If you’re trying to understand what sashimi is, and whether it’s the same thing as sushi, don’t worry you’re not alone. We’ve got you covered. We’ll even give you the lowdown on how to eat it.
What is Sashimi?
Sashimi is a Japanese dish of thinly-sliced raw food, usually fish and seafood, but also sometimes other meats.
Sashimi is often confused with sushi, although the two are different things. Sushi is made with seasoned, vinegared rice, either shaped into mounds and topped with items such as raw or cooked seafood or rolled in sheets of seaweed called nori around fillings of raw of cooked seafood, vegetables and other items.
So the key is that sushi is always made with rice, whereas sashimi is always just the raw item by itself.
Depending on the ingredient, sashimi can be sliced into various shapes, including flat slices, thin strips, rectangles, cubes or diagonal slices. A sharp knife and impeccable knife skills are critical for making sashimi, so that the slices are smooth, uniform and visually appealing.
In Japan, in addition to fish and seafood, sashimi can be made of thinly-sliced raw meats such as beef, pork, chicken, and horse—although fish and seafood are the most common.
And while most sashimi is served raw, some items are briefly cooked, either braised, seared or boiled, for the sake of flavor and texture, but also to avoid food poisoning.
Sashimi can be served on its own, or with beer, as a snack or as part of a light meal, or as an appetizer at the start of a multi-course meal.
How to Eat Sashimi
Sashimi is served on a platter or dish, sometimes on a bed of shiso leaves or shaved daikon radish, and it can be seasoned with ingredients like soy sauce, ginger, wasabi and citrus. It is usually accompanied by a dipping sauce of soy sauce or ponzu, which is a citrus-flavored soy sauce.
To eat sashimi, pick up a piece with your chopsticks, dip it in the dipping sauce and eat the whole thing in a single bite.
Sashimi vs. Sushi
Although it’s common to assume that sashimi is a type of sushi, they’re considered two different things. The key is that rice is the defining ingredient of sushi, not the topping.
Indeed, the etymology of the word “sushi” derives from words to the effect of “sour food” or “vinegared food,”1 which refers not to the fish, but the rice. Traditional sushi rice is prepared with rice vinegar as well as salt and sugar.
The word sashimi, on the other hand, roughly translates into “cut meat,” although this is approximate, and the full etymology is fairly obscure.
Even so, sushi and sashimi have similarities. They’re both bite-sized, and they are both seasoned with things like soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi. And both happen to pair well with beer or sake.
Types of Sashimi
Maguro (Tuna): Made from bluefin tuna, this fish is divided into grades based on fat content. Akami comes from the top of the fish, along the backbone, and is the leanest. Toro comes from the belly of the fish and is the fattiest part.
Sake (Salmon): Salmon is among the most popular sashimi, and like the tuna, the meat from the belly is more fatty and succulent. Because salmon can carry parasites, eating raw salmon is a cause for concern. The solution is to use either farmed salmon, which is free from parasites, or wild caught salmon that has been frozen to kill any such parasites.
Hamachi (Yellowtail): Another of the most popular fish for sashimi, hamachi has a rich, buttery flavor. The belly is usually used for making sashimi and the upper part of the fillet is used for nigiri sushi.
Hirame (Flounder): This mild-flavored, firm white fish can be white with hints of pink if taken from the top side of the fillet, or grey with dark veins if from the bottom. It’s most desirable when caught in the winter, because that’s when its fat content is highest. It can be aged for several days to maximize flavor and texture. \
Saba (Mackerel): This oily, strong-flavored fish is another favorite, especially when extremely fresh. It’s often cured with vinegar and salt before serving.
Tai (Sea Bream): Another white fish, tai sashimi is firm and savory, with a slightly sweet flavor, it can be farmed or wild-caught. It’s traditionally cured between layers of kelp to bring out more complex umami flavors.
Katsuo (Bonito): The fat content of this red-fleshed fish can vary, and its strong flavors lend it to being served with green onions, ginger and wasabi.
Other sashimi varieties include ika (squid), tako (octopus), hotate (scallop), ikura (salmon roe), and uni (sea urchin).