What Is Sushi Grade Fish? — Sushi Grade vs. Raw Fish


If you’re eating good-quality, sushi-grade fish, you know the joys of this treasured ingredient. From sushi to sashimi to poke bowls, raw fish can be a deliciously fresh addition to dinner. But anyone who has eaten bad raw fish knows it can be a risk to your health. Between the nausea, sweats and other not-so-great symptoms, suffice to say the aftermath is not pretty. Good news: This does not have to be your fate if you’re sourcing the best sushi-grade fish.

Right now you may be asking yourself, “wait, what does sushi grade mean and how can I tell if raw fish is sushi-grade?” And, that is a great question. We spoke with Kate Koo, the head sushi chef and owner of Zilla Sake in Portland, Oregon, and John Burrows, Seafood Technical Director at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau, Alaska to help us break down the difference between sushi-grade fish and raw fish, and share more info about the best places to buy sushi-grade fish, as well as all sorts of other details to keep in mind while buying, storing and handling raw fish to better keep you and your families safe.

First, what is sushi-grade fish?

“Sushi-grade” and “sashimi-grade” are more-so marketing terms, rather than an official set of trusted guidelines. These words don’t have much “meaning in the context of processing or handling,” says Burrows. “Generally, there is no special processing outside of absolute adherence to best practices for time and temperature control.”

That said, many brands and sellers use “sushi-grade” as a way to label fish that is safe and OK to eat raw. Sushi-grade fish tends to be fish that is super high-quality, and often sushi-grade signifies that you can consume the uncooked fish without worrying about getting sick or dealing with a foodborne illness.

Where can I buy sushi-grade fish?

“People ask me this all the time, especially when they want to make sushi or poke at home,” says Koo. “And the first thing I always tell them is please do not go to a regular grocery store and grab any random piece of salmon from the display and eat that raw, because there is a difference. I would obviously hate for people to do that and then get sick.” Instead, Koo recommends finding a specialty market, fish market, seafood marketplace, specialty Asian market or a higher-end grocery store — somewhere you can go where you trust the people behind the counter and can ask them, “Can this be eaten raw?” If the response is a confident, “yes,” then that’s a great sign. If you sense some hesitation or if the answer is “I don’t know,” it’s not worth chancing it.

Those who live on the coasts tend to have more options available than those who are land-locked, of course. That said, there are seafood delivery services that ship fresh, high-quality fish to all parts of the country. And, “you can also order seafood online directly from Alaska fishermen,” says Burrows. “If you do, it will arrive frozen to your doorstep. However, if it arrives slightly thawed yet still cold, it should be okay to use within a day or two, just do not refreeze.”

How can I tell if a fish is sushi-grade?

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“The best way is to ask about the quality itself to the fishmonger or fisherman, specifically about how the fish has been stored and transported,” says Burrows. Most fish should be frozen (or have been previously frozen) he explains. “There is nothing more important to maintaining quality than temperature control. Freezing locks in the nutrients, flavor and quality present at the time of processing. For sushi grade freezing, one must freeze at -4°F or below for 7 days, -31°F or below until solid and then store for 15 hours, or -31°F or below until solid and store for 24 hours in -4°F or below.”

Koo agrees that there isn’t a clear indicator beyond asking someone if that type of fish is okay to be eaten raw. However, she has a few tips that can help. Similar to how you would gauge any meat, take a look at the color. When a piece of meat starts to deteriorate because of oxidation, you’ll see the color change. Depending on the type of fish, the color will change in slightly different ways. Then, a really important step is to give the fish a whiff. “When fish starts to deteriorate, it just starts to smell like something you don’t want to eat. And really, it’s kind of an instinct of like, ‘I’m not sure if this is okay or not’. Trust your gut.”

Quick note: The USDA and FDA do not provide a clear standards that define sushi-grade (the FDA does share rules for freezing fish to help get rid of parasites, however). “Unlike other proteins like beef, there is no single regulating authority of seafood quality grades,” says Burrows. So, all the more reason to make sure you’re buying your fish from a reputable place!

What is the best way to store sushi-grade fish?

“If you’re planning on consuming raw fish at home, you should try to make sure that you maintain quality by ensuring a prompt return to cold temperatures and prompt use once thawed if previously frozen,” says Burrows. That means prioritizing getting that fish into the fridge stat once you get home from the store.

The ideal scenario involves preparing and serving (and eating) the raw fish as soon as possible, says Koo. If you’re not going to have the fish in a day or two (which is fine), she suggests taking the fish out of its original packaging and wrapping the fillets in parchment paper or sandwich wrap paper with a layer of paper towel, then wrapping the whole thing in plastic wrap. Once it’s wrapped, you can place the fish in the fridge on top of an ice pack.

“The colder you keep it, the better,” she says. It’s super important to keep fish at a proper safe temperature, to prevent bacteria from growing. After all, you don’t want to spend time (and money!) sourcing the right type of fish, only to have to throw it away — or accidentally make yourself sick.

So now that you have sushi-grade fish all figured out, you’re ready to make one of our favorite recipes: Tuna Poke Bowl.

P.S. While this article talks about sushi-grade fish, we’re exclusively talking about fish — not shellfish or mollusks (think: lobster, shrimp, clams and oysters), which come with their own set of rules.

Headshot of Trish Clasen Marsanico

Deputy Food Editor

Trish (she/her) is the deputy food editor at Good Housekeeping, where she covers all things food, from cooking trends and delicious recipes to top-tested kitchen products and grocery finds. She has more than a decade of experience writing about food for GH, Women’s Health, Prevention, Redbook, Woman’s Day, The Daily Meal and Food Network. When she’s not at the supermarket or trying out a new recipe, you can find her at the beach, in her backyard or on the couch — typically with a glass of wine in hand.

Source : Goodhousekeeping