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29 May

Smart Fuel: Sashimi

Although pierced meat doesn’t sound like a very appetizing menu choice, chances are that if you’ve ever dined at a Japanese restaurant, you’ve eaten just that.

If the Wikipedia Gods are to believed, sashimi – that is, the slivers of raw fish popular in Japanese cuisine – received its name as a result of the culinary practice of pinning the fish’s tail and fin to identify the type of fish being eaten.

In many restaurants, the terms sushi and sashimi are used interchangeably, often occupying the same menu pages or mixed together on “sushi” platters. However, it should be noted that sashimi refers only to raw fish, whereas sushi – which does frequently include raw fish – is defined by its inclusion of vinegared rice.

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So, what are we talking about when we discuss sashimi? Well, essentially, it is any thinly sliced, raw, fresh fish. In Japanese cuisine, some popular sashimi choices include salmon, shrimp, squid, tuna, mackerel, octopus, yellow tail and puffer fish. However, it should be noted that sashimi can also refer to several non-fish varieties, including bean curd skin, raw red meats such as beef and horse, lightly braised chicken, and even frog.

Sashimi and Health

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For our purposes, let’s discuss the benefits of fish sashimi. Sashimi offers virtually all of the benefits of it’s cooked peers. Specifically, sashimi is an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients including selenium, niacin, phosphorous, magnesium and vitamins B6 and B12. However, it should be noted that there are some potential health concerns associated with eating raw fish, namely that it may contain some parasites or other bacteria that, mark our words, will leave you praying to the porcelain Gods! However, these risks can be greatly reduced (but, we should note, not altogether eliminated) by dining at a reputable restaurant or selecting “sashimi grade” fish.

Sashimi and Fine Dining

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While some sashimi connoisseurs believe there is strict etiquette when it comes to sashimi, others take a less formal approach and instead suggest that you eat what you like, the way you like it. To take a middle of the road approach – and a more active role in your dining experience – one of the best pieces of advice is to ask the itamae (chef) which sashimi he would recommend or if there are any unusual or new items on the menu. Also, it never hurts to end the meal by saying “arigato,” which means thank you in Japanese.

Sashimi and the DIY Chef

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If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer, you might be interested in making your own sashimi. Since really all sashimi entails is raw fish, you’ll want to find the best cut possible. For best results (and, well, to speed things along) select fish that has already been cut, deboned and cleaned. Again, when purchasing the fish, opt for those labeled “sashimi grade” and steer clear of freshwater fish varieties, which are more likely to contain parasites. To prepare, first wash fish in cold water and pat dry with a clean kitchen cloth. Then inspect the fish and cut away any dark or otherwise discolored portion. Then, using a very sharp knife, cut along the grain down and towards yourself to create thin slices between ¼ inch and ½ and inch thick. We recommend serving it atop a leafy green salad with a citrus-based dressing or a tangy vinaigrette.

princess of llyr, autan, ulterior epicure Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

More Smart Fuel

Didn’t Grok Just Eat Raw Meat?

Sea Vegetables

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  1. You haven’t lived until you’ve passed a two headed fish tapeworm after eating raw salmon. It is a common occurrence among those who eat sushi and bears, according to the path report.

    This has nothing to do with the grade of fish nor cleanliness and they survive the freezing process.

    Fish tapeworm eggs appear naturally in salmon and are eaten along with the raw protein, or transferred to your veggie roll from the cutting board it is prepared on or the bamboo tray it is served on. Those bamboo trays and plates cannot be put in the dishwasher and are not as sanitary as you think!

    Gee…I didn’t think about this before, either, until my husband had “the experience.” The story has become a legend that is told and retold to his medical office staff at each Christmas Party. You’d have to be a “medical” person to enjoy it!

    Luckily, he did not experience any of the really bad possible consequences. We all took a pill, now affectionately called the Silver Bullet, to treat our possible intruders.

    No raw salmon, shrimp nor mackerel for me, thanks.

    Pat wrote on May 29th, 2008
  2. Oh, Pat, don’t scare me like that! I’ve only just recently discovered the joy of sushi and don’t want to give it up!

    I’d never had sushi until we moved here. There are sushi places everywhere! And our grocery store (I love HEB!) even has a sushi take-out. Generally about twice a month (sometimes more) we get a tray of sushi to take home. OH, I love it! For Valentine’s Day, when everyone else got trays of chocolate, I got a heart-shaped tray of sushi and bleu cheese. (NOT eaten together, of course.)

    No desire to tray raw fish at home – I’ll leave that to the pros, thank you. I would like to learn how to make sushi without the raw fish at home, as my 2 yo LOVES the stuff (starts screaming “SUSHI!!!!” at the store when he sees it), and it’s a good way to get him to eat his veggies.

    Judy wrote on May 29th, 2008
  3. Wow, that is pretty yucky, Pat. I have never before known or heard of anyone getting worms after eating raw fish. I’ve been eating sushi for about 8 years, 3-4 times per month for the past 2 years, and salmon is the one I eat the most of. As far as I know, and have seen, the bamboo mats are covered in plastic wrap which gets replaced periodically. I actually trust places with sushi bars the most because you can see a large part of the food prep right in front of you, and they tend to be quite diligent about keeping things clean.
    Anyway, I’m thrilled to be able to get my raw fish fix living the low-carb life in the form of sashimi. It’s wonderful paired with a seaweed salad (only if they make it fresh on-site–be careful with the pre-packaged ones which often have extras in them, such as high-fructose corn syrup and food dyes). I do agree that the quality of the restaurant makes all the difference when it comes to freshness, quality, taste, etc., so if you have choices, choose wisely and be willing to shell out a few extra bucks, as it is almost always noticeably worth it.
    As for making sushi at home with non-raw ingredients, I made eel, avocado & cucumber rolls a while back. I suggest you do it only if you’re not watching the carbs. The eel is easiest because it’s pre-packaged with the sauce (which has sugar plus who knows what else), you can freeze it until you need it, and then just 10 minutes in the oven. In general, the process of making the vinegared rice and then the rolls is tedious and I don’t plan on making it again.

    Maria wrote on May 29th, 2008
  4. I ate plenty of raw tuna and other fish while living in Korea for several years and never heard of anyone getting tapeworm. Raw and undercooked animal protein can harbor some nasties. Those unafraid of raw fish and willing to splurge must experience at least once the melt-in-your-mouth sensation of fresh, not frozen and thawed maguro (tuna sashimi). After eating a sampler plate in Tokyo’s famous fish market, I’m spoiled and can never go back to frozen. I would gladly risk tapeworm to relive that primordially satisfying carnivorous experience again.

    Sonagi wrote on May 29th, 2008
  5. We don’t go out for Japanese dining often, but when we do, we go to a place a bit farther away that is a favorite with visiting Japanese business people (consequently it can be hard to get seated). I always go for sashimi instead of sushi because of the carb issue.

    Anna wrote on June 1st, 2008
  6. @Maria:

    If you do some reading up on tapeworms and other parasites that are typically found in fresh water and saltwater fish, you’ll find that it doesn’t matter how “diligently clean” the restaurant is, how well you can see the preparation, or how “fresh” the fish is.

    These parasites/worms are a natural part of the intestines of fresh fish. They pick them up from their natural diets in the water. The worms then live in their intestines and lay larva in the intestines that then eat into the muscle tissue of the fish, which is what we eat when we have sashimi…the flesh of the fish.

    It’s rare to get worms from eating sushi, but it can happen. It’s a risk, no matter what restaurant. Some people are trained to see the worms and their larva on the fish flesh, but I’m not so sure they always see it and remove it.

    It’s a disgusting topic. I, too, love sushi and sashimi, and salmon is one of my favorites.

    Freezing for one week will kill larva, by the way, or cooking to 135 degrees F.

    P.S. You can also get worms from pork and beef that is not cooked to at least 135 degrees through.

    Dana wrote on August 19th, 2008
  7. How much fish is too much? I personally eat two to two and a half servings of wild-caught canned salmon a day. Should I be worried about my mercury/other fish contaminant levels?

    Justin wrote on April 1st, 2009
    • “Should I be worried about my mercury/other fish contaminant levels?”

      I’d be more worried about changing into a feline… But seriously, that sounds like a very strict regimen. Costco has excellent quick-frozen wild Alaskan salmon cuts that I’d prefer over canned salmon. If you’re nearby Chinatown or a harbor you should be able to buy fresh fish cheaply.

      vuilnis wrote on October 19th, 2010
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    • I live in Hawaii where we eat sashimi all the time, either at the restaurant or store bought, and in my 23 years here I have never heard of anyone with a tapeworm or parasites related to sashimi and believe me there are some outrageous fish tales in circulation here…
      While I can see this issue more in relationship to farmed fish, most “sashimi-grade” fish here is straight from the ocean.

      vuilnis wrote on October 19th, 2010
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    vuilnis wrote on October 19th, 2010
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    altin cilek wrote on April 23rd, 2011

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