How To Choose Salmon For Sushi

How To Choose Salmon For Sushi?

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salmon for sushi

I had the privilege of eating salmon sushi in a sushi bar on my recent visit to Japan, and it was so delightful that the taste lingered with me for long. The soft, light and creamy texture of raw salmon was heavenly, and not chewy like beef or chicken. So, I decided to make sushi at home to ease that craving, but for that, I needed raw fish.

How to choose salmon for sushi? Salmon fish available in the market may be caught wild or farmed in a controlled environment. However, you can’t use any raw salmon as they are susceptible to parasites that can cause food-borne illnesses. You need to choose only the finest sushi-grade salmon that has been frozen immediately after being caught.

Sushi-grade salmon refers to fish that are caught fresh and immediately bled upon capture. They are gutted instantly and frozen at a specific temperature to prevent parasites from growing.

If you can get fresh salmon that has been immediately caught and brought to the store then there can’t be anything better than that.

However, if you live away from the coastal areas like me, always buy fish from a trusted and reputable store online or local fishmonger who knows the best practices to handle fish that is supposed to be eaten raw.


Things To Look For When Choosing Salmon For Sushi

When choosing salmon to make sushi at home, don’t hesitate to ask the seller where the fish was caught, how it was stored and how long it had been at the store. Also, ask whether the fish seller fillets the salmon or it comes pre-filleted.

If possible, request the fishmonger to let you look at the logs that indicate the specifics (time period temperature) at which the salmon was frozen. Wholesalers who can answer these questions, receive daily shipments, and sell a lot of fish daily can give you fresh sushi-grade salmon.

Take a note of the way the fish seller handles the sushi-grade salmon. If he uses the same knife and board used for other seafood without sterilizing them, this can cause cross-contamination of parasites from other non-sushi grade fish. Thus, the best way to find grade salmon is to buy from a reputable wholesaler whom you can trust. 

Besides the above factors, rely on your senses of touch and smell to tell if the fish is fresh. Fresh salmon should smell like the ocean, not putrid. The flesh should be firm, not flaky and mushyto touch. As the sushi-grade fish is eaten raw, look for a vibrant color that appeals to the eye.

If you are in doubt or you do not receive satisfactory answers from the fish seller, just give it a pass. You would definitely not want to risk your health.

Are Frozen Raw Salmon Safe To Eat?

Yes, most of the traditional sushi that you eat in sushi bars contain fish that have been frozen before being used. They don’t come from fresh from the ocean or sea right onto your plate. Although frozen, the fish still tastes awesome and they are significantly cheaper than fresh catch.

Fresh fish is stored immediately after being caught at a temperature of -20° centigrade or lower than that to keep them safe to consume raw. When you go to wholesale fish sellers, you can ask them to give you sushi-grade fish, which is the highest quality, rated as grade1.

Related Article: Can you Eat Salmon Raw from Grocery stores?

Why Is It Important To Freeze Salmon?

Salmons thrive in freshwater and once they are out of their natural habitat, they quickly get infected with parasites. Consuming salmon that has not been frozen properly can put you at risk of food borne illnesses.

Freezing is an important step to keep the freshness of salmon intact. The process destroys parasites such as Diphyllobothrium tapeworm larvae or nematodes. These parasites are killed when fish is cooked, but eating raw fish increases health hazards caused by parasites. 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA ) recommends raw fish used for dishes like sushi, ceviche and tartare to be frozen at -4 degrees Fahrenheit for at least seven days or at -31 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 hours before being used.

According to Peter Cassell from the FDA team, freezing fish is the only practical way to control the health risk posed by parasites. The New York Times also reported that fish can be frozen for a period of up to two years.

Does Freezing Salmon Hamper The Quality Of Sushi?

I know frozen salmon does not sound as good as fresh fish but freezing does not essentially hamper the quality of sushi. Most of the sushi bars around the world use frozen sushi-grade fish for making your favorite delicacies.

The only reason why frozen fish has a bad rap is that freezing technology expands the water cells inside the fish resulting in a breakdown of cell membranes. Due to this, frozen salmon does not have the same texture and luster as raw fish. It also feels a little mushier than the fresh counterpart. 

Fortunately, the taste does not change that much and you can hardly tell the difference between fresh and frozen fish in sushi. According to sushi experts, if you freeze salmon at – 60 degrees Fahrenheit, it hardly affects the cell membranes and the texture also remains unchanged.

Related Article: Can You Make Sushi From Frozen Salmon?

How To Tell If The Salmon Is Fresh To Use For Sushi

The best way to tell whether a salmon is fresh is by using your senses. The look and feel of a fish says a lot about its quality. Here are a few things that can give you clear indications. If any thing raises a red flag, you must simply give it a pass.   

• The whole fish should have clear eyes that bulge out slightly. If a fish is stale or has been sitting for a long time, the eyes will flatten.

• The fillets should feel firm to touch and the flesh should have a shiny appearance. Dull flesh indicates that the fish is old. If the fillets look discolored, give them a pass.

•Fresh salmon should have bright gills. If it feels flaky or slimy when touched, it is not fresh fish

• If the fish is fresh, the flesh will spring back when pressed. If it does not then please avoid buying that salmon

• Look for any dark patches around the edges or brownish or yellowish marks. Any form of discoloration or unusual color means the fish is not sushi-grade.

• Most importantly, trust your sense of smell. Fresh fish will have no smell at all or have a mild scent. If the fish smells like ammonia, it’s rotten!

How Do Some Sushi Restaurants Manage To Use Unfrozen Salmon

It’s true that not all sushi bars and restaurants freeze their salmon, but this highly depends upon the budget and location. Some restaurants have the luxury of being able to pay the high price for fresh salmon and their location enables them to get sushi-grade fish and use them immediately without the need for storage.

However, the owners of such restaurants agree that they have to be extremely careful about their sources and ensure that the fish they use is parasite free. This is particularly why most budget restaurants prefer to use frozen fish because they are so much cheaper.

If you are planning to make salmon sushi at home, I would recommend that you buy frozen salmon from a trusted fish seller. Trust your sense of smell and sight to ensure that the fish has been handled and frozen as per the FDA regulations.

How To Make Salmon Sushi At Home

Things you will need:

Nori or sushi seaweeds for wrapping
• Seasoned sushi rice
Sushi-grade frozen salmon
• Cream cheese sliced into thin strips
• 1 avocado sliced
• Soya sauce

Place a bamboo mat on an even surface and put the Nori seaweed sheet on top of it

Apply a layer of seasoned sushi rice on sheet and gently even out using a rice paddle

Now place a thin slice of salmon, cream cheese and avocado on the rice

Roll the bamboo mat tightly to give an even shape to your sushi

Use a moistened sharp knife (see my favorite knife) to cut the sushi into slices and drizzle some soya sauce on it.

The recipe above can be used to make thin and delicious salmon sushi rolls that are known as Salmon Hosomaki in Japanese. You can also try different other variations of salmon sushi, and here are the top five:

Related Article: 30 Good Ideas for Sushi Roll Fillings

Top Four Styles Of Salmon Sushi

1. Salmon Hosomaki

This is the most popular style of traditional salmon sushi rolls. It has Nori seaweed wrap as the outer layer and soft sushi rice and raw fish inside. Salmon hosomaki took inspiration from Philadelphia roll that is popular in other parts of the world and contains salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese.

2. Salmon Nigiri

Salmon Nigiri is another popular style of sushi and in this method, a ball of seasoned sushi rice is layered with a succulent piece of fresh raw fish. The nigiri sushi tastes best with soy sauce or wasabi. In some sushi bars, they may use cooked salmon called ‘sake’ in Japanese and it then called ‘sahmon’.

3. Aburi Salmon Nigiri

This is the traditional salmon nigiri sushi that is broiled in the ‘Aburi’ method using a blow torch before eating or serving. The fat content of salmon creates a luscious and shiny roasted surface on the top and gives it a creamy texture in every bite.

4. Salmon temaki

Salmon Hand Roll (Temaki Sushi)
Salmon Hand Roll (Temaki Sushi)

Also known as sushi hand rolls, this is an easy way to make salmon sushi at home. You will need a nori seaweed sheet, layer it with sushi rice, sliced raw salmon, cucumber and avocado. Now roll it into a cone shape just like ice-cream.

Related Questions

Why is salmon flash frozen as soon as it is caught

The flesh is salmon may contain parasites that can thrive if the fish is left outside, hence it is frozen immediately to kill parasites and eliminate any associated health risks. If you are buying fillets, keep an eye for soft spots and discoloration. You must always buy frozen sushi-grade fish and thaw it in the refrigerator before use.

What is the right temperature for freezing salmon?

After being caught, fresh fish is frozen at a temperature of -20 to -31 degrees Fahrenheit. It is difficult to maintain that temperature in your home freezer so consume raw fish immediately. Some sushi bars have super freezers that can keep salmon frozen at -60°F temperature.

What is the right method to cut raw fish for sushi

Raw fish tastes great with sushi but they must be cut in an appropriate manner. At home, cut them straight down throughout the fillet section and then further cut that piece into half to get a small strip to be used in homemade sushi.

Can you keep sushi overnight in the fridge?

I would not recommend this because keeping raw fish in the fridge may invite the risk of bacterial growth and cause foodborne illness. When making sushi at home, I suggest that you make only as much as you can eat fresh without having to store them. Sushi rice also gets hardened and doesn’t retain the same texture and taste when reheated. 

Related question: How Long Do California Rolls Last In The Fridge?

Is it possible to make sushi without fish?

Sure. If you don’t like eating raw fish with your sushi, there are so many other options to choose from. You may easily try the vegan or vegetarian sushi recipe that includes cucumbers, avocados, and carrots as filler ingredients.

For more: 8 Exciting Recipes For Vegetarian Sushi

Which part of salmon is used for sushi

If you are buying whole fish from a trusted fish seller, just use the middle section for making homemade sushi. The tailfish is usually too lean as it gets a lot of exercises. Hence, it is not used for sushi. The entire middle section excluding the head and tail part can be filleted and used for sushi. The flesh close to the tail end may be used for other things like rolls.

Final Words

Choosing salmon for sushi requires some knowledge and sharp observation skills. However, once you establish a good relationship with a trusted fish seller who knows what you want, there is no need to worry.

If on any day, the seller tells you he does not have sushi-grade fish, avoid buying any other variety no matter how badly you crave for salmon sushi.

To get a fix for your craving, order a salmon sushi from a popular sushi bar as they get a regular supply of sushi-grade fish in bulk to cater to high demand. When making sushi at home, always go for it when you have properly frozen sushi-grade salmon available. 

Look out for the signs and trust your senses to tell whether or not a fish is fresh and properly handled after being caught. A little caution will go a long way in ensuring that you enjoy delicious sushi and keep healthy too!