Lesson 2: About Fish
How and where to purchase sushi grade seafood; also how
Purchasing fish: sushi restaurants use both fresh and frozen
fish. With today’s freezing technology, fish can be
frozen quickly to retain freshness, flavor and color. As long
as it is not kept frozen a long time and goes to the market
quickly the fish will have a good fresh flavor. However, I
recommend you stay away from packaged frozen fish, unless
it is sold specifically as sushi grade.
There are a lot of sushi grade fish suppliers on the Internet that
provide fresh fish and frozen fish. Supermarkets sometimes have sushi grade fish. Most of the
time it will have been frozen and defrosted before sale. This
fish is okay when it has just been defrosted, but don’t
keep it for sushi more than 2 days. Keep sushi fish on ice
in your meat box part of the refrigerator. Tell the fish sales
person that you need fish for sushi, ask which days fish is
delivered and get them to pick you out some nice sushi grade
fish. Never use fish with a fishy odor. Look for fillets that
are bright in color, not dull or darkened or dry looking.
Buy loins or thick fillets, not steaks because they are much better
for slicing. Try to find fillets at least one inch thick,
so you can slice a wide enough piece for Nigiri sushi. You
can see some methods of slicing for various thicknesses of fish in the
fish preparation area of this page.
If you live near the coast you can locate fresh fish at the
port or at small quality seafood stores. If fish is whole,
it should be firm to touch not squishy, eyes bright not cloudy
or discolored and scales must look fresh and bright not dull.
Scales should be intact, no loose scales.
Try to avoid purchasing Ahi tuna or albacore loins that have
too many distinct white lines in the flesh. This is a soft
sinew and has a slight stringy texture, not suitable for Nigiri
sushi. This part of the fish is fine to cook, or it can be
used for roll sushi. When chopped, the sinew will easily pull
away from the flesh.
Photos show albacore with white sinew lines and next
a piece from the same loin with no sinew. I am cutting this
to shape for Nigiri slices. (See fish preparation section
Use cooked real Crabmeat or imitation, it’s your choice.
It’s amazing how imitation crab tastes so good in sushi,
and that’s what I use. To select imitation crab, squeeze
the packet with your fingers. If it is nice and soft, then
the texture is good and product moist. If it is firm or hard
when squeezed the product is dry and may be course in texture.
Always pick the soft product.
Shrimp should be as fresh as possible, or fresh frozen. The
shrimp should be 3 to 3½ inches long when they are
stretched out straight, or ask the fish salesperson for size
21-25 count. Do not use previously “de-veined shrimp.”
They will not work for Nigiri sushi because their backs are cut to
remove the vein which causes the shrimp to split in two when
butterfly cut for sushi. I have special directions for cooking
and preparing butterfly shrimp for sushi rolls and Nigiri
sushi in the Recipes for Nigiri sushi toppings section.
Slicing fish for Nigiri sushi
Purchased fish comes in different shapes and sizes. The following
slicing guide demonstrates cutting three different shape pieces
of loin: salmon, ahi and albacore. Use a long 8 to 10 inch
slicing knife. It must be very sharp, especially for
tender seafood such as ahi tuna and albacore. You can find
a very reasonably priced sushi knife to fit your needs in
our store section.
When using fish loins or fillets, look closely and remove any bones
with fish tweezers or kitchen pliers. Normally with salmon
fillets it’s possible to cut fish into a block shape
about 1 to 1½ inches thick, 3½ wide and 4 to
5 inches long, as in the salmon photo. This size block is
easy to slice.
The general rule is to slice across the grain of the fish;
this ensures the resulting slice is tender and has an attractive
crosscut grain pattern. Lay your knife on the fish at the
very back end part of the blade. Cut straight across the width
of the block, with the blade at an angle of about 45 degrees,
as in the salmon picture. Draw the blade across the fish in
one long stroke to complete the slice. If you do not complete
the slice in one stroke, lift the knife out of the cut and
carefully repeat the slicing motion in the same direction.
Avoid using a sawing motion as this could damage the fish.
Slice fish a little more than 1/8 inch and less than
¼ inch thick. Slices for sushi magic can be
a variety of sizes, although are best cut at 3½ inch
long, and about 1¼ inch wide as in the salmon photo.
Keep the hand holding the fish behind the knife blade for
safety as in these photos.
Fish loins and fillets come in different shapes and sizes.
Here are some examples of slicing at different angles to obtain
a slice of the desired dimensions, approximately 3½
x 1 ¼ inches. Remember that Sushi Magic will accept slices
varying in length from 2 to 4 inches, it is your choice.
This piece of Ahi is narrower than the salmon piece, so I cut it in half
and then cut the narrower half lengthwise to form two bar shapes. These bars
can be used later for sashimi or for spicy tuna roll.
The remaining larger block of ahi is cut for Nigiri sushi
slices. The ahi pictured is about 3 inches wide and 1 inch
thick. In this case, lay the blade across the block at an angle
about 45 degrees, then slice through the fish at flatter 35-40-degree angle. These numbers do not have to be
exact. Look at the photos and you will get the idea. The narrower
and thinner the fish block, you will need to use a progressively
lower blade angle. You will soon get accustomed to slicing
different cuts of fish.
In this case the albacore block has a pointed side, which
is cut away to flatten the block. Also it happens to be narrower
than the ahi and salmon block, and therefore the knife angle used
across the fish is different again. To make slicing easier,
place the fish at an angle away from you on the cutting board.
Any remaining scrap pieces can be chopped for different sushi
roll fillings. You can see more slicing technique in the intermediate
Albacore can also be seared on a grill before slicing and
serving as in the last albacore photo. If no grill is available
use a non-stick sauté pan. Albacore is oily so sear
without any additional fat or oil. More on seared seafood
in the intermediate sushi lessons.