What is sushi and sashimi?
First, a quick explanation for those who may not be familiar with sushi. Many people associate the word sushi with raw fish, but the Japanese word sushi literally translates as “vinegar rice.” The other closely-related term is sashimi, which means raw meat in general - most often, raw fish like salmon or tuna.
Sushi by definition and practice doesn’t need to contain raw fish at all. It may just consist of sticky rice and nori seaweed, but often it artfully includes the best seafood available, and other ingredients such as avocado or cucumber that are chosen by the chef and influenced by tradition. Thus, when inquiring whether the fish you buy is “sushi-grade,” what you really want to know is, “Are your fish safe to eat raw?” Those in the business - and that would include us - refer to these fish as being sashimi grade.
However, just to be clear, the government does not “grade” fish. A fish is labeled “sushi grade - or “sashimi grade” by the seller. So it is vitally important for you to be able to know and trust the seller.
What makes salmon sashimi grade?
For salmon to be sold as “sashimi grade,” they must be high quality salmon that are frozen, and kept frozen, properly. “Sushi grade” and “sashimi grade” fish - those terms are used almost interchangeably - are caught quickly, bled upon capture and gutted soon after. Then they must then be handled according to the strict guidelines set by the FDA. Those guidelines always include these requirements for freezing:
Freezing at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C), or below, until solid, and storing at an ambient temperature of -4°F (-20°C), or below, for 24 hours; these conditions are sufficient to kill parasites.
How are sushi grade and sashimi grade salmon frozen?
Sashimi-grade salmon must be blast frozen. Also called shock freezing or flash freezing, blast freezing is a process designed to rapidly bring down the temperature of the food being frozen. A blast freezer operates at an air temperature of -30° to -40°C, compared to the standard freezer, which is usually kept at 0°C. Food put in your typical household freezer takes about six to twelve hours to freeze, but the colder temperatures in a blast freezer accelerate the process dramatically.
When fish is frozen, the water inside its cells crystallizes into ice. The longer the freezing process takes, the larger the ice crystals that are formed. When these large crystals burst, they rupture the fish’s cells, affecting the taste, texture, flavor and even the color of the fish.
Blast freezing, however, quickly freezes the water in the cells into very tiny crystals. This prevents damage to the flesh and preserves the fresh quality of the food.
Fish that have been blast frozen in state-of-the-art freezers, like ours, maintain their newly-caught qualities. Our process minimizes cell wall degradation, ensures safety and maintains quality, texture, color and flavor. That’s the magic of blast freezing. All the sashimi you eat in a high quality restaurant has been blast frozen.
Are salmon labeled “sashimi grade” or "sushi grade" guaranteed to be fresh and safe?
If, in a grocery store or supermarket, you spot a package of salmon labeled sushi grade salmon, or even more specifically, “sashimi grade salmon,” does this guarantee the quality of that fish? Not necessarily. What it does mean is that the seller declares the salmon to be safe to be eaten raw. So it’s important that as a discerning customer, interested in the quality of the sockeye salmon you eat or feed to your family, you know your sellers. Are they reliable? Can they track the salmon back through the supply chain to its source? Was the fish frozen in a blast freezer shortly after being caught? Has the fish been thawed? For how long?
How do you cut salmon for sashimi?
Thaw your salmon portion or salmon fillet in the refrigerator overnight, and let it sit out of the refrigerator for 15 to 20 minutes until it reaches room temperature. Remove skin and pin bones, if any, and pat it dry. (But we suggest you save the skin and fry up that crispy omega-3-rich skin because it’s a super nutritious and tasty garnish for vegetables or rice.)
Lay your salmon on a clean cutting board. With a very sharp knife, cut into strips about three inches wide, one inch “tall,” and a quarter-inch thick. Make sure your cuts are perpendicular to the direction of the spine. This means cutting across the grain, which will create the tenderest slices. At this point, your quarter-inch thick fish slices are called salmon sashimi. You can dip it in soy or a soy-and-wasabi sauce and enjoy it just like that, or you can get creative and concoct your own sushi. (Skip further down for an easy how-to-make-sushi video.)
Here’s a short video that will show you just how easy slicing sashimi is:
You can eat your salmon sashimi just as it is, with a light soy sauce or lemon juice for a flavor accent.
How do you make salmon sushi?
You’ll want to go on a shopping trip before sushi day to pick up some supplies: short-grained white rice and nori seaweed are the basics.
Then you could add one or more of the following: cucumber, avocado, cream cheese and sesame seeds.
This video does a great job of demonstrating just how easy it is to make homemade sushi, and gives a few great tricks of the trade:
Simple Salmon Sushi Recipe
- 2 cups Sushi rice
- 2 cups water (plus more for rinsing rice)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 4 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 Carrot, sliced into thin strips
- 1 Cucumber, sliced into thin strips
- 1 Popsie Sockeye Salmon portion, skinned and sliced into thin strips (against the grain)
- Nori seaweed sheets (rough side up)
Using a mixing bowl or mesh strainer, rinse the rice until water runs clear. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring rice and water to a boil, uncovered. Once it comes to a boil, reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover, cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 10 minutes, covered. Let cool, uncovered.
Mix salt, sugar, and rice vinegar together in a small bowl. Microwave for 30 seconds. Transfer rice to a mixing bowl and add vinegar mixture. Fold together thoroughly. Allow rice to cool to room temperature before making sushi.
Assemble sushi rolls as directed, placing nori sheet rough side up, spread rice, add carrots, cucumber, and salmon. Roll and cut in inch long pieces to serve.
You go make a traditional salmon sushi roll, or you could be a little more adventurous and try this recipe that we love: a Sockeye Salmon Poke Bowl.
Where can you buy salmon for sushi?
The Popsie Fish Company sells beautiful, Bristol Bay, Alaska, wild sockeye salmon as sashimi grade because they are premium fish gently handled, sustainably harvested, impeccably processed, instantly blast frozen and responsibly managed - from the fisher to the fork. The fish and processors meet and exceed all the required certifications and qualifications for best-of-the-best fish.
What happens when you order fish from The Popsie Fish Company?
When you order wild-caught frozen sockeye salmon - or halibut, or cod, or sablefish - from the Popsie Fish Company, it will be delivered to you frozen solid, cradled in dry ice and packed in a beautifully sturdy recyclable box. Individually wrapped and vacuum-packed in 6-ounce, serving-size packages, these beautiful fish are ready for the freezer, the fridge or the frying pan. Or . . . they’re ready to be cut into sashimi, or made into sushi right out of the package.