Sashimi is a Japanese delicacy consisting of fresh raw fish or meat sliced into thin pieces.
Some sashimi ingredients, such as octopus, are sometimes served cooked given their chewy nature.
Many non-Japanese use the terms sashimi and sushi interchangeably, but the two dishes are distinct and separate. Sushi refers to any dish made with vinegared rice. While raw fish is one traditional sushi ingredient, many sushi dishes contain seafood that has been cooked, and others have no seafood at all. Sashimi by contrast is always served on its own.
The philosophy of Japanese cuisine is to respect the natural palates of ingredients, which is why eating fresh, raw fish was a tradition even before the creation of what we know as sashimi today.
The history of sashimi is somewhat shrouded in mysteries offering many theories on its origins.
One says that it dates back to a dish of sliced raw fish and vegetables seasoned with vinegar called “namasu” that was eaten at the Japanese court during the Heian period.
Another theory traces the roots of sashimi to the sliced fish that fishermen sold during the Kamakura period as a kind of fast food.
The popularity of sashimi grew rapidly in the Edo area of the Edo period. It was originally the case that fresh fish was difficult to obtain in Kyoto, so it was only natural that food like sashimi, which required fresh seafood, would develop in Edo, where there was an abundant supply of fish known as ‘Edomae’. At the end of the Edo period, only tai was used in Kyoto and Osaka regardless of the season, but it was criticized as being untidy in both slicing and arrangement.
As distribution networks has been grown, the use of refrigerator has been widespread, and the freezing technology has been developed in modern times, fresh sashimi became available for people throughout Japan.
Sashimi is becoming increasingly common for fish markets and shops in English-speaking countries to use the term ‘sashimi quality’ in reference to seafood that can be eaten raw.
Special sashimi knives are being sold by specialty stores to make these thin, beautiful fresh cuts.
The most popular style is thinly sliced sashimi, called tsukuri.
Usuzukuri is another method of sashimi preparation, cutting the seafood and meat in even thinner cuts and making it appear transparent – ordering usuzukuri sashimi is sure to grant a feast for the eyes.
When the seafood and meat is lightly roasted with green onions and ginger, the sashimi is called tataki. One of the most prominent fish to use for tataki sashimi is bonito. When a fish or seafood is put in an ice and water bath to tighten its muscles, the sashimi is called “arai”.
Sometimes, a fish might be still alive while being served, in which case it is referred to as “ikizukuri”, while eating shrimp alive is called “odorigui”, literally translating to “dancing meal”.
Sashimi is often the first course in a formal Japanese meal, but it can also be the main course, presented with rice and miso soup in separate bowls. Japanese chefs consider sashimi the finest dish in Japanese formal dining and recommend that it be eaten before other strong flavors affect the palate.
The word “sashimi” means “pierced body”. This word dates from the Muromachi period and was possibly coined when the word kiru (cut), the culinary step, was considered too inauspicious to be used by anyone other than samurai. This word may derive from the culinary practice of sticking the fish’s tail and fin to the slices for the purpose of identifying the fish being eaten.