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Nov 10, 2008 06:25 AM

Frozen Sashimi?

Is this ever acceptable?

I went to a local, reputable place for a sushi dinner with another sashimi/sushi loving friend. We were quite dismayed that the salmon was frozen. Not cold, frozen. Also, another whitefish that looked seared was still frozen (not as bad as the salmon). The other sashimi options were OK, but still on the cold side.

When we commented this to the server, he said that that's the way it's supposed to be. The sushi chef apparently told him the same thing. After a few minutes, the manager came over and offered to bring us more of the pieces we did like. He explained that the salmon was frozen because it was in a cooler that was not used as often and therefore, colder. So, when they put the cold fish on the ice, it must have gotten frozen.

Were they serving frozen fish? Is it commonplace to serve previously frozen fish? I have not had this happen before and wondered if it happens on occasion at even the better places.


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  1. When I lived in Korea, a date took me to a 10,000 won (+/-$10) all-you-can-eat tuna sushi bar. We were served tuna rolls, various forms of tuna sashimi, nigiri, etc. We were served very thinly sliced, intentionally frozen tuna sashimi. I thought it was strange, but my date told me that it was popular in Korea and Japan. The tuna was so thin that it slightly melted on my tongue, and because it was still partially frozen, it took longer to eat so I really had time to savor the flavor. It was interesting, but I'd still take the thawed fish over the frozen.

    I've never had frozen sushi in the States (though all sushi grade fish here must be flash-frozen by law) Read the NYT story:
    Sounds like your sushi chef was just covering his tail :)

    1. Much of the sashimi served will have been frozen at some point but to be served frozen sashimi is unacceptable.

      This Vanity Fair article goes into the freezing of the highest grade of sashimi and all things sushi.

      3 Replies
      1. re: KTinNYC

        Almost all the sushi you eat has been frozen before but as KT says, it's pretty unacceptable to be served frozen fish.

        In my years in Japan I've never heard of frozen fish being a popular option, no idea about Korea though.

        1. re: lost squirrel

          I ate raw fish fairly frequently in Korea, and it was never served frozen... but that was some time ago (1980s, pre-olympics)

          1. re: lost squirrel

            I never had frozen sashimi while living in Japan either. The only frozen thing I ever had was edamame- it was not delicious at all.

        2. Your establishment is not alone, there are several other purportedly known establishments that do the same thing. Serving frozen or near frozen fish on top of hot or warm sushi rice is by no means "traditional" or "old school", rather they're trying to sell themselves off to be and fool the unsuspecting public. The real word here is LAZY (it takes far too long for some people to want to properly thaw out a piece of frozen seafood). The word is also unprofessional if your fish still has frostbite inside and they serve it to you as such.

          Even Anthony Bourdain said it best about his trip to Sukiyabashi Jiro in Tokyo (No Reservations episode). Something to the effect about everything he had was served at the right temperature at the right time.

          1. I've had frozen slices of fish at a few sushi joints and a Whole Foods. They just hadn't thawed it out in time, but they should have been more responsible and recognized that. Most of these places are getting superfrozen fillets of fish from JFC or True World Foods, and they go straight to the freezer from the truck. It's up to them to keep up with slacking them out in a timely fashion. Biting into a frozen slice of tilapia (tai) really takes the allure out of the experience.

            1. Yeah, it really did detract from the experience. The fish had no taste and you could actually crunch on the ice crystals. Not good.

              In a way, I am spoiled because my significant other is an avid fisherman...a few weeks ago we had trout and bluefish sashimi from fish he caught the night before. It can't get much fresher than that!

              18 Replies
              1. re: sarahUNC

                Where does he fish to get trout and bluefish on the same night? Neither are traditional sashimi fish - I wouldn't eat them as sashimi.

                1. re: applehome

                  Could be steelhead. But I wouldn't jump at that chance, either.

                  1. re: applehome

                    Trout sashimi is traditional, but not all that common. It has to be fresh of course. I'm not sure what bluefish is in Japanese. One of my dictionaries calls it "gindara", which I've never seen as sashimi, but would be interested in trying.

                    I've been to crappy izakaya in Japan where only partially defrosted sashimi was served- unintentionally, of course.

                    1. re: Silverjay

                      I believe bluefish is mutsu in Japanese. At least according to the handy-dandy fish varieties page:

                    2. re: applehome

                      NC coast--near Wrightsville Beach/Wilmington area. Both were surprisingly tender and mild. The trout seemer easier to prepare for sashimi than the bluefish.

                      1. re: sarahUNC

                        So the trout is caught in the sea or in brackish waters? Are these actually Chars of some sort, just being called trout by locals? Trout generally are not anadromous (although there are some species, like Steelhead as Almansa mentions). Blues sometimes come into rivers chasing schools of smaller fish, but not far. In fact, that's why they're higher in Mercury which is why there's a health restriction on eating them - something like no more than twice a month and absolutely not for children and pregnant women. Of course, that has nothing at all to do with eating them raw or cooked- the mercury's there either way. What would turn me off to sashimi is the make up of the flesh - with very dark red oily flesh on the skin side which can be bitter. Many fishermen gut the fish and cut it's head off right after they catch it to drain the blood. Personally, I think it's best smoked.

                        1. re: applehome

                          Sig other here. Fresh bluefish is not dark red - it is white/gray, kind of like flounder. Of course, you cut out the fat line for sashimi (which incidentally is where most of the mercury would be found). Small bluefish are not high in mercury. Only the big ones that have bioaccumulated mercury over their years are. I, too, like to smoke bluefish or blacken them fresh, but trust me, the sashimi was wonderful. Not fishy or "bitter" (?) at all.

                    3. re: sarahUNC

                      I thought that fresh water fish (like trout) wasn't used for sashimi, generally, due to parasites. At minimum, I'd want it flash frozen first (and thawed.)

                      1. re: akq

                        Generally. But I can think of three freshwater fish eaten as sashimi in Japan- koi (carp), trout (masu), and ayu (sweetfish). I'm sure there are more, but I don't know fresh water fish so well. Doubtful they are going to be flash frozen as they probably go from stream/river or a tank to a cutting board pretty quickly. Masu is often smoked. I can't recall where in Japan, maybe it is Osaka, where masu is pressed on vinegared rice and sold in gift boxes.

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          So I just looked up in my copy of Tsuji's "Japanese Cooking" and lo and behold he gave a recipe/instruction on serving masu sashimi. Paraphrashing- after slicing, the sashimi should be washed in cold water to rid it of excess oil and muddy taste often found in freshwater fish.

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            I think masu is actually ocean trout. The masu I've had looks very much like salmon; the flesh is orange-ish. The steelhead I've bought at Costco looks about the same and steelhead is the ocean dwelling form of trout.

                            1. re: Humbucker

                              I'll have to have him chime in on this thread when he gets back today from another fishing trip. I am fairly certain that the trout is ocean trout, most likely gray/sea trout (weakfish).

                              The bluefish as sashimi did not taste as strong as I thought it would. In fact, it was only a tad bit stronger than the trout. I am not sure what he did once he caught them, but they are definitely put on ice and in this case, cleaned and fileted the next day.

                              1. re: sarahUNC

                                Trout = spotted sea trout (or speckled trout as we call them in NC). Bluefish = bluefish. They are both ocean fish (with occasional forays into brackish). Freezing is only necessary if the fish won't be eaten quickly (to retard growth of bacteria, etc.) or for fresh water fish that might contain parasites harmful to humans. I don't think a standard freezer will even do the job of killing parasites, as the standard usually calls for -4 degrees F, which is lower than most home freezers can be set.

                                The fresh sashimi we had the other night was the best I've ever had, although I did slightly miss having some tuna to go along with it.

                                1. re: surffisher

                                  Ahh. As soon as I'd posted, I wondered if there were ocean trout. Interesting.

                              2. re: Humbucker

                                Hmm, it's confusing. One source I checked translated masu as sea trout. But in the Japanese example sentence it then read "We caught masu from the river". Tsuji clearly addresses the preparation of fresh water fish in his book. When I ate masu in Japan (smoked, not nama), it was always explained to me as fresh water fish.

                              3. re: Silverjay

                                Interesting. I didn't realize that anyone ate koi. Are the eating ones different than the pretty ornamental ones? Have you tried it? What does koi taste like?

                                1. re: akq

                                  Never had myself. I would guess they are the larger carp you see in Japanese rivers, not the ones from Mr. Miyagi's pond type. For some reason, I have the impression it is served usuzukiri.

                                  1. re: akq

                                    they are different than the pretty ornamental ones and likely the ones that silverjay is referring to.

                                    my memory of it isn't great even though it was only a few months back but it was also served at a soba restaurant and so the quality wasn't necessarily very high. it was served in raw slice style with dipping sauce along with some wasabi. i can't recall if there was any prep that would make it different from sashimi. i don't remember it as being very tasty either, not bad just not remarkable and probably a little "muddy" in flavour... earthy perhaps?