Ask-a-Fishmonger: What is Sushi-Grade Fish?

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Anne L. asks: What is sushi or sashimi-grade fish?

Our head buyer, Richie Taylor (hear more from him in the video below), who’s been with the company for over 40 years, gave us the answer: 

“The short answer is,” he says, “is it fresh enough to eat raw?” 

But there’s always a longer answer. The first thing to know is that “sushi grade” or “sashimi grade” are not technical terms. “There’s no exact definition,” says Taylor. “It’s your opinion. There’s certain fish that just aren’t great for sushi because of flavor and texture,” says. For Taylor, the questions consumers might want to be asking instead are:  

  • Is this a fish I’d want to eat raw?  

  • Has it been handled well from the boat to the kitchen?  

The answer to the first question varies widely from person to person and culturally, says Taylor. “I like scallops raw, for example,” he says, “but other people might not like their texture.” Some people like to eat swordfish belly or squid raw in a sashimi preparation, but that’s just not for him, Taylor says.  

The second question gets to whether the fish is fresh and handled with care (and kept quite cold on its travels along the supply chain) when you get it. The way to determine this, says Taylor, is to buy fish from trusted purveyors — or visit sushi restaurants with a good reputation. “If you know people in the [fish] business, where do they eat sushi,” asks Taylor. That’s a good bet, he says.  

 

“There’s no exact definition,” says Taylor. “It’s your opinion. There’s certain fish that just aren’t great for sushi because of flavor and texture.”

 

One of the recurring questions that comes up with regard to “sushi grade” is whether fish needs to be frozen to kill any bacteria or parasites. Taylor says he’s likely to avoid warm-water fish that are more likely to carry parasites, like swordfish. But this is really an issue of wild fish since the parasites are come from what the fish is eating. A fish like King Kampachi, which is farm-raised in warm water, is fed a controlled diet, and the resulting fish is safe to eat raw.

That said, the FDA lists a few proven measures to eliminate parasite risk. One is to freeze at -31F and store at an ambient temperature of –31F for 15 hours.  

“There is a school of thought that says all fish that’s eaten raw should be previously frozen,” says Taylor — and many sushi restaurants follow this thinking with some of the species they serve, typically tuna and salmon. In fact, it’s a legal requirement in many states. With excellent quality fish and good handling, there’s no quality loss associated with previously frozen fish.

That said, says Taylor, freshness, texture and flavor are the most important things to keep in mind when choosing fish for sushi or sashimi at home, and when eating out.  


Looking for a restaurant that really cares about their fish? Check out the Chefs at Home recipe series on our blog, and linked from individual product pages. These chefs are all passionate about the fish they cook and serve. When they’re in the kitchen, you can bet on a good meal.

 

Photo credit: Michael Bradley and Ora King Salmon. Ora King is one of our favorite fish to eat raw.