What is sashimi?
An important part of the fish eating culture unique to Japan, a country surrounded by the ocean.
Sashimi is a traditional Japanese fish cuisine. Fresh fish and shellfish are thinly sliced, and people dip it in soy sauce or put wasabi on it before eating. When we say “sashimi,” it is not limited to fish and shellfish. Fresh bamboo shoots, konnyaku, or beef can be eaten raw as sashimi. However, sashimi is most popularly associated with fish and shellfish in Japan. Any type of fish as long as it is a fresh catch can be served as sashimi except for a fish like unagi of which blood contains toxins. Since Japanese people like the vivid red color of tuna or bonito meat, sashimi were mainly served at celebrations. However in modern days, tuna or bonito sashimi is popularly eaten at any occasions.
Origin of the word “sashimi”
Why do the Japanese call sliced pieces of fish “sashimi (pierced meat)”? It is said that when sliced fish was arranged on a plate to serve, the fish fin was pierced by a stick and put on the fish to identify the fish used. However, no one knows for sure.
Some say that because “kirimi (cut pieces)” can be associated with the honorable suicide, “hara-kiri,” the word became a taboo, and was replaced by “sashimi.”
”Arrangement,” one of the most important features of sashimi
One of the distinctive features of sashimi is the way they are presented.
Since sashimi was served at celebrations, it is plausible that visual appearance and extravagance were very important. In order to emphasize the vivid color of fresh fish and shellfish meat, slicing the meat thinly and arranging them by layering each piece has become a standardized arrangement. This arrangement made sashimi easy to eat and also visually appealing.
In addition to sashimi, “tsuma” made from julienned daikon radish as well as other condiments and seasonal plants are skillfully arranged on the plate. Or, in order to simulate a Japanese garden, sashimi may be arranged like a small artificial hill, gradually layering high from the front to the back of the plate. In general, sashimi is arranged and served on a flat, rectangular plate, but depending on the regions and situations, this arrangement can change.
Also, when various different sashimi is served together, it is called “moriawase,” and color combination of different fish meat is also taken into consideration for the serving arrangement. White meat fish is usually arranged at the center of a plate or a container.
Types of arrangements
Several portions of sashimi are arranged on a wooden container made in the shape of a boat. The boat shaped container can add excitement to the banquet table, and since the boat is associated with fishermen, it can signify the freshness of the ingredients.
Although it is not clear when the arrangement of funamori began, these days, funamori is mostly served at tourist inns or Japanese restaurants.
Like funamori, large portions of sashimi are arranged in a big tub to add extravagance to the table.
There is a wide variety in sashimi depending on how the fish and shellfish is cut or prepared.
One of the most famous one is “sugatazukuri” for which, cut pieces of fish meat is rearranged to reproduce the original shape of the fish. This way of serving sashimi seems to have been devised to emphasize freshness.
There are also “hirazukuri” for which, a cutting knife is placed at 90ﾟto the fish meat and pulled forward. “Usuzukuri” refers to extremely thinly sliced sashimi to the extent that the plate underneath it can be seen through. For “arai,” piece of fresh fish meat is dipped in warm water for tighter texture and chilled under running water. For ”tataki,” sashimi is mixed with soy sauce and condiments so that the sashimi becomes well-seasoned.
Popularized with the raw food eating culture.
In regions and countries other than Japan, custom of eating raw fish or shellfish is rarely seen. In Japan, soy sauce was developed as a seasoning in Muromachi period (1392-1573). Then, in late Edo, when commercial soy sauce production began in Noda and Choshi, both in Chiba prefecture, soy sauce became accessible to commoners, and the custom of eating raw fish and shellfish quickly became popular.
In Kyoto, fish like sea bream was eaten as sashimi, but throughout history, due to its location, it was difficult to procure fresh fish and shellfish in Kyoto except for freshwater fish like carp. Therefore, the culture of eating sashimi developed more in Edo where rich supply of fresh fish and shellfish was readily available from the Bay.
Nowadays, with the advancement of food processing technology, pre-packed fresh sashimi is sold at supermarkets and convenience stores, and sashimi has become a part of daily cuisine.
Expert sashimi cutting knife technique is essential
Indispensable cutting knife technique
Expert cutting knife technique is indispensable for preparing sashimi.The reason why sashimi is often served at celebrating occasions and restaurants instead of at home is not only because of its historical background but also because of the required cutting knife technique.
It is generally said that the taste of sashimi is greatly influenced by how it is cut. Therefore, cutting technique that suits the type of fish is required. For example, to cut a fish with tender meat, the knife needs to be pulled forward quickly. To cut a fish with a flat body shape, the meat needs to be thinly sliced. A fresh and resilient white fish meat must be cut at a 45 degree angle. Since the cutting technique can influence the texture and appearance greatly, even when eating sashimi at home, it is common for consumers to purchase sashimi already prepared and arranged in a tray or ask to have it sliced when purchasing a fish.
Therefore, food sections of department stores, supermarkets or fish shops where fresh fish is sold, staff members who is trained to cut fish to make sashimi is usually available.
Skills needed to eat sashimi?!
Soy sauce and wasabi is almost always served with sashimi.
They are not simply used as seasoning. They can diminish the fishy smell and add refreshing flavor to enhance the inherent taste of the fish meat.
When eating sashimi with wasabi, some say that it is better not to mix wasabi with soy sauce as it may ruin the refreshing flavor of wasabi. Instead, they recommend putting a small portion of wasabi directly on a piece of sashimi.
Also, in order to enjoy the subtle differences in taste, some connoisseurs recommend eating sashimi in the order of light to heavy tasting fish, for example, eat white fish first, followed by shell fish and tuna.
Osashimi and Otsukuri. Different seasonings in different regions
In general, raw fish is called “osashimi” in Kanto (Eastern Japan) and “otsukuri” in Kansai (Western Japan).
In Kanto, people prefer red meat while in Kansai, white meat is more popular. Therefore, tuna and bonito are mostly eaten in Kanto while in Kansai, blow fish and sea bream are preferred.
Soy sauce to accompany sashimi also reflects regional differences.
Especially, sashimi-shoyu used when eating sashimi is a mixture of soy sauce, mirin (sweet sake), soup stock and sake, and is prepared to bring the best flavor of the type of fish consumed in each region.In most regions, strong taste is preferred as it mixes well with sashimi.
In Kanto, where fatty fish like tuna is more popular, “dark soy sauce” is preferred while in Kyushu where fatty mackerel, horse mackerel and marbled horse meat are popular, sweet soy sauce is popularly used.
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