The best sushi and sashimi typically start with impeccably fresh fish -- often sumptuous, gleaming red slabs of ahi tuna on ice -- purchased from a fish wholesaler that rated its quality to please the most discerning Japanese -- or American -- palate. From there, the ahi or yellowfin -- the foundation of much sashimi and sushi -- or other fruits of the sea make their way to your plate. Once you’ve had both sushi and sashimi, the difference between the two becomes crystal clear.
Sashimi means “thinly sliced protein” in Japanese. And indeed, raw fish, thinly sliced, arrives in its unadorned but intrinsically attractive glory on the plate. Wasabi and soy sauce for dipping keep the sashimi company. With sushi, the fish joins vinegared rice. Of course, sushi can involve a more complex set of steps compared to sashimi: The fish can be rolled in rice to create nigiri, or in seaweed to make maki. More options include sushi where the fish is molded around the rice, called oshi, or inari, a mix of rice and tofu.
Types of Sashimi
Sashimi can involve any number of fin fish, including albacore tuna, freshwater eel, halibut, mackerel, red snapper and yellowtail. In Japan, ahi or yellowfin tuna, the most prized sashimi ingredient, is called maguro. Historically in the Land of the Rising Sun, salmon was rarely a sashimi ingredient, but salmon in its smoked form has grown in popularity. And technically, sashimi can even include any sort of thinly sliced preparation, from horse meat to vegetables. Sashimi typically follows raw vegetables or soup and precedes grilled, steamed or fried fish or other main courses in a formal or structured Japanese meal.
Sushi can differ from sashimi in terms of being slightly less likely to be raw and in terms of its serving options, in addition to its essential vinegared rice component. You can make sushi from shellfish, typically cooked, as well as fin fish. Options include shrimp, snow crab and king crab, as well as soft-shell crabs. Mollusks, a part of the shellfish family, also contribute abalone, oysters and jellyfish and squid to the sushi options. Squid can be sliced paper thin to become sashimi, although its flavor may be astringent. Sushi can stand on its own as a full meal, if you partake at a sushi bar and order multiple pieces of nigiri and maki from a seat in front of the sushi chef. You can readily convert sushi menu items to sashimi, though, by adding the words “no o-tsukuri” to your order. Sushi can also serve as an appetizer at a more formal meal, or along with sashimi, be part of a large assembly of communally consumed dishes presented at once.
Selection, Preparation and Handling
When you prepare raw seafood, such as most sushi and sashimi, for consumption, you need to work with a reliable fishmonger who can vouch that the fish is either freshly caught or pre-frozen and thawed. Look for sushi-grade fish and keep it ice-cold until serving. Slice the fish, ideally with a Japanese fish slicer, at a 45-degree angle as thinly as possible, about 1/8 inch for sashimi, and from 1/8 to 1/4 inch for sushi. Arrange sushi, once paired with its rice, or sashimi attractively with finely sliced daikon for a garnish, along with a finely cut carrot and peeled and seeded cucumber, atop a green heart-shaped shiso leaf.