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Sashimi: more than just raw fish

June 20, 2016

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Bounty of the seas

Often several different kinds of seafood are presented together, to give a contrast of colors, flavors and textures. Tuna (maguro), yellowtail (buri), squid (ika), octopus (tako) and shrimp (ebi) are among the most popular varieties.

Scallops (hotate) and other shellfish are eaten when available, as are sea urchin (uni) and salmon roe (ikura). With particularly oily fish, such as mackerel (saba) or herring (nishin), grated ginger root takes the place of wasabi.

While the fish used for sashimi must always be freshly caught and in perfect condition, not all species are best eaten immediately. Some are aged, often using a technique known as kobujime.

The fish is lightly salted, wrapped in strips of kelp (konbu) and refrigerated for a few hours or overnight. This draws out the moisture content while also imparting the natural umami of the seaweed.

Sea bream (tai) is commonly prepared this way because the soft, sweet flesh can become too flaccid as the firmness of rigor mortis wears off.

Sashimi is such an important part of Japanese cuisine that elaborate methods have been developed to ensure that seafood reaches shops and restaurants as fresh as possible.

Even before it is landed, the fish is packed on ice. And from the port to market, fish are often kept alive, transported by large tanker trucks.

Another important technique developed in recent years for preserving fish is ikejime. An incision is made in the neck of the fish, and then a thin wire is run down its spine.

This slows the process of decomposition, ensuring that the fish reaches its destination in much the same state that it left the fishing boat.

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