Sablefish Sashimi and Sablefish Sushi
Sablefish, also known as Butterfish or Black Cod, is a delectable fish any way you cut it - or cook it - or don’t! Buttery, silky, succulent and moist, sablefish is a chef’s delight, and a non-fish-lover’s easy entry into the world of pescatarianism. Trip Advisor, a common guide for travelers to Alaska, reported back in 2014 that sablefish was Alaskans’ favorite restaurant fish - if only they could find it.
Happily, sablefish are becoming more popular and easier to find. Sablefish sashimi, or raw sablefish, is showing up in restaurants and at kitchen tables at home, as well. Sablefish sashimi is considered a prized delicacy, but it no longer needs to be a rare treat. Actually, it could be a rare treat, because it can be served raw, right on your plate at home, as a delicacy! But first, what are sablefish?
What are sablefish?
Living only in the North Pacific Ocean, and particularly in the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska, these tasty fish with their sweet, delicate flesh are prized by Japanese sushi chefs and served in chic restaurants everywhere. Though sometimes called butterfish, they aren’t actually in the butterfish family - they simply have that buttery essence and rich taste. Often referred to as black cod, they aren’t actually cod, either. They are indeed in a family of their own.
Growing in popularity as it becomes better known, sablefish for many Americans is an undiscovered treasure. Well managed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the deep-water Alaska sablefish fishery has individual quotas to ensure that this fishery remains stable. Sablefish are thus a carefully monitored, highly sustainable species.
What’s special about sablefish?
Unlike the silvery sockeye salmon that dazzles us with its beauty, both inside and out, sablefish is a jewel in a very plain wrapper. Though it’s shaped somewhat like a salmon, with a bigger head and larger eyes, sablefish have dark skin and pearly-white flesh. Though sometimes called Black Cod, they’re not actually black and not actually cod; they're a unique species in their own scientific family, Anoplopomatidae.
Sablefish are also sometimes known as Butterfish, for good reason. With a silky, firm texture and a rich, buttery flavor, home cooks prize sablefish as much as chefs do. The healthy omega-3 oils in this fish not only contribute to good health, but also to success in the kitchen. Those tasty and wildly healthy oils make sablefish hard to overcook, and almost guarantee a delicious dish.
What is sablefish sashimi?
Sashimi in Japanese means raw meat or raw fish. Long considered a delicacy, sablefish sashimi is sliced very thin and served raw - often with vegetables and rice.
What is sushi?
Sushi literally means “vinegared rice,” and traditionally, tiny pieces of raw fish - sashimi - were wrapped in rice and seaweed, called nori. That rice roll-up is called sushi.
Living near the sea, many Asian peoples over the centuries developed ways to extend the life of their raw seafood by putting it into fermented rice. Sushi thus became a staple food in many cultures. Americans didn’t traditionally eat fish raw, so sushi was uncommon in this country. Seaweed and rice roll-ups first became popularized in America when cooked seafood replaced the raw. California Rolls, for example, are inverted sushi rolls, with rice on the outside and seaweed, cucumber, avocado and cooked or artificial crab on the inside. The term sushi has become a generic word for any rice/seaweed roll-ups, whether or not they contain fish.
Why is sablefish sashimi becoming so popular?
Sashimi, such as sablefish sashimi, thus may be an ingredient in sushi. In fact, sablefish is a favored ingredient of Japanese chefs, who now substitute the sustainable sablefish for the freshwater eels they used traditionally. They value sablefish for its rich, velvety texture, its high Omega-3 oil content and its sustainability - the same reason Americans are learning to love it.
Is our sablefish sashimi safe?
That’s a great question. Yes, all of our sablefish are sashimi safe; it is safe to eat our sablefish as thinly-sliced sashimi. Because eating raw fish may be new to you, we want you to know how we ensure the safety of our raw sashimi sablefish.
We long-line fish for our sablefish in the deep, dark, pristine waters off the coast of Alaska. Thousands of miles away from large cities, Alaska’s waters are among the cleanest in the world, and the seafood it nurtures is similarly pure and clean. The sablefish we sell are wild fish, not farmed. Our sablefish are raised by nature, naturally.
What does the ADEC, the ADPH and the USFDA say about our Alaskan sablefish?
All these agencies confirm the safety - and the health benefits - of Alaskan sablefish. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation regularly tests Alaskan seafood for contaminants, including mercury. Both the ADEC and the Alaska Department of Public Health recommend eating fish often, and put sablefish on the “unrestricted” list - even for women and children. Sablefish is safe to eat every day of the week. Those are the official Alaskan proclamations.
The US Food and Drug Administration puts sablefish in the "Good Choices" category in their guide for pregnant women and children, and recommends up to three 4-ounce servings a week of “good choices” fish such as Alaskan sablefish, salmon, and halibut - but also quotes Alaska’s “unrestricted consumption” of sablefish for all populations.
Why do the FDA and the American Heart Association recommend eating fish so often?
Sablefish is such a nutritious fish! It’s super high in those famous long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA; sablefish contain about as much omega-3s as salmon. High in protein, high in Vitamin D, and high in those omega-3s, these fish are foundational for great health.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fatty fish such as sablefish at least twice a week. Fish is a heart-healthy alternative to other animal sources of protein, which can be high in saturated fat and cholesterol, so you get double the benefit by substituting fish for less healthy foods.
What about “sushi grade” sablefish or “sashimi grade sablefish?
All wild fish sold in America as “sushi grade” or “sashimi grade” must be frozen. The regulations state that for fish to be considered “sashimi-grade,” it must be bled immediately upon capture, gutted soon after, and placed on ice. It then must be flash frozen properly and handled according to the strict guidelines set by the FDA. Those guidelines include these specific 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.
We strictly follow those guidelines and blast freeze our fish shortly after they’ve been caught and cleaned.
How do we ensure the safety of our wild-caught sablefish throughout its journey from the fisher (us) all the way to the fork (yours)? And what is blast freezing?
When caught, our sablefish are quickly bled, gutted and blast frozen. This is exactly what the experts recommend, the regulations require, and the sablefish need, in order to retain their premium freshness.
Blast freezing - also called shock freezing or flash freezing - involves blowing cold air across the fish at a very high velocity and a very low temperature. This process brings down the temperature of the food being frozen very quickly and preserves its fresh qualities. It of course also kills any potential worms in the fish, as well as destroying any other contaminants - which are minimal to begin with. That’s why our sablefish sashimi is so safe to eat raw. Our freezers are all state-of-the-art, as are our delivery services. You will be amazed at just how frozen and pristine our sablefish will be when they’re delivered to your door, packed in dry ice and rock solid frozen.
If sablefish hasn’t been frozen, can you eat it raw?
If you happen to Google “sablefish sashimi,” you might come across articles that state that “ocean raised sablefish” or “naturally raised sablefish” can be served raw without having been frozen. Those are ads for non-USA farmed fish. Indeed, farmed fish may be safe to serve raw because they have been penned up for their entire lives and fed an artificial diet that prevents parasites.
We do not support farmed fish for many reasons. One is because farmed fish threaten wild populations if they escape. We urge you to research this topic if you are at all tempted to buy these non-wild fish.
USA regulations require that basically all fish that are to be served raw are to be deeply frozen first.
How do you cut sablefish for sashimi?
Now that we’ve introduced you to sablefish, let's focus on the basics. We'll start by explaining how to cut it.
Begin with a previously-frozen, raw sablefish fillet, or sablefish portion, with the skin removed. (It must have been previously frozen in a sashimi-grade commercial freezer to ensure its safety. All Popsie fish are sashimi grade.) Thaw in a refrigerator overnight and then remove, letting it sit out on a paper towel until room temperature. Pat dry.
With a very sharp knife, cut strips of sablefish about one inch wide and a quarter-inch thick (or thin!). You need to cut across the grain, which will create the tenderest slices. At this point, your fish slices are called sablefish sashimi.
Here are two short videos on how to cut sashimi. You’ll see just how easy it is.
How best to sample sablefish sashimi?
After you’ve sliced up some sashimi, we know you want to sample it! Just pour a little soy sauce into a dipping sauce bowl and add a bit of wasabi on the side. Using chopsticks if you wish, dip your sashimi into the sauce and dab a corner of it in the wasabi; savor this blend of tastes!
What’s needed to make sablefish sushi?
Making sablefish sushi requires a few more steps. First, you’ll need to buy some short-grained rice, nori seaweed and fillings as desired: avocado, cream cheese and cucumber are favorites. You might want to cook your rice the day before you plan to assemble and eat your sushi. You also will need to take your sablefish from the freezer and put it into the refrigerator the night before to thaw.
We are Alaskan wild-fish experts, but we don’t claim to be sushi experts! This video sets everything up so well, we highly recommend it for the specifics.
Besides eating sablefish sashimi, how else can you enjoy sablefish?
If you want it crispy on the outside and still silky on the inside, try this “seared sablefish” recipe: https://www.sitkasalmonshares.com/blogs/culinary/recipes/pan-seared-sablefish-with-lemon-pepper-aioli
Do you want it marinated and baked, or simply served with ginger and lime? Chose from one of these recipes:
Delivered to your door, ready for the freezer, our Popsie fish are the highest quality sablefish you can buy. Treat yourself soon!