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Sashimi: more than just raw fish

June 20, 2016

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Master chefs

The way the fish is sliced is vital. Each kind of fish demands its own specific techniques and has to be sliced in its own way, often with a specific set of blades.

This is where the skills of the itamae, a traditional chef, come into play. The ultimate test is preparing the potentially poisonous puffer fish (fugu).

Because the flesh is so firm, it has to be cut into very fine slices. In the hands of a master chef, these slivers are so thin that the pattern of the plate underneath shows through.

This gave rise to elaborate arrangements, usually in mandala-style patterns, but sometimes even formed into the stylized shape of an auspicious crane.

Sashimi — the raw truth

Not all sashimi is entirely raw. Fillets of skipjack tuna (katsuo) are usually seared (traditionally over burning straw) before being sliced. Other varieties, such as dark-red tuna cuts (akami) may be lightly marinated in soy sauce.

Nor is all sashimi served with a dip. It may be piled up on top of a large rice bowl as a donburi, one deluxe version of which may include both sea urchin and salmon roe, perhaps with tuna for an extra splash of color.

Another variant is ochazuke: slivers of sea bream or other fish are placed on freshly cooked rice, and then hot tea or savory dashi broth is poured over it, lightly blanching the fish to an intermediate stage between raw and cooked — another of the lesser known delicacies of Japanese cuisine.

Finally, not all sashimi is prepared from seafood. Chicken, beef and even horsemeat are often enjoyed raw, while vegetarian options might include bamboo shoot (takenoko), fresh soymilk skin (yuba) or fiber-rich konnyaku jelly.

Text: Robbie Swinnerton

Special Features