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.
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
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
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
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.