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Nov 21, 2009 12:37 AM

Fresh Vs Frozen Fish In Sushi [split from L.A. board]

"Sounds like you want fresh fish."

Not if you're talking about sushi. As I noted in a another thread recently, except for tuna, raw fish served in American restaurants must have been frozen long enough to kill parasites, a rule that at least somewhat compresses the quality range from $500/meal super-sushirias to buck-a-plate fish-r-us emporia. For details see:

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  1. Tuna is generally frozen as well.

    1 Reply
    1. re: cls

      We should have that in mind the next time some reviewer raves about the utter, ethereal freshness of an expensive piece of Ōtoro.

    2. Agreed. In fact fishing trawlers usually freeze the fish moments after they are caught.

      9 Replies
      1. re: SilverlakeGirl

        Here's info on how tuna is handled for sashimi grade fish.

        Warning this may be too much info for your standard foodie but super foodies will probably find it interesting. A lot of care is given to keeping the fish in a pristine state.

        The Tanaguchi method...

        I don't remember what downtown fish distributor I was in (maybe someone can help me out
        )but main warehouse has a giant tuna hanging from the ceiling. This place has live Halibut in tanks for sashimi. They also have an interesting way of bleeding the fish.

        1. re: burntwater

          That's an interesting manual from the French and Australian point-of-view, burntwater -- thanks.

          As the NY Times piece notes, although tuna is "the only exception" to the FDA rule requiring "that fish to be eaten raw -- whether as sushi, sashimi, seviche, or tartare -- must be frozen first," it, too, is often frozen. Freezing makes for a significantly cheaper product, and "some cuts, like the prized fatty toro, are not always available fresh."

          Here's one of the most-telling sentences in the referenced manual: "Sashimi grade tuna can be kept on ice [i.e., just above fish-freezing temperature] for up to two weeks" (p. 29). I've been to many Los Angeles restaurants (both sushi and otherwise) that treat the phrase "sashimi grade" as equivalent to "pulled out of the water today."

          The more information we get, the more the reviews of top Los Angeles sushi temples fall apart. E.g., in discussing Urasawa, the editors at note their "exceptionally fresh seasonal fish." I didn't know freezers had seasons!

          Urasawa Restaurant
          218 N Rodeo Dr, Beverly Hills, CA 90210

          1. re: Harry Nile

            The fish is flash frozen for a very short time. This is very different than the type of freezing I think you are thinking of.

            1. re: cls

              Did you look at the NY Times piece? One fish wholesaler "said he had heard countless euphemisms for frozen fish in restaurants. 'Fresh-frozen, re-freshed, flash-chilled, take your pick,' he said. 'It's all frozen.'"

              The story also notes that with "superfreezing [down "to about 70 degrees below zero"] ... fish can be preserved with no decomposition for as long as two years." That's why "[t]una, one of the most expensive sushi fish in the world, has been the test market for superfreezing."

              1. re: Harry Nile

                Keep in mind though that some of that 'melt-in-your-mouth' tuna and toro and other fish at Urasawa and other high end sushi restaurants is so tender and delicious because it is aged! Intentionally!

                It takes time (days even) for the natural enzymes to kick in and essentially start to break down the fish. Those bites are not best served straight out of the water. In fact, if they were they would have a chewy 'fresh' firmness that is not always desirable.

                If you've ever caught a yellowtail and cut it up on the boat on the way home for some sashimi, then you know what I mean;) Delicious, incredibly fresh, but not melt in your mouth...

                1. re: LATrapp

                  Yes, and tuna is worse, gamey fresh.
                  Further, many sushi bars brine the fish to soften it and impart flavor. I don't think too many biologists equate fresh fish with melt in your mouth.

                2. re: Harry Nile

                  For a snapshot capturing a moment in the tuna's journey from sea to table, go to:

            2. re: burntwater

              Old thread, I know, but that was fascinating. Interesting stuff, thanks!

              1. re: burntwater

                The link to the manual is outdated.

                The current one is found on the webpage at .

                The name of the method used to destroy the spinal cord is correctly spelled "Taniguchi", not "Tanaguchi".

                The comment by Harry Nile regarding keeping sashimi-grade on ice now reads "Fish prepared in this way (placed in slurry, then stored in ice) can be left in ice for up to two weeks." and is found on page 19.

            3. This article is misleading. I have been working in Japanese restaurants my entire life, both here and in Japan. I have family that works for tuna wholesalers in Tsukiji. Yes, some places use some fish that is frozen sometimes, but by no means is the majority of fish in a good sushi bar previously frozen. Good quality minami-maguro (southern tuna) is purchased frozen because it has to be frozen on the boats, but bluefin tuna from the east coast and the Mediterranean is used fresh by the best restaurants in the US and Japan. Yellowfin tuna and big-eye tuna from hawaii is used fresh. On my visits to most good sushi bars in Japan, I have never been served anything frozen. Many restaurants freeze salmon and other freshwater fish they serve raw because of their dangerous parasites, but salt water fish is never frozen out of a necessity to kill parasites. The statements in the article saying 50% of sushi uses fish that is previously frozen may be true, but this statistic is likely skewed because low quality sushi made in places like supermarkets makes up more than a third of of the market, and almost all of that sushi is made with frozen fish. If you think that all the sushi bars in Los Angeles are freezing everything they serve you are mistaken - anyone with professional experience in a good Japanese restaurant will tell you that raw fish is served without being frozen.

              5 Replies
              1. re: la2tokyo

                Then they are violating the law, aren't they (according to the NY Times piece)? May I ask what kind of work you do at the restaurant? If you're a chef, please give us more information on how you know that "the majority of fish in a good sushi bar [is not] previously frozen." Otherwise, the fact that a waiter, for example, has seen it only in the thawed state doesn't mean it was never frozen.

                1. re: hnsbmg

                  I made sushi more for more than a decade including time in both Los Angeles and in Japan. I worked in other types of restaurants (French, Italian, and other Japanese cuisine) and constantly observed raw fish being served. Yes, they are violating the law. It's a pretty stupid law anyways. Freezing and then defrosting fish as most places do it probably makes it even more dangerous to eat because many people (also contrary to code) defrost large pieces of fish at room temperature. If consuming unfrozen raw fish (from the ocean) caused illness millions of people in Japan would be getting sick every day. I can understand if some of the people on this board who may live parts of the country without access to fresh fish might think that sushi is always frozen. However, does anyone who live in places like New York or Los Angeles, or anywhere else with a lot of sushi bars really think that they freeze everything? Why would they bring it to market without freezing it if they were just going to freeze it after they bought it? If you doubt me, call one of the top rated sushi bars in the country and ask them if they freeze their fish. Call any seafood restaurant that serves tuna tartar or crudo and ask them if it's previously frozen. If other experienced seafood chefs on this board have differing opinions I'd like to hear them, but I'm pretty sure I haven't been living in a bubble for the last twenty years.

                  1. re: la2tokyo

                    Thank you for your posts. Based on conversations with sushi chefs in the U.S., I am confident that good-quality sushi restaurants thankfully do not follow the FDA's rules.

                    (I would further note that if consuming unpasteurized cheese caused illness, millions of people in Europe would be getting sick every day.)

                    1. re: la2tokyo

                      This guys got it right, I have worked in the import seafood industry for over 15 years. Yes, although the FDA and a lot of restaurant HACCP plans call for the seafood to be frozen, most chefs who are familiar with the species and where it comes from know that these steps are unnecessary for the most part.

                  2. re: la2tokyo

                    la2tokyo. You are exactly right. Only fish has to be frozen in commercial freezer over night before serve for safty puroupose is salmon. Because you can't detect the parasites by your eyes. Salt water fish's parasite can be detected by well trained chefs. FDA's rule applies to inexperienced non Japanese sushi chefs or other cuisine chefs. You want to taste good and safe sushi, you got to pay the price.

                  3. Late to the party but read the article and information about the man's claim to frozen fish in Japan. I don't even think the supermarkets use that much frozen fish.
                    In fact I think the article was unclear. I believe the conversation was based around tuna and frozen tuna, the man's business in the USA. When referencing half of the fish in Japan being frozen - he must have been talking about JUST TUNA. He specializes in long term Tuna freezing. Then it makes sense doesn't it? We all know most Japanese fish don't stand up to freezing with tuna being one of the few exceptions. When fresh isn't available the restaurant remove it from the menu. But tuna is always on the menu because it can and is often frozen. To anyone who has worked or eaten regularly in Japan, wouldn't you agree that the article is palatable if we look at it as a reference to tuna?