If you’re a beginner at the sushi bar, you’re probably worried that all sushi is raw fish. Don’t be scared. It’s not! You can eat an entire meal of cooked sushi, and it’s a great way to start easing your way towards raw fish. My grandfather was a supermarket meat cutter. Despite making a living dealing with raw items, until recently he had never tried raw sushi. Fish wasn’t at all uncommon at his dinner table. My grandmother made salmon loaf every other week! But the idea of raw fish was very foreign.
One afternoon, the three of us went out for chicken teriyaki. Grandpa agreed to try sushi for the first time. He chose tuna as it was a fish he was comfortable with. Chef Paulo served one piece raw and the other seared. My grandfather enjoyed both, but preferred the seared tuna. (Seared tuna is also called tuna tataki. Most sushi bars will have a “tataki” style plate on their menu.) The seared tuna eased him into trying the raw tuna, and thus began his sushi experience.
I have a list of items that I have always recommended to beginners sitting at my sushi bar. I never recommend any fried rolls as they aren’t a good pathway to raw sushi. You can enjoy cooked sushi in other forms that will warm your palate to the flavors and textures of fish. These dishes will pave the way and get you ready to try the raw stuff:
- California Maki: Everyone has this roll! The imitation crab is cooked.
- Shrimp Nigiri: Cooked shrimp over rice. This is NOT Aba Ebi, which is raw shrimp.
- Philly Roll: This roll has smoked salmon, aka fish bacon. Ask for NO cream cheese, sub avocado.
- Yellowtail Sashimi: This is a mild fish. Ask for thin sliced with Ponzu (citrus soy sauce).
- Eel Nigiri: Don’t let the word eel scare you away. It tastes like chicken, and it’s covered in sweet sauce that caramelizes when cooked. This should be your dessert.
- Tuna Tataki: As mentioned above. This can be red or white tuna and it’s sometimes served alongside salad.
Everyone finds their favorite fish. Once you graduate to eating raw you’ve develop your favorites too. The three most common favorites are salmon, tuna, and yellowtail. Halibut and Albacore are also frequently requested. If you enjoy yellowtail, try amberjack. Amberjack, also known as Kampachi, is best eaten in the colder months when the meat has a higher fat content.
When your palate learns to love these more common fish, you’ll want to try Mackerel. Mackerel can be an intense flavor, and you’ll either love it or hate it. The fish is cured in salt and vinegar. It’s traditionally served with grated ginger and thin sliced green onions. The strong flavor can be humbled with delicate Japanese sauces. Furthermore, cooked mackerel takes on a whole other identity. (Which remind me… It’s worth comparing the cooked versus raw style of any fish.) From here, move on to things like spicy scallops or blue fin tuna. The sky is the limit!
Some might find it silly that you need a little guidance when it comes to sushi. Reality is, food is complex. If you were raised on tuna salad sandwiches and fish sticks, sushi can be intimidating. With some direction, we can all learn to enjoy new things. Book a class with me and we’ll make your first sushi experience one to remember! Grab your friends and let’s do it together!