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Help! Looking for Japanese Raw Salmon Sushi Marinade!

I've been trying to prepare raw salmon sushi at home for the past few months, both nigiri and sashimi-style. The salmon I've eaten, however, definitely tastes different from what I can buy at the local Japanese sushi bars. I've done some blind taste testing with help from a friend and we've concluded that there is something definitely different about the Japanese sushi bar's salmon (and I'm not buying the smoked salmon either).

So far I've tried salmon from:
Nijiya Market in San Jose: Tastes Raw
Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley: Tastes Raw
Oto's Marketplace in Sacramento: Still Raw!
Premade Salmon maki from Nugget Grocery: Tastes raw (damn supermarkets)
Safeway Salmon nigiri: Raw
Most sushi buffets: Raw Raw Raw

Most other Japanese restaurants: Salmon has a smooth, pleasant flavor. Can have a buttery, sometimes sweet taste. Not cooked or cured.

Clearly, I'm missing some secret to preparing good raw salmon. It's not the sushi rice, I'm sure of it. I suspect there might be some vinegar/sugar combination. On a few occasions, I've asked sushi chefs working behind the counter but I've only received smiles and responses of "we prepare out salmon in a special way" responses. Can any chef lend me some pointers?

Edit:
- A mistake: I actually meant Mitsuwa Marketplace in San Jose, not Nijiya.
- I've heard of some techniques to get the salmon I'm looking for (using kosher salt to brine the salmon, choosing a specific species of salmon) but without details I feel like a 17th century alchemist who experiments on himself.
- When I've tried the premade salmon sushi at Japanese grocery stores, it actually tastes just fine. Just not the sashimi-grade salmon they stock right next to it.
- I've also made tuna and hamachi sushi which tastes just fine. Which leads me to believe that salmon sushi is a state secret and renegade sushi chefs are tracked down and silenced by a shadowy government agency.

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  1. Are you buying your rice already cooked from a Japanese restaurant? If you are not, are you preparing it with seasoned rice wine vinegar? Making sushi rice is a very technical process that takes a sushi chef years to learn. I have made sushi numerous times at home - salmon being my favorite fish to prepare and in the end it comes down to the rice. I have never heard of seasoning, marinating, or curing raw fish for sushi.

    1. What do you mean by tasting raw?

      I believe you just need to do a light cure on your salmon. Sushi chefs often do a short cure in salt, and a quick marinade in sake/mirin. Sometimes, they cure it on a piece of kombu.

      Another thing you might keep in mind is how you slice it, and whether your knife is sharp. A dull knife can change the texture/taste of the pieces.

      1. Hey enigma74, here is the light cure / marinade that the best sushi chefs use to enhance and maintain the pristine salmon they hope to get in.

        It is a two part process but it is pretty easy.

        Step1. - a short cure in kosher or sea salt for about an hour depending on the size of the piece, It should be at least a pound, if smaller 45 minutes or less
        Then rinse of the salmon under cold water quickly to remove the salt then pat it dry with paper towels.
        The purpose of this as well as adding slight flavor is to help firm up the fish slightly making it easier to cut.

        Step 2: It then gets a short soak in a mixture of sake and mirin - equal parts of each, just make enough to just cover the fish. Marinate it for about 10 minutes, no more, again depending on the size of the fish.

        Remove from marinade and pat dry. It is now ready to use.

        Hope this works out for you, also if you do this use it as soon as possible within a day or two and whatever you do, DO NOT FREEZE IT, it breaks down the fish too much.

        Matsksm

        4 Replies
        1. re: matsksm

          Zfalcon and matsksm, thanks. Your answers were just what I was looking for.

          1. re: matsksm

            matsksm speaks the truth!
            Tried this procedure exactly as instructed and it has that 'elusive' flavour that some sushi restaurants are able to prepare.
            Many thanks!

            1. re: matsksm

              Maybe thus is a silly question, by did the curing and soaking take place in or out of the fridge

              1. re: foodse3rch

                No such thing as a silly question. Curing with the salt took place outside of fridge, curing of sake takes place inside fridge.

            2. I've worked as a sushi chef for 7 years or so, the way I was taught to prepare the salmon was heavily salt the fillets for no longer than 8 minutes, wash the salt off, then dip the salmon fillets into sake, wrap with parchment paper and plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about 8 hours to develop flavor. I personally like letting it sit in the fridge from anywhere between 12-24 hours. People think "fresh" is the best way to go, but just like a dry aged steak, it's really important to treat each fish like you would let's say a dry aged ribeye or a wet aged NY. It's that funk that gives certain foods great flavor.

              18 Replies
              1. re: chefpark

                What type of sake? Just any or is there a particular type?

                1. re: n_star

                  For home use I just use shirakiku cooking sake.

                  1. re: chefpark

                    Thank you. I'm a fatty fish (salmon, hamachi) sashimi and sushi freak and cannot wait to try this at home with the plain blocks of sashimi-grade fish from our Japanese market.

                    1. re: chefpark

                      How long should the salmon be dipped? And is it just in sake or like 'matsksm' says and add mirin?

                      1. re: n_star

                        I do just sake, personal preference I guess, i let it sit for 3 days to age and develop flavor, if you do that make sure to change the parchment paper once during the 3 days.

                        1. re: chefpark

                          Thanks for replying so fast!
                          So have the salmon in a bowl of sake for 1-3 days?
                          And if we don't have parchment paper is just plastic wrap ok? It is just to seal the bowl up right?

                          1. re: n_star

                            Dip it and then wrap it in parchment paper and plastic wrap.

                            1. re: chefpark

                              Thanks! So glad I found an active thread on this. Just in time for the holidays... can't wait to try it!

                              1. re: n_star

                                Good luck! Also,I leave the skin on the filet.

                                1. re: chefpark

                                  LOL, sorry but one more quick question. How long should salmon be in sake? I know you said dip it, but roughly how long? Few seconds? A minute?

                                  1. re: n_star

                                    Haha, no problem. Like 1 second, you're just trying to evenly coat the sake on the fish.

                  2. re: chefpark

                    I'm so glad I found this thread - I think you can answer the question I've been trying to answer for some time now. I love the smoked salmon in Japanese restaurants - more than any smoked salmon I've ever had - the texture, the flavor, everything - even the color. How do they prepare it? is it truly cold-smoked or just cured? How?
                    Thanks so much!

                    1. re: chefpark

                      Hi chef park! I'm so glad I found this thread - I think you can answer the question I've been trying to answer for some time now. I love the smoked salmon in Japanese restaurants - more than any smoked salmon I've ever had - the texture, the flavor, everything - even the color. How do they prepare it? is it truly cold-smoked or just cured? How?
                      Thanks so much!

                      1. re: andrea thurm

                        Both...it's a very similar process to making lox. You want to cure it in a brine or dry rub, then lightly cold smoke the filet.

                        1. re: chefpark

                          What exactly is in the brine/dry rub? And how long does it need to cure?

                          1. re: andrea thurm

                            I don't really know thw specifics with the Japanese version, but the skies the limit ingredients wise. As for the curing process depends on what texture you're looking for, if you're doing a wgole side of salmon 24 hours. A base cure rub would consist of sugar salt spices, personally I like adding corriander, cracked pepper, thyme, rosemary, pepper flakes. If i were to do a japanese rub, I'd probably go with a sake mirin mixture, shiso, white soy, but just a tiny bit of wet and mostly dry. Hope this helps.

                              1. re: andrea thurm

                                Good...let me know how it turns out, or if you need more help.