Raw, Exotic, but Delicate Sashimi

SashimiTo the uninitiated, the thought of eating raw fish or meat is probably repulsive, but the world has shrunk into a global village, and an increasing number of people have learned to love sashimi. Many people think of sashimi as synonymous with sushi, but these are two different dishes that simply share raw fish or seafood as major ingredients. Japan Talk features “21 Types of Sashimi” as a beginner’s introduction to this simple Japanese delicacy.

Sashimi is thin sliced raw fish or meat. 

“At face value, it’s one of the world’s simplest foods. After all, it’s just sliced raw fish. Nothing is added. Soy sauce and wasabi may be included on the side but that’s it. Sashimi is a direct taste experience. Fish must be of the highest quality. There’s no hiding behind sauces and other distractions to your taste buds. 

“The simplicity of sashimi lends itself well to aesthetically pleasing dishes. A sashimi master must know his or her way around a fish. They must also have artistic sense. A sashimi dish without style is just lumps of raw fish. 

“Practically any fish or meat can be used in sashimi. Exotic varieties number in the hundreds. The following varieties of sashimi are the most common in Japan…”

The Most Popular Types of Sashimi

Squid (ika), octopus (tako), shrimp (amaebi), scallop (hotate), clam *hokkigae), salmon roe (ikura), and sea urchin (uni) are often used for sashimi, but none of these can compete with the popularity of tuna or maguro sashimi. The most common maguro sashimi is made of lean, deep red tuna loin, but the most upscale comes from the pinkish, fatty meat of the tuna’s belly. Salmon, sea bream, mackerel, skipjack tuna, yellowtail, and amberjack are all used as ingredients for this well-loved dish, which is often served as a first course in formal Japanese dinners.

When fish is used for sashimi, it must be presented in neat and even slices, usually artistically arranged over a bed of shredded radish or cabbage. The basic rule for preparing sashimi, however, is that the ingredients used must be firm, fresh, and of good quality. It is a dish that can be unforgiving, because with its stark simplicity, no undesirable aftertaste or odor can be hidden.

Dining on Sashimi

Sashimi is eaten by dipping pieces of the meat or seafood into a small dish of soy sauce, and into this bowl some wasabi is customarily added. Although the most discriminating sushi diners abhor the direct mixing of wasabi into the soy sauce, this has become common practice. A more acceptable method, experts say, is to put some wasabi in a dish and gently pour soy sauce over it. But according to the connoisseurs, the best way to use the wasabi as an enhancer is to dab a small amount of wasabi onto the sashimi pieces before or after dipping these into the soy sauce.

It is considered bad form to pour more soy sauce than you need into the dish; instead, you are to refill the dish as needed. In the most formal and conservative setting, you should not use your chopsticks to get sashimi from a communal tray. If there are no serving utensils, flip your chopsticks over and use the broader end to pick pieces from the platter. Never allow your chopsticks to hover over the pieces; zero in on a piece and pick it unhesitatingly. If you are unsure of what to do, observe what the other diners are doing and follow suit.

Pairing Sashimi with Wine

Unlike dishes like a duck in orange sauce, sashimi is one of those foods that does not automatically bring about the question of what wine would be appropriate. Still, there are some interesting pairings for this deceptively simple dish. In “Sashimi and Koshu”, Fiona Beckett gives her take on what she thinks is a perfect match.

Koshu, as those of you who’ve read the piece will know is a Japanese white wine made from a grape variety of the same name. It’s not particularly characterful but that’s a virtue when it comes to sashimi where you want a wine that’s absolutely clean and without obvious fruit or oak character. Unwooded versions also have a crisp acidity that contrasts well with the slightly oily, soft texture of raw fish. (It was particularly good with the creamy raw cuttlefish)…”

If koshu is too difficult to find, the safest bottle would be a dry wine, unoaked, with a flavor that won’t overpower the delicate essence of your fish or seafood, or clash with your wasabi and soy sauce. Savor each piece, take a sip and enjoy!

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