What is the name of the Japanese dish of raw fish cut into rather thin slices? Sashimi (刺身) of course!
What is sashimi?
Let’s start by saying that sashimi is a dish made exclusively from fish or shellfish, served raw.
Sashimi means “pierced body”. Sashimi is a great culinary art, an art for the skillful artistic and aesthetic preparation and presentation of pieces of bite size raw fish.
What is the difference between sushi and sashimi?
The difference between sushi and sashimi is actually quite simple. The two dishes have completely different origins and preparation:
– Sashimi has no rice and is made exclusively of raw fish or shellfish.
– Sushi is made up of several different ingredients: rice, fish, vegetables, meat, etc.
Many people do not initially appreciate sashimi because of its generally strong flavor: if you eat sushi, your palate is already used to the taste of raw fish and rice, but for sashimi, you just have to get used to the more dominant taste, after which you will no longer be able to do without it.
How to prepare sashimi
The preparation begins with the choice of a very fresh fish that has undergone a process of temperature decrease, the most important step, the only one that, combined with cooking, eliminates all risk of harmful bacteria and parasites, including the dreaded anisakis.
Before being eaten raw, fish or crustaceans must be subjected to a temperature reduction not exceeding -4 F for at least 24 hours in professional commercial environments.
However, for homemade preparation, fish or shellfish must first be frozen, at least 96 hours before consumption, at a temperature of 0 F.
Many fishmongers provide customers with fish fillets that have already been cut or are ready to be cut.
For a classic sashimi, fish fillets should be sliced into rectangular sections about ⅛ inch thick. The cut is made in a single movement without pressure and using the full length of the knife blade, paying attention to the direction of the veins to ensure its softness and feel on the tongue.
The knife used in the different stages is very important to the success of the sashim: it is called yanagiba.
Eating sashimi is more of an experience than a meal. You have to taste the raw and naked fish and be able to grasp all the nuances.
If the pure taste of the fish is not enough, there is no problem, the Japanese chefs have thought of everything. To enhance the taste of sashimi, it is usually served with sauces: from classic soy sauce to tasty tamari sauce, without omitting the more sophisticated sauce, ponzu, a sauce with a very special flavor based on yuzu and citrus fruits.
Sashimi is often topped with shiso leaves, nicknamed Japanese basil, accompanied not only by soy sauce, but also wasabi and gari (pickled ginger).
It is sometimes served on a bed of grated daikon (white radish), with a very fresh and firm taste.
Japanese cuisine uses about twenty different knives.
First of all, let’s talk about the yanagiba, or yanagi, which is also sometimes called sashimi, this sushi and sashimi knife is a must in Japanese cuisine.
In fact, the whole name is yanagi-ba-bocho (literally “willow blade knife”) or yanagi-ba is a long and very thin knife used in Japanese cuisine, belonging to the group of sashimi hocho, sashimi for raw fish and hocho for knife, to prepare sashimi, sushi, sliced raw fish and seafood.
The two main characteristics of yanagi-ba-bocho knives are their length and flexibility compared to the willow branch of the same name.
The other characteristics are shared by all knives in Japanese cuisine. The important principle in using a yanagi-ba to prepare sashimi is not to cut by pushing, but by pulling the blade in a single movement.
The other fundamental characteristics of all Japanese knives are: sharpness, lightness and tightness of the edge.
Japanese knives are unique utensils in the world, characterized by top quality materials.
The main difference between Western and Japanese kitchen knives is that the latter are usually sharpened on only one side of the blade, such as yanagiba and deba.
There are many models sharpened on both sides and closer to the Western style, such as the famous santoku.
What are the origins of the word sashimi?
The term sashimi curiously means “pierced body” and its origin is controversial: the most likely explanation refers to the fact that originally, the chef would attach a toothpick to the tail or fin of the fish to identify the variety on fish slices.
Originally, it was fresh water fish slightly marinated with salt, vinegar or hishio, a dense and very powerful precursor to soy sauce, both to improve its taste, its hygiene and digestibility problems.
But between the 14th and 16th centuries, during the Muromachi era, the production of soy sauce, the ideal sauce for raw fish that revolutionized sashimi, was perfected.
Another origin of the name would be the traditional method of fishing. “Sashimi” quality fish is caught individually by hook and line.
As soon as the fish is landed, its brain is pierced with a sharp peak, and it is placed in the ice. This process is called ikejime, and instant death means that fish flesh contains a minimal amount of lactic acid. This means that the fish will remain fresh on the ice for about ten days, without degrading.
And it should be noted that sashimi would not exist if Emperor Kammu’s personal chef at the time of Nara, in the 8th century, had not decided to serve it as a foreign delicacy; very fresh raw fish, prepared and presented in an artistic way.
The different variants of sashimi
Although sashimi is actually always thinly sliced fish, there are different ways to prepare it or at least serve it. The most common is the one mentioned above, arranging the edges in a harmonious and aesthetic way.
Another way is to present the dish with the fish in its entirety, keeping the head and tail of the fish and reconstituting the body in a decorative way using sashimi. This technique is called sugata-zukuri.
Another sashimi technique is to remove the fillets and cut them into slices while they are still alive in order to serve them with the heart still beating. It requires a lot of dexterity, because you must not kill the fish. This preparation is called ikizukuri.
What are the most common sashimi?
- Maguro, with tuna.
- Sake, with salmon.
- Tai, with sea bream.
- Saba, with mackerel.
- Kanpachi, with amberjack or lich.
- Buri or hamachi, which is a variety of dab.
- Katsuo, with bonito.
- Ika, with squid
- Tako, with octopus
- Amaebi, with shrimp
- Hotate, with scallops.
- Hokkigai, with red clam.
- Ikura, with salmon eggs.
- Uni, with sea urchin eggs.
Harmony of shapes and colors. Beauty and satisfaction of the aesthetic sense. You should definitely try sashimi!
- ½ lb salmon
- ½ lb tuna
- 4 leaves shiso optional
- 1 oz. wasabi
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 oz. gari ginger
Cut the fish fillets into regular ⅛ inch (2-3 mm) slices: place them horizontally on a cutting board, skin side up; place the tail of the fillet to the left and hold it in place with the left hand.
- To cut the sashimi slices, tilt the knife blade at 45 degrees and slide it along the fillet from left to right, letting the weight of the knife do the work.
- Arrange the sashimi slices on plates with shiso leaves. Serve with wasabi, gari, and soy sauce.
Use a sushi knife (yanagiba). It is a long knife in the shape of a willow leaf, sharpened on one side only.