Sunday, May 17, 2009

Your Home Schooling on "Sushi Grade" Fish

Dear Tricia, What is the difference between "sushi grade" fish and fish that is meant to be cooked? What gives it a better grade?

Not being home schooled, that's what gives it a better grade. No, I kid, I kid. I'm not trying to pick on home schooled kids, and I'm certainly not trying to pick on their Fundamentalist, Pentacostal wack job parents either.
So this was an interesting question to research because, as it turns out, there is no such thing as a standardized "sushi grade" requirement for raw fish. I've heard the term "sushi grade" thrown around in kitchens for so long that I've thrown it around myself before. And then I when I looked it up, I found out that its actually just an elusive idea that doesn't really exist, much like Gary Busey's career. What we do know is that the F.D.A. recommends certain standards to fish retailers that intend to sell fish that is meant to be eaten raw, and they also recommend the "parasite destruction gaurantee," which is when you freeze fish for up to 7 days at extremely low temperatures to kill any possible parasites. So while your sushi restaurant might say they use only fresh, never- frozen fish, its most likely that the seafood vendor they bought their fish from froze it beforehand to kill anything potentially hazardous.
What restaurants look for in fish that is meant to be eaten raw is fish that doesn't smell "offensive" (such a polite word. I prefer to use the word "stinky."), clean, bright-looking color without any kind of cloudiness, and isn't slimy, like my ex boyfriend.
If you're going to make your own sushi at home and want to buy fish from the grocery store, pick a clean, reputable specialty grocery store and make sure you ask the guy behind the fish counter if they have anything that they feel good about selling to be eaten raw. Hopefully they'll give you an honest answer, and if they don't feel confident in selling any fish to you, go somewhere else. If you're near a Japanese market, that's your best bet for finding sushi quality fish. Again, make sure you tell them that you're looking for fish to be eaten raw. You can also order fish online meant specifically for sushi, and the one that I keep hearing about online is Catalina Offshore Products.
To make sure you're keeping your risk of getting sick when eating sushi low, just keep a few things in mind:
1. Quality is often represented with price. Avoid "bargain" sushi restaurants. Seroiusly, that's just wrong for so many reasons. 2. Avoid eating raw sushi from anywhere that is fundamentally wrong: like a gas station, or perhaps a homeless shelter in Mexico.
3. Go check out the bathroom in your sushi restaurant: is it clean? The bathroom is a good representation of how clean they're keeping their kitchens, and that goes for any restaurant.
4. And last but not least, use your own judgement. If something tastes funny or smells bad, don't eat it. Send it back and stick to rolls that have cooked fish in them.
And one last thing: fish used for sushi will always come from the ocean, never fresh water. So if someone tries to serve you catfish sushi, get the hell out of there, pronto.

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