Ask anybody – even someone who has never tried it – to describe sushi, and they will probably tell you that it’s raw fish. While there are plenty of vegetarian and vegan sushi dishes available, raw fish is the image most people have when thinking about sushi.
Eating any kind of animal product raw carries some risk. If not immediately processed and frozen, or if left too long at too warm of a temperature, not only does raw fish lose its flavour, but the chance of contamination by food-borne bacteria increases.
Sourcing high-quality fish for your sushi is essential if you and your guests are going to enjoy a tasty, healthy, and risk-free dining experience. Fish vendors are aware of this, and many will mark their produce as sushi-grade or sashimi-grade for your convenience. But what does this term actually mean, and how can you ensure your fish remains in suitable condition from purchase to serving?
The first thing to be aware of is that “sushi-grade” carries no legal definition. Neither the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), or the Food Standards Agency (FSA) have formal written regulations on what constitutes sushi-grade fish.
In effect, you are trusting the integrity of the fish vendor. Fortunately, most fish sellers do not want to risk making their clientele sick, so they follow their own guidelines for determining which of their stock is the freshest and of the highest quality.
To ensure the suitable eating of raw fish, the fish needs to be processed immediately following the catch. While still on the boat it needs to be bled and gutted, then stored in a flash freezer within 8 hours of being caught. Sushi-grade fish needs to be held in a deep freeze (below -35°C) to kill off any parasites that might be present in the fish. When defrosted for sale, it should be placed on ice to maintain as suitable ambient temperature. Anything above 4°C runs the risk of bacterial growth.
There are certain things you can look for to determine the quality of any fish you might be buying. Fresh sushi-grade fish should smell like seawater. The eyes should be clear and slightly bulging from the sockets. The flesh should be firm to the touch, the gills should be red, and the scales should all be intact. The fish will likely be wet to the touch, but should not be slimy.
The golden rule: if in doubt, don’t buy it!
Fresh fish can spoil quickly, so it’s important that you transport and store it correctly. It should be transported home or to your restaurant on ice and immediately placed into the freezer or fridge (depending on how soon you intend to use it). Frozen fish should be defrosted in the fridge, to stop its temperature from hitting the ‘danger zone’ of around 4°C.
Once you find a reliable and suitable fishmonger that you can depend on to provide high quality fresh fish, you’re onto a winner. In an upcoming article, we’re going to discuss the various types of fish that are used in making sushi. In the meantime, for all your other sushi ingredients and equipment, visit our online store.
Big News: We have now been added as an approved supporter of Japanese food by the Japanese Government itself! We have officially received our Program of Japanese Food and Ingredient Supporter Stores Overseas certificate from the Japanese Government. 🇯🇵 We are 1 of only 5 certified suppliers in the whole United Kingdom verified!*