One of the most frightening aspects of making sushi at home is the thought of choosing fresh fish. What should it look like? Where do you buy it? Does the ‘sushi grade’ label even mean anything? Good quality fish can make the difference between excellent and stomach-churning homemade sushi, so to figure out if what you’re buying is fresh there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Buy from a quality fish monger
Firstly, you should look to your local marketers and find a trusted fish monger. While there will usually be a wide selection of fish fillets available at any given grocery store, the trick is knowing just how old the fish is and how it should be used in cooking. When you find a fish monger, you’ll discover that you can learn a lot more from him about the fish you are buying than you can in any large store. A quality fish monger will be able to tell you where the fish came from, what it tastes like and whether or not it can truly be called ‘sushi grade’; the fact is that there are no governmental requirements on the ‘sushi-grade’ label and markets can use it as they please.
Don’t be afraid to have a chat with your fish monger! If you let him know that you are making sushi, chances are he’ll not only be able to give you the freshest fish available but offer up some advice as to which kinds you might like to try. Aside from the regular tuna and salmon choices you might have in mind, there might be a few local fish types that could offer a new spin on your sushi pieces.
How should the fish look, feel and smell?
If you talk to your fish monger, he will be able to tell you what exactly you should be looking for in a sushi-grade fish, but some basic guidelines concerning the aesthetics of fresh fish need to be paid attention to when you strike out on your own. First of all, unlike what many people believe, there is no raw fish anywhere that should smell ‘fishy’. Fish will only smell bad if it is old; steer right clear of bad smells and any stores that don’t smell clean!
In terms of the look and feel of fresh fish, search for whole fish that have a moist and slippery skin; the older the fish the drier it will become. Because of this, you also want to make sure that the fish has bright and clear eyes. If a fish has been sitting in a display refrigerator for longer than it should for sushi-grade, it will simply start to look dead: live fish have bright eyes, shiny scales, bright red gills and a firm and resilient flesh. When buying ready—cut fillets, you still need to look for an even coloring and firm and moist flesh.
Essentially, if the fish looks like you could pop it into the river and still save its life, pick it up! This is what you are looking for, the vibrancy of life in your sushi fish. Remember to choose carefully and always ask questions of your fish provider when you aren’t sure of quality or taste.