How To Choose Sushi-Grade Seafood

The Tsukiji market in Tokyo is home to the world’s largest fish market. It is where the sushi aficionados purchase their prized fish.

Sushi is made with raw fish, shellfish, and occasionally cooked fish. The fish can be fresh, frozen, or preserved; it’s usually expensive, given that most of it go to making sushi.

You’ll need to know which seafood is safe for you to eat before you buy any. If you’re new to sushi, figuring out which type of fish to use might seem like a challenging task. It’s not as easy as choosing what type of beef you want to eat; sushi’s raw fish is quite different from other types of meat.

There are several things that you should always be on the lookout for when choosing sushi-grade seafood.


What Are Sushi-Grade Fish?

Sushi-grade fish are completely fresh fish and shellfish that have been looked over for any signs of defects. They are then gutted, processed, cleaned, and refrigerated before they’re served to customers.

While most sushi-grade fish are categorized as “white-fleshed,” there’s a lot more than just that to take into consideration when it comes to picking the right seafood for your sushi bar menu.

And while you may like salmon, tuna is actually considered a more fitting fish for nigiri (food that’s shaped with your hands) – some people even say that trying to make sushi out of beef or chicken would be blasphemous!

On top of choosing seafood based on its appearance and texture, you’ll also need to stick with what’s in the season because seasonal fish tend to taste better – they’re fattier and have been bred specifically for the conditions in which they grow. You’ll want to keep this in mind when purchasing sushi-grade fish by deciding whether or not you’d like a fatty cut, lean cut, or something in between.

For instance, full-fat bluefin tuna is at its best during the colder months of December and January; but if your customers want warm weather menu items without the price tag that comes with fresh seafood from Japan, then June would be a good time to stock up on yellowtail (hamachi).

The bottom line about sushi-grade fish: fish should be frozen for at least 24 hours before it’s thawed and served, but there are some exceptions to this rule – such as when it’s only meant to be the topping in a roll.

Related: Top 5 Fish You Should Try Grilling This Summer


Fish Color

Knowing which seafood can be eaten as sushi and which tastes better depending on when they’re harvested, it’s also important to look over their colors. For instance, yellowtail (hamachi) has a richer flavor than say… salmon, but is it the right color for sushi?

That’s kind of like asking if your hair is the right length – and there are tons of factors that’ll influence whether or not the answer to that question is “yes.”


How To Tell If Fish Is Sushi-Grade?

Sushi-grade fish is the freshest, very best quality meat from the market or ocean. It has been skillfully prepared to remove all blood and guts. It’s also frozen for a short amount of time, at such a low temperature that it doesn’t destroy the high-quality fat content in the flesh. If raw fish contacts any bacteria, those bacteria will be killed off during the freezing process (this is what makes Sushi safe).

Whenever looking at seafood, take note of how clean it looks are: do you see any discoloration? The layers should look translucent. Another thing to check is the smell: fresh sushi fish smells like nothing at all – no musty aroma!

Any other type of marine life – whether they were intended for sushi or not – should be frozen immediately, and the flesh should be looked at carefully for signs of discoloration or spoilage.

If you’re buying a whole fish (which is what most sushi chefs prefer), start by evaluating its eyes: their pupils should be clear and bright, without any cloudiness within them. Is the body firm? Does it seem fresh? Remember – if you’re serving this as sushi, make sure the meat is as fresh as possible!

Fresher seafood has more moisture content within it; less fluid will make preparation easier later on. Use your nose to evaluate how clean the fish smells, but remember that freshly caught fish may have an “ocean” smell to it.

Sushi-grade fishes that have undergone these strict examinations can be identified by a red stamp saying “sashimi” or “sushi”, which indicates that they have been safe for raw consumption.

However, the red seal on fishes does not necessarily mean high quality, so even those without this seal should be examined carefully before the sale because there are cases where inferior quality products slip through despite the quality checks.


What Types Of Fish Are Safe To Be Eaten Raw?

For raw consumption, only certain fish and seafood are suitable. It is important to know what exactly these types of fish and seafood are so that you don’t eat something that is below quality standards. Fresher ones are preferred over frozen and canned ones.

Let’s look at specific seafoods you can use for Sushi:


Fatty fish

Mackerel, yellowtail, salmon, albacore tuna, and bluefin tuna. Only the highest-quality fatty fish can be eaten raw; the best is called toro (fatty tuna). Cut open a side of this type of fish to examine whether it has any blood spots in it – if so, don’t buy it!

This comes from dying tissue that hasn’t been fully removed before processing. You’ll need to pick through the rest of the pieces very carefully when serving your guests sushi. Whitefish and flounder have low-fat content within them. If you want to eat your flounder or whitefish raw, it’s best to have the fish cut very thinly.

Related: 6 Best Salmon For Sushi



Sardines are popular in Japan and other parts of Asia; almost all sardines can be eaten raw! This is because Japanese fishermen catch them very fresh and gut them immediately, while they’re still on their boat. Ask your sushi chef about the origin of your fish before eating it – you could get lucky with something as great as sashimi.

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Shrimp, squid, octopus, and crayfish (the most popular variety of shellfish for sushi is called “nigiri”). Look at whether the portion has any black specks or a dark orange color amongst it; discard these pieces immediately. The meat should not smell rotten – if so, don’t buy it! Squid and fish may also have cooked innards inside them that you can see: make sure they are firm and pinkish-white in color before you choose them for your sushi meal.

On the contrary, most shellfish are not good for raw consumption. Many will cause food poisoning if consumed uncooked (this usually comes from a bacterial infection, shellfish tend to harbor many different species of bacteria). Only certain types of crustaceans can be consumed raw; these are shrimps of all kinds and lobster (all types).


Freshwater Fish

Freshwater fish are eaten less often for sushi since they tend to be drier (as opposed to rich fatty fish), but chefs will sometimes use lake trout as sashimi. You should be able to see spots of fat on the meat that hasn’t been fully cooked off; this is the most delicious part of the fish, as well as its tail.

Clams and mussels contain a lot of liquid in their bodies, so these can only be eaten steamed or fried – they are not typically used for sushi meals.

Related: 5 Most Popular Types Of Tuna Used In The Japanese Cuisine


Should You Buy It Fresh Or Frozen?

Each has its benefits and drawbacks, so I’ll start by explaining the difference.

When you buy fresh sushi-grade fish, it will usually come in a plastic container with a layer of ice on top to keep it cold while shipping. When you open up this package, the fish may look moist and freshly cut but there is a high risk of bacterial growth.

Fresh seafood won’t necessarily spoil right away if left out at room temperature for hours, but chilling them will slow bacteria growth by reducing the surface moisture and this means that just because they’ve been chilled when you get home from your supermarket doesn’t mean they’re safe to eat straight away.

The risk levels are different for foods that have already been frozen. If you decide to buy frozen fishes, make sure that it was flash-freezed at a freezing temperature below -20 °C (-4 °F) within hours from the time of catching.

Sushi-grade fish are often sold frozen and then thawed before serving, so ask for that if needed. It is important to make sure that they really meet the sushi-grade standards and were stored properly. And don’t forget — just like with vegetables — freshness matters most.


How To Prepare Sushi Fish?

Cleaning is the first step in sushi-grade fish preparation; you’ll need to remove the scales from all over the fish, head, tail, and fins. The next step is gutting and then cutting off the fins on either side of the spine. It’s important to poke out as many of the small visceral sacs along its gut as possible (these can be tough to see), or it will spoil quickly.

Next comes washing – just like with beef or chicken – where you’ll rinse your fish under running water to rid it of any traces of blood and remove scales, fins, and guts.

You can now start slicing – you’ll need to cut the fish into sushi-sized portions: about two inches per slice, depending on the type of fish. It’s also important to keep each piece nice and thin because thicker pieces won’t flake well when served as sashimi or in a roll.


So What About Shellfish?

Shellfish must be kept at 41° F before being served; shrimp are much easier since they’re usually purchased frozen and thawed straight from the freezer so that bacteria don’t form.


To Sum Up

When it comes to eating raw fish, the freshest is always best. Just look for a firm, fresh, & moist flesh without any spots. Lastly, avoid any smell other than delicious, fresh ocean water.