Years ago, many Americans were turned off by the Japanese practice of eating sushi, which was understood to be raw fish. As Japanese cuisine has become more popular in the U.S., many people wonder what the quality and safety concerns might be. The term "sashimi-grade" is often used in markets to sell fish that is adequately fresh for use in traditional Japanese cuisine.
While sushi primarily refers to the preparation of fish wrapped with vinagared rice, sashimi is the preparation of finely cut fish served along with plain rice. In general, the fish used in sashimi is not cooked, although some forms may be be given certain preparation. For example, unagi sashimi is eel that has been seared with teriyaki sauce. Proper preparation of sashimi depends on fish meat that has not lost its form from repeated freezing.
Marketing Fish as Sashimi-Grade
Sashimi fish is required to be served very fresh for two main reasons: flavor and safety. Fish that is not fresh will lose its texture and flavor, and it runs the risk of harboring parasites or bacteria. Many merchants sell fish with the label "sashimi-grade" to indicate that the fish is fresh enough to be served uncooked. However, there are no recognized commercial guidelines concerning this label, and the FDA has never regulated the term "sashimi-grade."
The Ike Jime Method
While there is no official definition for "sashimi-grade," many fish merchants and consumers seek fish that has been harvested with the Ike Jime method. Ike Jime is the traditional Japanese method to butcher and store fish. The fish must be quickly killed and bled out, then put into cold, lightly salted water for 30 minutes. The fish are then stored in a bed of ice so that no two fish touch one another and sold within 24 hours.
FDA Parasite Guidelines
The FDA has published guidelines under which fish can be served with a "parasite destruction guarantee," which it recommends in cases where the fish is served uncooked. In this process, the fish must be frozen at least below -4 F. Because freezing fish can affect taste and texture, many establishments prefer to sell their fish "fresh," although this might not guarantee that the fish remained unfrozen during transport.
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