The word sashimi means "pierced body", i.e. "刺身" = sashimi, where 刺 し = sashi (pierced, stuck) and 身 = mi (body, meat). This word dates from the Muromachi period and was possibly coined when the word "切る" = kiru (cut), the culinary step, was considered too inauspicious to be used by anyone other than samurai; this word may derive from the culinary practice of sticking the fish's tail and fin to the slices for the purpose of identifying the fish being eaten.
Another possibility for the name is the traditional method of harvesting. "Sashimi-grade" fish is caught by individual handline. As soon as the fish is landed, its brain is pierced with a sharp spike, and it is placed in slurried ice; this spiking is called the ikejime process, and the instantaneous death means that the fish's flesh contains a minimal amount of lactic acid. This means that the fish will keep fresh on ice for about ten days, without turning white or otherwise degrading.
Many non-Japanese use the terms sashimi and sushi interchangeably, but the two dishes are distinct and separate. Sushi refers to any dish made with vinegared rice. While raw fish is one traditional sushi ingredient, many sushi dishes contain seafood that has been cooked, and others have no seafood at all. Sashimi by contrast is always served on its own.
Sashimi is often the first course in a formal Japanese meal, but it can also be the main course, presented with rice and miso soup in separate bowls.[dubious ] Japanese chefs consider sashimi the finest dish in Japanese formal dining and recommend that it be eaten before other strong flavors affect the palate.
The sliced seafood that composes the main ingredient is typically draped over a garnish; the typical garnish is Asian white radish, daikon, shredded into long thin strands, or single leaves of the herb shiso (perilla)
Sashimi is popularly served with a dipping sauce (soy sauce) and condiments such as wasabi paste, grated fresh ginger, grated fresh garlic, or ponzu for meat sashimi, and such garnishes as shiso and shredded daikon radish. Wasabi paste is sometimes mixed directly into soy sauce as a dipping sauce, which is generally not done when eating sushi (which itself normally includes wasabi). Another way to flavor soy sauce with wasabi is to place the wasabi mound into the soy sauce dish and then pour it in; this allows the wasabi to infuse the soy sauce more subtly. A reputed motivation for serving wasabi with sashimi (and also gari, pickled ginger), besides its flavor, is killing harmful bacteria and parasites that could be present in raw seafood. Other garnishes, more common in Japan than overseas, include red water pepper sprouts beni-tade (紅蓼) and a small chrysanthemum kogiku (小菊). The chrysanthemum, unlike other garnishes, is not intended to be eaten but put as preservative, and in cheap service (such as at supermarkets) may be substituted with a plastic flower.
To highlight the delicate flavor as well as for texture, the chef cuts fish into different thicknesses by variety of the fish, its age and by the season; the hira-zukuri cut (literally "flat slice"), is the standard cut for most sashimi. Typically this style of cut is the size of a domino and 10 mm (3⁄8 in) thick. Tuna, salmon, and kingfish are most commonly cut in this style; the usu-zukuri cut (literally "thin slice"), is an extremely thin, diagonally cut slice that is mostly used to cut firm fish, such as bream, whiting, and flounder. The dimensions of this fish is usually 50 mm (2 in) long and 2 mm (1⁄16 in) wide. The kaku-zukuri cut (literally "square slice"), is the style in which sashimi is cut into small cubes that are 20 mm (3⁄4 in) on each side. The ito-zukuri cut (literally "thread slice"), is the style in which the fish is cut into fine strips, less than 2 mm (1⁄16 in) in diameter The fish typically cut with the ito-zukuri style include garfish and squid; squid dish prepared in ito-zukuri is also called ika sōmen and you dip them in dashi or men-tsuyu like eating sōmen noodle.
Popular main ingredients for sashimi include:
- Salmon (鮭 Sake)
- Squid (いか Ika)
- Shrimp (えび Ebi)
- Tuna (まぐろ Maguro)
- Mackerel (さば Saba)
- Horse mackerel (あじ Aji)
- Octopus (たこ Tako)
- Fatty tuna (おおとろ Ōtoro)
- Yellowtail (はまち Hamachi)
- Scallop (ほたて貝 Hotate-gai)
- Sea urchin (ウニ Uni)
Some sashimi ingredients, such as octopus, are sometimes served cooked given their chewy nature. Most seafood, such as tuna, salmon, and squid, are served raw. Tataki (たたき or 叩き, "pounded") is a type of sashimi that is quickly and lightly seared on the outside, leaving it raw inside.
Less common, but not unusual, sashimi ingredients are vegetarian items, such as yuba (bean curd skin), and raw red meats, such as beef (known as gyuunotataki) or horse (known as basashi). Chicken "sashimi" (known as toriwasa) is considered by some[who?] to be a delicacy; the Nagoya kōchin, French poulet de Bresse and its American derivative, the blue foot chicken, are favored by many for this purpose, as, besides their taste, they are certified to be free of Salmonella. Chicken sashimi is sometimes slightly braised or seared on the outside.
Ingredients other than raw fish meat
Food cut into small pieces and eaten with wasabi and soy sauce may be called sashimi in Japan, including the following ingredients. Like bamboo shoots, the food is enjoyed raw to appreciate the freshness, and producers and farmers offer those sashimi at their properties in top season; some of the vegetables are enjoyed as thin sliced strips and called sashimi while they resemble fish meat, like avocado as salmon and konnyaku as puffer fish.
- Avocado: served as "avocado sashimi", it is considered to have a texture similar to raw or slightly salted fatty salmon. Eaten with wasabi soy sauce.
- Bamboo shoots: farmers of bamboo grove serves takenoko in course menu, and sashimi is almost always entered during the high season of harvest. Those chemical contents such as oxalic acid, homogentisic acid and their glycosides enhance bitter taste in bamboo shoots, and enzymes start breaking down amino acid tyrosine into homogentisic acid within hours after harvest. Since a very large amount of that amino acid is contained (690 mg per 100 g), even you boil bamboo shoots in alkaline water (rice bran juice or baking soda) before cooking, the natural sweet flavor is impossible to be enjoyed other than fresh from the grove.
- Japanese radish: among many varieties of vegetables eaten fresh, they say the flavor stands out when tasted within a couple of hours after harvesting, and called sashimi vegitables instead of very fresh salad.
- Konnyaku: cut into short thin strips resembling puffer fish meat, thus called yama fugu (mountain puffer fish) in some regions. Served with vinegar and miso, wasabi and soy sauce, vinegar and soy sauce.
- Yuba, or tofu skin: while there are restaurants where you cook your own yuba and eat while its hot, yuba-sashi or sashimi of yuba is chilled and served with wasabi soy sauce or vinegar miso.
- Beef, pork, and poultry: bought from licensed butchers and processors, those were served raw, and cases are that the restaurant offer slightly cooked meat as sashimi to avoid high risk of food poisoning and parasite infection, by treating meat in boiling water (yubiki) or braised with gas torch (aburi). Served with ponzu citrus vinegar.
- Chiragaa: boiled face skin of pork, served with vinegar and miso sauce, also served as Okinawa cuisine.
- Goat meat: Okinawa cuisine, served with soy sauce and grated ginger.
- Horse meat: offered with grated garlic and soy sauce.
- Mimigaa: boiled ears of pork, also served as Okinawa cuisine.
- Offal: advised to buy from meat processors or restaurants with licenses, as fatal food poisoning happened in Japan with beef liver.[a][b]
- Wild meat: boar as Okinawa cuisine consumed on Iriomote and Ishigaki islands and boiled meat is served. Deer meat.
Goat meat served raw as sashimi. Photogaraphed in Naha.
- Fishcake: one among the express menu on izakaya menu, offered as Itawasa. Sliced into 1 centimetre (0.39 in) thick strips, and eat with wasabi and soy sauce.
- Seaweed: wakame is in strict sense not eaten raw but dipped in boiling water for a few seconds, and enjoyed the fresh green color, with wasabi soy sauce. Marinating with vinegar and miso sauce is popular as well.
As a raw food, consuming sashimi can result in foodborne illness when bacteria or parasites are present; for example, anisakiasis is a disease caused by the accidental ingestion of larval nematodes in the family Anisakidae, primarily Anisakis simplex but also Pseudoterranova decipiens. In addition, incorrectly prepared Fugu fish may contain tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin.
Another type of food borne illness that could occur after consuming tainted sashimi is Diphyllobothriasis; this disease is an infection within the intestines that occurs when the tapeworm Diphyllobothrium latum is consumed. Common fish such as trout, salmon, pike, and sea bass harbor this parasitic larvae in their muscles. Due to the innovation of the chilled transport system paired with the salmon and trout consumption, an increasing number of cases have been recorded annually in northern Japan due to the spread of this disease.
Traditionally, fish that spend at least part of their lives in brackish or fresh water were considered unsuitable for sashimi because of the possibility of parasites. For example, salmon, an anadromous fish, is not traditionally eaten straight out of the river. A study in Seattle, Washington, showed that all wild salmon had roundworm larvae capable of infecting people, while farm-raised salmon did not have any roundworm larvae; however a study commissioned by the Pew Foundation found that total organic contaminants were consistently and significantly more concentrated in the farmed salmon as a group than in wild salmon.
Freezing is often used to kill parasites. According to European Union regulations, freezing fish at −20 °C (−4 °F) for 24 hours kills parasites; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends freezing at −35 °C (−31 °F) for 15 hours, or at −20 °C (−4 °F) for 7 days.
While Canada does not federally regulate freezing fish, British Columbia and Alberta voluntarily adhere to guidelines similar to the FDA's. Ontario attempted to legislate freezing as part of raw food handling requirements, though this was soon withdrawn due to protests by the industry that the subtle flavors and texture of raw fish would be destroyed by freezing. Instead, Ontario has decided to consider regulations on how raw fish must be handled prior to serving.
Eating chicken sashimi is a serious food poisoning risk. Despite it being on menus, it is hard to find, and many chefs cook it incorrectly, it is often prepared by cooking or searing for 10 seconds, which is not enough time to kill off harmful bacteria such as campylobacter and salmonella. Chicken sashimi is also often sourced at certain restaurants from the thigh, liver and outer breast, where more harmful bacteria tend to grow.
The increased popularity of bluefin tuna for sashimi is reported to have brought this popular species to the verge of extinction; the popularity has grown so much that the biomass of bluefin tuna has dropped from 600 metric tonnes to 200 metric tonnes from 1955 to 2000. This has resulted in a long period of depressed abundance of bluefin tuna, which has led to a failure of bluefins being able to reproduce a large amount of offspring. With the constant amount of fishing, bluefin tuna population rates have been steadily declining. A proposed solution has been farming bluefin tuna in fisheries, but this poses a problem in that the captive fish are not raised from spawn, but rather from small wild fish that are netted and transported to the farms, mostly in the Mediterranean; however, Japanese scientists have found a way to successfully breed and raise the fish entirely in captivity. Despite this technical accomplishment, this may not lead to a viable solution to maintain a sustainable bluefin population, because chefs and consumers see wild bluefin to be more appetizing, and look down upon farmed bluefin.
- Japanese regulation has banned providing or sell raw beef liver for sashimi at restaurants or stores, due to the risk of Hepatitis E and Enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli, since July 2012.
- With cases reported in 2012, Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare banned beef liver to be served as sashimi after 12 cases of food poisoning was reported. The regulation was tightened in 2015 and pork liver was added to banned offal.
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