Finding top-quality sushi-grade saba in LA fish markets
I asked for sushi-grade saba today at LA Fish Company, and they gave me some small packets of frozen filets that looked similar to what I could buy directly from Mitsuwa or other Japanese markets. The saba was OK, but it just wasn't as great as saba I've gotten at good sushi bars. When I looked at the packets at home, they were marked "Packed on August 18, 2009."
I'm wondering if I asked for the wrong type of saba, or if there is some way to get better saba at a fish store in Los Angeles. I had an excellent experience when I bought sushi-grade hamachi at LA Fish Company. I asked them for fresh hamachi, and they brought me a big piece of vacuum-sealed fish that tasted delicious. The hamachi included the collar, so in addition to being able to get great sushi pieces from it, I was able to broil some wonderful yellowtail collar as well.
I'd like to learn more about what makes saba top-quality for sushi, and if I can buy it someplace in Los Angeles.
Thanks in advance.
When I worked in a fish market, "saba" was American mackerel. (Scomber japonica) This fish has other names but American mackerel is probably the most common here in California. this fish is caught off the southern California coast and as far east as Japan where it is called masaba. I would discourage you from eating southern California caught saba. The California fish and game has issued health advisory for children under the age of 17 and women between 17 and 45 to restrict their consumption of certain fish including mackerel caught from Ventura to San Clemente due to the presence of DDT and PCBs. http://www.pvsfish.org/health-scsfa.html. While you may not fall into the population at risk, why risk it when good saba is available from Japan. Mackerel caught off the east coast of the US is a different species (Scomber scombus linneaus). but it looks similar to american mackerel from So Cal. IMO the quality of the fish is determine on where the fish is caught and how it is treated after it is caught. i agree with E Eto that your best bet is to buy saba from the Japanese markets. If you come across some exceptional saba from your Itame, do not be afraid to ask what kind it is e.g. masaba and where in Japan it was caught. I would also ask if he did anything to the meat and how he defrosted it. LOL
There are different varieties of saba. The better sushi places will probably source a couple different kinds, the better varieties coming from Japan (like goma-saba, ma-saba, and in rare instances, seki-saba). The saba from the American coasts seem to be used mainly for shime-saba, or for longer marinating in vinegar for battera and such. When I go to a sushi place and ask about the saba, the itamae might respond that they have a saba from Japan, or they only have American saba available. Unfortunately, I don't think you'll be able to buy Japanese saba locally, except maybe at a place like Mitsuwa that might have a small supply when they are in season, but expect to pay a premium. In the fall months, Mitsuwa does carry fresh sanma (pike mackerel) for sashimi.
Scroll down on the link to "saba" to get a sense of what varieties might be used for sushi.