Sashimi is an important element in Japanese cuisine, where it is often served at the beginning of a meal as a palate cleanser and appetizer. It is often compared to sushi, another popular Japanese dish, although the two are actually different. Sashimi is raw fish sliced very thin and served with a variety of garnishes and sauces. Sushi is served with rice, and often appears wrapped in specially treated seaweed known as nori.
Saltwater fish is always used to make sashimi because many freshwater fish species contain parasites that could cause intestinal distress if eaten. In addition, the fish is fresh and of the highest quality to ensure its optimum flavor and healthiness. Many restaurants keep their fish alive in saltwater tanks, ensuring that the fish can be prepared to order. When going out for this cuisine, diners should pick a reputable restaurant with an obvious supply of fresh, high quality fish. When preparing it at home, cooks should make sure that the fishmonger knows that they intend to eat the fish raw, so that he or she can recommend the safest and freshest specimens.
Sashimi is often prepared at a bar so that customers can watch the chef. This tradition probably stems from a desire to make sure that the fish being used is fresh and of the highest quality, but it is also very interesting to watch. Chefs use a very sharp knife to fillet the fish, removing potentially dangerous bones along with the skin. Then the fish is sliced very fine and beautifully laid out on a platter along with the garnishes and sauces of choice.
Common garnishes include pickled vegetables such as ginger, shredded daikon radish, and toasted nori. Sashimi is usually also served with soy sauce and wasabi, and some cooks add ground ginger root to the soy sauce for an extra dimension of flavor. The fish and condiments are arranged so that consumers can easily pick up pieces and garnish with chopsticks before dunking them in the sauce.
Seafood used for sashimi commonly includes bluefin tuna, snapper, abalone, bass, fish roe, prawns, mackerel, bonito, shad, octopus, and squid. The fatty part of tuna, known as toro, is particularly prized because it has a creamy, melt in the mouth flavor. Western consumers often enjoy this dish made with tuna and mackerel, and they sometimes have difficulty with the rubbery texture of raw squid and octopus.