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Sushi- fresh vs. frozen [moved from Prairie Provinces board]

[NOTE: We've moved this discussion from the thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/922782 -- The Chowhound Team]

Just curious but how can a sushi restaurant get fresh catch way up in the Rockies in mid-winter; is it flown in daily from BC? I can't imagine how that would be sustainable. Not that it's what we're looking for, coming from California; I'm just a little bit suspect though... and curious.

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  1. I think that it is a rare thing for any sushi restaurant to serve 'fresh' fish. Most I believe is FAS, and thawed as needed. Fish needs to be frozen to kill the little buggers that can make one sick. Some fish is served live, or recently so, such as uni and lobster, but the biggies like salmon and tuna, all rock solid when they get to the restaurant. (Check out some of the films of the Japanese fish markets where they bid on the tuna). It is an old trick to have a fish restaurant near the water to fool the tourists into believing the catch is fresher. We were pleased with the sushi at the Springs, and they used real crab, not pollock.

    11 Replies
    1. re: tibbles

      I wouldn't consider it rare necessarily, though it is a common practice; especially when you consider that more than a third of the market consists of low quality sushi made in places like supermarkets and malls here in the US. In large coastal cities like Los Angeles and New York (any of the major metropolitain cities that aren't landlocked and can sustain a high end sushi market) you would rarely find frozen fish at any of the top sushi bars. The exceptions being freshwater fish; most of which do contain dangerous parasites that cannot be visibly detected (salmon must be stored in a commercial freezer overnight) and certain types of tuna, which are frozen as soon as they're pulled out of the water; but bluefin from the east coast and Mediterranean, yellowfin and big eye from Hawaii, etc. are almost always served fresh - whether in violation of FDA food/safety laws or not. The fact is, that freezing and then defrosting fish could potentially be more dangerous as (contrary to code) people often defrost large pieces of fish at room temperature making it much more susceptible to host bacteria and parasites. Thankfully most high-end sushi restaurants serving sashimi-grade fish do not follow FDA manuscript; save for any aging/tenderizing processes which aren't uncommon. The one exception as previously mentioned would be certain types of tuna, and even in these instances, we're talking about a very short flash freeze method, which is an entirely different process. If you think about, why would the fish not be brought to market already frozen if this were the standard? It's my understanding that the FDA regulations are in place to safeguard against food poisoning with inexperienced non-Japanese sushi chefs. As a resident of the West Coast, I frequent many high end sushi bars and often strike up conversations with the chefs; it's rare (if ever) that I hear of restaurants freezing their catch. The fact is that freezing makes for a significantly cheaper product with less overhead which is why it may be common in many mainstream restaurants and commercial kitchens, but any top sushi bar with good turnaround or even seafood restaurant that serves tartare or crudo, doesn't necessarily follow FDA standards. At least in high cost cities that can sustain these type of businesses. I used to live in Montreal (I grew up with my entire family and spent thirty years of my life in the city) and experienced an entirely different restaurant scene. In general, people don't spend big bucks to eat out and mid-range bistros and gastro-fare are all the rage. The only really high end dining is to be found in hotels, and as such, I was accustomed to frozen fish and plenty of mediocre sushi restaurants. I can undertsand why it would be the norm in landlocked cities or out of the way places like Banff, but I would have to disagree that this is the prevailing practice in the sushi industry. If freezing all catch was mandatory to avoid illness, there'd be millions of Japanese people laid up in clinics!

      1. re: OliverB

        Thanks OB! I'm guessing that the poke I ate in Hawaii would not have been frozen, but I never asked. I'm sure that some less than scrupulous shops sell once frozen as 'fresh' fish or that euphemism 'thawed for your convenicence', but unless the fish was caught hours before i eat it, I'd rather eat frozen anyway. Though I've had good oysters here in Calgary, finding fish like on the coast is tricky. Perhaps Banff serves some 'local' fish (walleye, tilapia, arctic char)? No doubt, most or all the sushi in Banff would be previously frozen.

        1. re: tibbles

          Tibbles, and especially Oliver, with respect I think you need to do some proper research and not simply express opinion or present anecdotal evidence about sushi served in Canada and the US. How much time do you think exists between the catch and serving, and what climactic conditions prevail in the interim. Do you think every fisherman should be able to do whatever he wants with his catch? And do you really think a responsible restaurant would not follow best practises, especially if they could go out of business if proper practises are not followed? And what about the restaurant's (and the industry's) insurers? They would deny a claim in an instant if improper practises were followed.

          1. re: Scary Bill

            This has nothing to do with "research", it's fact based on experience and observation. Have you eaten sushi in Japan or had sashimi grade fish at any of the top raw bars in LA? I never said that restaurants were not following responsible practices to be clear; nor do I realistically think that the FDA regulations make much sense either. I think that your "what if" questions and concerns regarding liability are a bit overstated. If people are getting sick then the kitchen is not sourcing or handling and preparing the fish with competence. Why not do some proper research yourself and you'll surely discover that many of the bacterial organisms and parasites (tape worms, cod worms, etc) that people get so worried about are generally confined to specific host fish which are mostly freshwater. As to the time between catch and serving, I would say that it's consistently same-day "market to table" at any high end restaurant. Sushi grade fish are caught quickly, bled upon capture, gutted soon after and iced thoroughly. Note that I wrote "iced" ie. stored on ice, which is different then freezing through. Regardless and as interesting a discussion as this may be, it's also highly off-topic from the origins of this thread.

            1. re: OliverB

              You are spreading misinformation along with proper information. And if you think eating sushi makes you an expert on proper raw sushi preparation, you are misguided by your ego. Do you really think that tuna sushi you ate was actually caught the same day???

              Read this and learn, and read the author's bio:

              http://fishcooking.about.com/od/rawfi...

              1. re: Scary Bill

                First of all, I never claimed to be an expert on any topic so please don't put words in my mouth. I merely posted of fact and experience. Your presumptuousness about me along with your snide defensive comments and citing links to about.com articles don't help to support your argument. I'm not spreading any misinformation at all nor do I have any "ego" about sushi preparation for god's sakes; different restaurants (in different regions, serving different demographics) follow different practices! I know that certain types of fish (ie. hirame, madai, etc) are *conventionally* aged for several days, however it's entirely stubborn and naive of you to assume (or proclaim with any degree of authenticity as universal verifiable truth) that no experienced sushi chefs serve same-day fresh caught fish at top quality restaurants. Considering the fact that I've eaten in a number of establishments which do just that, this really is a silly argument to carry on. I am in no way suggesting that a majority of sushi restaurants in the U.S. do not serve frozen catch; I've accepted that it's common in many kitchens in my initial post on the subject so there's really no need to perpetuate this; the majority of sushi in this country is not of high quality sashimi grade. It's absurd that you would try to suggest that this never happens or is entirely implausible amongst even the most proficient and top end sushi chefs around the world. Citing an opinion piece by Hank Shaw on about.com is not supportive evidence. Eating sushi in a restaurant which serves raw fresh catch as affirmed by the chef behind the counter is.

                1. re: Scary Bill

                  Last post from me; straight from Wikipedia:

                  While Canada does not federally regulate freezing fish[citation needed], British Columbia[6] and Alberta[7] voluntarily adhere to guidelines similar to the FDA's.[citation needed] Ontario attempted to legislate freezing as part of raw food handling requirements, ****though this was soon withdrawn due to protests by the industry that the subtle flavors and texture of raw fish would be destroyed by freezing.**** Instead, Ontario has decided to consider regulations on how raw fish must be handled prior to serving.[8]

                  1. re: OliverB

                    This does not guarantee fresh fish, even in Ontario. And it gives restaurants a protest to hide behind with the :guarantee" of the sushi chef that it is fresh, knowing that's what you want to hear and wouldn't know the difference anyway.

                    I have a PEI lobsterman who I purchase from, (and an oysterman I buy from as well) and in the off-season he trolls for tuna. Just one can make his off-season because he - well, sit down - ships it to JAPAN!!! Several days later, it is on a plate in Japan. So, not even in Japan is tuna served the day it is caught as a rule. And the Canadian tuna are among the most prized in Japan.

                    Hank Shaw has credentials you don't. And it is not an opinion piece, unlike your expressed opinions.You are a sushi eater, full stop. I am too. I'd listen to him before you, and any article on Wikipedia which anyone with a computer can edit.

                    And if you think sushi chefs know which body of water their fish come from and when it was caught, you are buying into the mystique. All they know, with few individuals and restaurants as exceptions, is that it came from the local wholesaler.

                    1. re: Scary Bill

                      No point in continuing this discussion with claims that top sushi chefs aren't even aware where their fish come from; that's absurd and couldn't be further from the truth. Yes, Hank Shaw's article was his *opinion re. health and safety codes with regards to preparation of raw fish. Nowhere in his article does he claim that NO SUSHI CHEFS serve fresh raw fish at any restaurant ANYWHERE. I'm not even sure how the article is relevant to this discussion or why you cited it in the first place but that claim is ridiculous nonetheless, and obviously not true- especially if you're accustomed to eating in high end sushi bars on the West Coast where it's common practice. I don't want to keep repeating myself, especially since you turn a blind eye to facts like the Ontario legislature that I posted about above. It's not some big secret that most fish is imported... almost all hamachi is caught off the coast of Hawaii, most tuna comes from the US (the largest and highest grade catch) in part due to radiation levels in the Pacific waters... that does not in any way necessitate the freezing of fish! If you have any understanding of the handling of tuna, you would know that they are routinely wrapped in cotton gauze and placed in a brine (mix of 2:1 seawater and crushed ice) and then placed on ice in successive layers (NOT frozen!!!) or refrigerated seawater until arrival in port. Therometers are used to measure the fish's core temperature and they can be stored this way for up to two weeks! This is just for tuna... there are dozens of other species of fish with different handling times and procedures. Regardless though, do you know how much of a value dwindler it would be for any fishing trawler handling top grade catch (which requires a heck of a lot more time, precision, precaution and effort on vessel!) to arrive in port with a load of frozen solid tuna?? It would reduce profits immeasurably and could never be sold to high end markets! It just doesn't happen, period. So what on earth does where the fish originate from (unless the destination point is completely inland and landlocked or inaccessible due to time/cost logistics) have to do with whether or not I'm eating frozen fish at a restaurant?? And as I stated in an earlier post above, there are numerous coastal restaurants that specialize in same-day catch so I suggest you do some more research or at leats express your views and opinions without such an air of pretention or authority. I'm no expert on any of this, but I have eaten in enough high end sushi bars to know that there are numerous places and chefs do that circumstances dependent, do NOT freeze their fish. I would never claim that this as an industry standard however, just as nobody should claim to know that NO restaurants in the world could ever possibly follow such practices. And you strangely accuse me of egotism??

                      1. re: OliverB

                        So all those rock hard fish at Tsukiji that are bound for sushi bars are actually only really really refrigerated, not frozen? Oookay, if you insist.

                        1. re: ricepad

                          Not all, it's specific as I've mentioned already. I'm not claiming anything is ALL, Scary Bill's doing that! I've been to Tsukiji and yes there are many frozen fish on display and there are fresh fish sold through the market as well. I don't understand what is so difficult to grasp with regards to what I'm expressing... a MAJORITY of commercial grade fish is sold frozen. There are some restaurants and market stalls who source fresh (ie. not frozen) fish as well; dependant on the day, catch, etc. I'm not making any blanket statements. I'm not suggesting that most fish is right from the sea to your plate. Both exist and I'm simply arguing against those who would claim otherwise, when I've experienced it myself!

      2. I’m surprised no one has mentioned the Tokyo episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” on CNN where he visits legendary sushi chef Naomichi Yasuda. Yasuda freezes his fish as a method of “curing” it, and claims it gives superior results to fresh. Here is the youtube link to the episode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPJmlK... . Yasuda’s segment begins at 13:09, and he discusses his freezing method at 17:20. This is probably not exactly what you’re talking about –it’s not a question of storage - but it is interesting nonetheless.

        1 Reply
        1. re: kandagawa

          Most sushi chefs age their toro as a way of tenderizing it.

        2. Great post. I always wondered about this.

          5 Replies
          1. re: emglow101

            Remember, if you read it on the internet, it must be true.

            1. re: ricepad

              As a life long sportfisherman in many countries and Sushi fanatic my experience has been that those who claim to know the most actually eat Sushi and Sashimi the least.

              =============

              "Several days later, it is on a plate in Japan."

              Actually it's usually on a plate late the next day-jet aircraft and all that.

              1. re: Sam Salmon

                Why are you quoting/refuting Scary Bill to me?

                1. re: ricepad

                  This format is clumsy @ best and every post on this thread isn't about you.

                  1. re: Sam Salmon

                    No, but I kind of assume that replies to me are to me. Silly me!