Japanese restaurant has been previously frozen and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Ideally, your sashimi has been cut from a fish that, only hours ago, was swimming happily in the ocean. Many sushi restaurants use fresh fish that have arrived on ice (not frozen). Your local seafood store may also have fresh tuna or salmon that arrived shortly after being caught. The positive side of this is that you end up with a really good, fresh product. But if you're doing this yourself, you may not be able to tell if the fish has any parasites in it. A trained sushi chef has the skill and experience to be able to tell whether a piece of fish is safe to eat.

You probably haven't realized that most of the sushi you've eaten has been prepared using previously frozen fish. At first, you may think you got ripped off, or that it would be a lesser-quality product. But that's not the case. I actually recommend that sushi beginners use frozen fish. In my opinion, the quality is still good, and most people can't tell the difference. The advantages of using frozen fish are several. First, you can buy more and keep it in your freezer for when you're craving sushi. You can also purchase seasonal fish (like Chilean salmon) and keep it around for a while longer so that you always have your favorite fish for sushi. It's also more economical.

Most times, I prefer to purchase IQF (individually quick frozen) or previously frozen fish to make my sushi. I can buy more at a better price, store it easily and have the confidence that I'm not going to get parasites. As I mentioned before, the quality of frozen fish is better than you might think. It's actually quite good if it's been processed quickly.

How do I tell if it's fresh?

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: your nose was put on your face for a reason. Always smell your fish. If it stinks, don't eat it. Fish should have a light, natural fishy smell. It should smell like the ocean (and not the Jersey shore, but the nice part of the ocean). There should not be an offensive odor. If you find yourself making the who-cut-the-cheese-face, or if you're sitting there in doubt, put it down. Better safe than sorry.

What type of fish should I buy?

This is really up to you. If you were in Japan, you would see that most every fish is game. Aside from your regulars — tuna family, salmon, trout, mackerel, cooked eel, cooked octopus, shrimp — you can try different fish like grouper, snapper, amber jack, etc. I sometimes enjoy trying new fish in the form of sushi or sashimi from my local fishmonger.

How do I store my fish?

If you're buying IQF fish, just store it in your freezer. Remember to take the plastic wrapping off before thawing out in your fridge overnight, then smell it once it's thawed. If you're storing fresh fish, time is of the essence. I usually buy it the day of, and I would never store it longer than 24 hours if I'm going to eat it raw. Anything beyond that time frame and you're playing a game of Russian roulette.


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