The Good Vs. The Great: What Characteristics Make Sushi “High-Quality”?

Do you love sushi so much that you could eat it every day, all day? Turns out, you aren’t the only sushi lover in town. There are almost 4,000 sushi restaurants in the U.S., some of which are all you can eat sushi. The industry generates over $2 billion every year. Now think about your favorite sushi restaurant. Do you know if their menu is deemed high-quality sushi? 


What is Sushi?

Sushi is a small roll of rice that is combined with raw fish, seaweed, cucumber, and vegetables, amongst other ingredients. The rice in sushi is dressed in vinegar, which gives it its name, meaning ‘it’s sour’ in Japanese. Sushi is sometimes ordered with sashimi.  Sashimi is thinly sliced raw seafood that is fresh, for example, salmon or tuna, that is dipped in soy sauce.   


The Complex Nature of High-Quality Sushi Preparation

Sushi is just rice and raw fish so it should be easy to prepare right? Not quite, and if you have ever tried to do it yourself, you know how difficult the process is. It can, in fact, take decades to master the art of making sushi. It all comes down to the details of making sushi, which many regards as art.


Francis Lam defines sushi as “the ultimate in simple food:  mostly just rice and piece of raw fish, it would seem that anyone with a knife and one functioning hand can make it. But take an impossible eye for detail and apply it to fish.” The questions about the quality and how it was prepared can be endless. There are a few telling characteristics of high-quality sushi.



The rice should be room-temperature and have the right consistency so that it does not fall apart as you are trying to eat it. Once you have put in in your mouth, it should separate. The application of the right pressure when making it so the outer layer is denser than the inside is the only way to achieve this delicate balance. In the U.S., the rice is packed tightly since most people use chopsticks to eat sushi. In Japan, chefs pack the nigiri more loosely since it is eaten with your fingers. 



The neta is the topping of filling of a sushi roll, which needs to be proportionate to the rice. There are hundreds of combinations that can be placed on top of the sushi roll. They should not be too big or too small.



While the amount of fish in one piece of sushi is small, it should be of high-quality.  The ‘fishy’ smell is often minimized with vinegar. The fish should be firm and shiny, and never wet or greasy. You may have heard the term ‘sushi-grade fish.’ Although there are no standards for using this label, it means the highest quality fish so it can be eaten raw.


In order to make high-quality sushi, the preparation is just as important as the ingredients and proportions. Not every restaurant provides this type of sushi, so find one like RB Sushi that does.