Fish Characteristics to Look for in a Sushi Restaurant

When you think about a sushi restaurant, the first thing that comes to mind is: fish. And while there are many other dishes they will happily serve like miso soup, tempura, or udon noodles, fish is pretty much the ingredient that makes or breaks a place.

Are all fish suitable for sushi or sashimi preparation? Absolutely not. Sushi-worthy fish obeys strict standards of texture and freshness, but there is a lot more to the story. Preparation and handling are key to quality dishes, and one cannot expect to become a sushi master after watching a video and trying at home a couple of times.


Fish Fit for Sushi: A Fresh Best Catch

Of course, the notion of eating raw fish or shellfish is closely tied to freshness. And while not all types of sushi or sashimi are served raw, freshness is decidedly not negotiable. Should you ever suspect that ingredients in your rainbow rolls are too many and serve a taste-masking purpose, pack up and leave.

Fish and other crustaceans undergo a very strict selection process by the vendor first, then again by the chef. Each piece will have to pass physical inspection to graduate to “sushi-grade” or “sashimi-grade”, although there are no official or universal standards.  


How Fresh Is Fresh?

It is important to precise that the FDA requires fish destined to be consumed raw be frozen for at least 15 hours to kill parasites. Fishermen kill, gut, and freeze their “sushi-catch” right away, and the fish remains frozen until the sushi chef is ready to slice and serve it.


Fish Fit for Sashimi: Artful Cut and Dressing

Sushi rolls preparation is a little more forgiving when it’s time to cut the fish. But Nigiri and sashimi leave no room for clunky, badly cut, poorly presented slices.

Sushi Masters are artists. And as Chef Morimoto puts it, they never cease to be students.

“I’ve been making sushi for 38 years, and I’m still learning. You have to consider the size and color of the ingredients, how much salt and vinegar to use and how the seasons affect the fattiness of the fish.”

The fish dictates the cut. Since it’s presented in its purest form (other than live form), it must show its best angle, most appealing flesh, delicate marbling. Should it be a 45° angle cut, or a rectangle? How thick? Then, you need to consider the arrangement on the plate. It can be as simple or as elaborate as the chef feels at the time, though ideally the fish should be handled as little as possible, so being adroit maneuvering of the knife and light-handed is a must.

Traditionally sushi and sashimi are served with shredded daikon radish, perilla leaves, and/or seaweed. Keep in mind that garnish is as much a fish characteristic as the protein itself. It is meant to enhance the flavor, not mask it.