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May 22, 2007 07:41 PM

US Sushi or Hwe - isn't it all frozen?

After reading the thread on Japanese and Korean raw fish dishes I was interested to note that someone said almost all raw fish served in the US is flash frozen. While I sort of hate to use Oprah as a reference,on Monday's show, Oprah's guest Dr. Oz said that by law ALL fish served raw in the US must be flash frozen in order to kill parasites (read worms). Naturally this would apply to restaurants, not what is served in someone's home.

But is it true?

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  1. I've read this very thing on the FDA's website.

    1. I know for a fact that grocery stores receive their fish frozen and defrost before displaying. I'm OK with it if it kills parasites.

      8 Replies
      1. re: mojoeater

        Most fish is frozen at sea: but I was surprised to find fresh tuna on sale at my local grocery chain last week. They labelled it "fresh" on the package so you know it HAD to be by law. It was also in the sale flyer as Fresh from Montauk. As soon as I tasted it I knew they weren't lying! You can definitely tell the difference, even in sushi.
        But you're right that it's very rare to find it. And $4.99 to boot, hope it becomes a regular thing.
        I've been told that only certain species of fish have parasites, I'll have to look up the details unless someone knows off the top of their head, as I just bought a sushi mat and toasted nori and am now getting ready to experiment. I seem to remember that tuna doesn't have parasites although swordfish almost always does.

        1. re: coll

          Thing is, commercial fishing boats don't go out and come back every day. They are out on the sea for a week or more at a time. The fish they catch is either flash frozen on board, or stored on ice in the cold area. "Fresh" fish has been dead for quite a while before we get it.

          1. re: mojoeater

            Thing is, I live near Montauk, so around here the fish is all pretty fresh. Only because I see it on the docks all the time and it's all bloody so I know it's not frozen. But I'm sure if I didn't live this close I'd rather get it frozen than take a chance. It IS possible to get really fresh fish, believe it or not! Especially tuna. Come to Long Island and believe!!

            1. re: coll

              Its entirely possible to get fresh fish. Its just that, except for tuna, its illegal in the US to serve that fresh fish raw. If you're going to cook the fish, no problems because the possible bacteria or parasites should be killed by the cooking process.

              1. re: coll

                I live in Huntington, LI -- what chain had fresh Montauk tuna at $4.99/lb? I missed it! Aarrggghhh.

                1. re: sbp

                  Best Yet believe it or not! I'm going to be watching their flyers this summer, I'll let you know if I see it again.

                2. re: coll

                  I love fresh fish right off the dock, and am lucky enough to have a favorite vacation spot where I know the locals well and both the professionals and the guys coming off the charter boats are more than willing to share. I was referring to grocery store chains, which rarely get LOCAL fish. I am jealous that you have one near you that does.

                  1. re: mojoeater

                    I know, this is the first time I saw something like this. This is a smallish chain so they have more flexibility and can probably get a deal on the spot sometimes. Hope it shows up again!

          2. From a New York Times article from late 2004

            In case you don't have select, the relevant passage for your question is:
            "But because of health concerns and growing demand, 50 to 60 percent of sushi in the United States is frozen at some point in its journey from the ocean, according to wholesalers. And rare is the sushi restaurant that tells customers upfront that they may be eating fish that has been in deep freeze for up to two years.
            Most would be even more surprised to learn that if the sushi has not been frozen, it is illegal to serve it in the United States.
            Food and Drug Administration regulations stipulate that fish to be eaten raw — whether as sushi, sashimi, seviche, or tartare — must be frozen first, to kill parasites. "I would desperately hope that all the sushi we eat is frozen," said George Hoskin, a director of the agency's Office of Seafood. Tuna, a deep-sea fish with exceptionally clean flesh, is the only exception to the rule."

            They go on to explain that tuna is usually frozen, not for safety reasons but for economic reasons. It ends up costing about half as much.

            You should expect that all of the sushi you're eating in the US has been frozen. In the 3 years since the article there has been more time for enforcement and observation. More of the fish is frozen, as the law requires. I remember when the food network did the show on the opening of Morimoto in Philadelphia, one of the big issues was getting the freezers in to hold the Toro they were going to be serving. One of the most revered sushi chefs in the country was most worried about his freezers. That was one thing that ended the worry for me about the quality of frozen fish. Properly handled and stored and thawed, few would be able to tell the difference between fresh and frozen.

            2 Replies
            1. re: ccbweb

              you're right, I never notice that much a difference and it really doesn't bother me at all. If it wasn't frozen wouldn't the fish be sitting out on ice for days? p u

              1. re: bitsubeats

                I agree, and more sushi restaurants seem to be getting comfortable with the fact. We've had several sushi chefs tell us when we ask about something (especially if we're a ways into our meal) that the toro or the hotatagai is frozen and will take a while to defrost properly before they serve it. We feel like, if they're handling it well, we're getting a better product than we'd likely get otherwise. If we were eating at a restaurant overlooking the sea out of which the fish was being caught, perhaps we'd feel differently.

            2. It's worth noting that Japanese law has required blast-freezing since at least the 1980s (when I became aware of it). I don't know if/how that covers small boat shore catches, etc., but most Japanese chefs at the time felt the US was foolish not to require it. Of course,, Diphyllobothrium latum (fish tapeworm) and other fish parasites were much smaller public health hazards in the US back then, compared to Japan.

              If it's good enough for Nihonjin, it's good enough for me. Actually, it's just good enough for me, period. I've sought out and compared ship-frozen brands/suppliers for years, because any small difference in "freshness" is overwhelmed by the inconsistency in "fresh" fish -- If "freshness" means the lack of postmoretem changes. I'd say the freshness edge usually goes to the frozen fish, anyway! Here on the Massachusetts coast, the boats stay out for days, and it's hard to see how freezing can be worse than *days* of loose icing. In my experience, if you compare many suppliers (and keep track of when they start to disappoint), it's not even a question -- especially if you can't swing a proper dockside quest for every meal.

              I've had a lot of disappointing "fresh" fish, along with transcendant experiences that I still talk about decades later. I prefer a consistently very good experience to playing the lottery. (Yes, I'm a barbarian) and most of the nation doesn't even have the option of truly fresh

              1 Reply
              1. re: Orpheus

                Living in MInnesota, far away from the oceans, I am very happy that my sushi is from flash frozen fish!

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