Lesson 2: About Fish
How and where to purchase sushi grade seafood; also how to prepare
Purchasing fish: sushi restaurants use both fresh and frozen fish. With
today’s freezing technology, fish can be frozen quickly to retain
freshness, flavor and color. As long as it is not kept frozen a long time
and goes to the market quickly the fish will have a good fresh flavor.
However, I recommend you stay away from packaged frozen fish, unless it
is sold specifically as sushi grade.
There are a lot of sushi grade fish suppliers on the Internet, providing
fresh fish and frozen. Check this site for links to online
sushi grade fish suppliers. Supermarkets sometimes have
sushi grade fish. Most of the time it will have been frozen and defrosted
before sale, this fish is okay when it has just been defrosted, but don’t
keep it for sushi more than 2 days. Keep sushi fish on ice in your meat
box part of the refrigerator. Tell the fish sales person that you need
fish for sushi, ask which days fish is delivered and get them to pick
you out some nice sushi grade fish. Never use fish with a fishy odor.
Look for fillets that are bright in color, not dull or darkened or dry
looking. Buy loins or thick fillets, not steaks, these are much better
for slicing. Try to find fillets at least one inch thick, so you can slice
a wide enough piece for Nigiri sushi. You can see method of slicing various
thickness of fish, in the fish preparation area of this page.
If you live near the coast you can locate fresh fish at the port or at
small quality seafood stores. If fish is whole, it should be firm to touch
not squishy, eyes bright not cloudy or discolored and scales must look
fresh and bright not dull. Scales should be intact, no loose scales.
Try to avoid purchasing Ahi tuna or albacore loins that have too many
distinct white lines in the flesh. This is a soft sinew and has a slight
stringy texture, not suitable for Nigiri sushi. This part if the fish
is fine to cook, or it can be used for roll sushi, when chopped, the sinew
will easily pull away from the flesh.
Photos show albacore with white sinew lines and next a piece from
the same loin with no sinew. I am cutting this to shape for Nigiri slices.
(See fish preparation section below).
Use cooked real Crabmeat or imitation, it’s your choice. It’s
amazing how imitation crab tastes so good in sushi and that’s what
I use. To select imitation crab, squeeze the packet with your fingers.
If it is nice and soft, then the texture is good and product moist. If
it is firm or hard when squeezed the product is dry and may be course
in texture. Always pick the soft product.
Shrimp should be as fresh as possible, or fresh frozen. The shrimp should
be 3 to 3½ inches long when they are stretched out straight, or
ask the fish salesperson for size 21-25 count. Do not use previously “de-veined
shrimp” they will not work for Nigiri sushi, their backs are cut
to remove the vein which causes the shrimp to split in two when butterfly
cut for sushi. I have special directions for cooking and preparing butterfly
shrimp for sushi rolls and Nigiri sushi in the Recipes for Nigiri sushi
Slicing fish for Nigiri sushi
Purchased fish comes in different shapes and sizes. The following slicing
guide demonstrates cutting three different shape pieces of loin, salmon,
ahi and albacore. Use a long 8 to 10 inch blade, slicing knife. It must
be very sharp especially for tender seafood such as ahi tuna and albacore.
You can find a very reasonably priced sushi knife to fit your needs in
our store section.
Using fish loins or fillets look closely and remove any bones with fish
tweezers or kitchen pliers. Normally with salmon fillets it’s possible
to cut fish into a block shape about 1 to 1½ inches thick, 3½
wide and 4 to 5 inches long, as in the salmon photo. This size block is
easy to slice.
The general rule is to slice across the grain of the fish; this ensures
the resulting slice is tender and has an attractive crosscut grain pattern.
Lay your knife on the fish at the very back end part of the blade. Cut
straight across the width of the block, with the blade at an angle of
about 45 degrees, as in the salmon picture. Draw the blade across the
fish in one long stroke to complete the slice. If you do not complete
the slice in one stroke, lift the knife out of the cut and carefully repeat
the slicing motion in the same direction. Avoid using a sawing motion
as this could damage the fish.
Slice fish a little more than 1/8 inch and less than ¼
inch thick. Slices for sushi magic can be a variety of sizes,
although are best cut at 3½ inch long, and about 1¼ inch
wide as in the salmon photo.
Keep the hand holding the fish behind the knife blade for safety as
in these photos.
Fish loins and fillets come in different shapes and sizes. Here are some
examples of slicing at different angles to obtain a slice of the desired
dimensions, approximately 3½ x 1 ¼ inches. However sushi
magic will accept slices varying in length from 2 to 4 inches, it is your
This piece of Ahi is narrower than the salmon piece. It is long and narrow
so I cut in half and then the narrower half was then cut length ways to
form two bar shapes. These bars can be used later for sashimi or for spicy
The remaining larger block of ahi is cut for Nigiri sushi slices. The
ahi pictured is about 3 inches wide and 1 inch thick. In this case lay
the blade across the block at an angle about 45 degrees, now slice through
the fish at flatter angle about 35-40-degree angle. These numbers do not
have to be exact. Look at the photos and you will get the idea. The narrower
and thinner the fish block, you will need to use a progressively lower
blade angle. You will soon get accustomed to slicing different cuts of
In this case the albacore block has a pointed side, which is cut away
to flatten the block. Also it happens to be narrower than the ahi and
salmon block, therefore the knife angle used across the fish is different
again. To make slicing easier, place the fish at an angle away from you
on the cutting board.
Any remaining scrap pieces can be chopped for different sushi roll fillings.
You can see more slicing technique in the intermediate sushi class.
Albacore can also be seared on a grill before slicing and serving as in
the last albacore photo. If no grill is available use a non-stick sauté
pan, albacore is oily so sear without any additional fat or oil. More
on seared seafood in the intermediate sushi lessons.