Different Types of Raw Fish
Raw fish is all the rage right now, but in order to find a method in the madness we need to set things straight. What we’re talking about is raw or marinated fish dishes, with a variety of names that only the most dedicated foodie will easily differentiate between. Whereas raw fish dishes have been popular for a while on the West Coast, they are now creeping inland due to the never-ending search for new and unusual foods and because of the many plusses of eating raw fish, primarily the unique taste.
Raw Fish Should Come with Precautions
Before you eat raw fish – and certainly before you prepare it on your own – check out the guidelines for whether raw fish is safe to eat set forth by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Opting for high quality should be the number-one rule.
Seafood Watch, operated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, is an excellent resource for learning about fish—including the ones you should not eat.
Although we are focusing on raw fish, you’ve probably come across the term carpaccio, which is raw meat or fish, thinly sliced, and seasoned with a lemon-olive oil dressing. Carpaccio doesn’t include the many kinds of seafood that, say, ceviche does, so we’re going to gloss over this type of raw food and focus on the more fish-based types.
Ceviche: The Most Popular Kind of Raw Fish
Pronounced “seh-VEE-chay” (and never “seh-VEECH”) this raw-fish delicacy seems to be on every menu these days. Ceviche has its roots as an appetizer in Latin America, but at this point it really has no borders. The trick to well-made ceviche is marinating it for the right amount of time; the fish will be raw if you marinate it too briefly in the citrus (usually lime) juice, and rubbery or crumbly if you marinate for too long. The right amount of time is roughly 15 to 20 minutes. The acid in the lime juice “cooks” the fish – so timing is important to reach the right consistency. Onions, tomatoes, and green peppers are often added to the marinade, and garnishes (herbs, chili peppers, and other vegetables) can vary.
Going back to the marinating time, it’s interesting to note that, in the case of ceviche, marinating does not tenderize the fish. Rather, when the acid in the lime juice interacts with the protein in the fish, it causes the fish to become firmer and not more tender. That’s because the acid “denatures” the proteins and causes it to become opaque with a firmer texture. What denaturing means is that the acid breaks down the chains of amino acids in the fish’s protein. Heat (cooking) will also do this, so marinating is somewhat akin to cooking due to the similar denaturing process that takes place. However, when we cook with heat, bacteria is killed off, while marinating with citrus juice doesn’t have the same effect. That’s why it’s critical to use the very freshest fish for ceviche.
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Sashimi: A Popular Type of Raw Fish
Popular due to its use in sushi, if you get confused between sashimi and sushi, just remember: sashimi is used IN sushi and not the other way around. Sashimi is very thinly sliced fresh (raw) fish, usually salmon and tuna, which highlights the essential flavor of the seafood. Sashimi is not usually marinated, and it’s often served without a sauce and with minimal garnishes.
Crudo is the Raw Fish of the Hour
Even if you consider yourself a raw-fish aficionado, you may never have heard of crudo, though it’s gaining in popularity all the time. Crudo means raw in Italian, which makes it an Italian-based raw fish dish. What makes crudo special is the top-grade extra virgin olive oil that is used to coat the fish and that adds to the flavor. Chefs are getting creative with crudo toppings, too, including spiced oils over veggie-topped fish or even fruit-topped fish. With sashimi, the slicing is front and center; with crudo, however, the ingredients – and the flavors they draw out – are the essence. Therefore, the oil – which can range from truffle oil to cold-pressed olive-oil and beyond – is of utmost importance; everyday, household oils like canola or corn oil don’t have enough natural flavor to enhance the fish. There are very few ingredients in crudo – essentially the fish and the oil – so every ingredient has to be of the highest quality.
Poke is the Next Raw Fish Phenomenon
Poke, which is pronounced “poh-KAY” (and rhymes with okay) means “chunk” in Hawaiian. Once, poke was considered any raw meat or fish that was cut into chunks and marinated; nowadays, however, poke refers more often than not to fish. Poke is like a Hawaiian-based crossover between ceviche and sashimi; the cubes of raw seafood are often served on a bed of rice with a flavorful sauce – soy sauce, wasabi, teriyaki, and so on. Like crudo, poke is an up-and-coming raw fish phenomenon and the little chunks of raw fish, while not seen everywhere yet, are about to be the next big thing.
Tartare: Raw Fish with a French Twist
Traditionally, tartare is a French dish made of minced raw beef, seasoned heavily, but the basic preparation has branched out to include seafood. Tuna tartare is perhaps the most common incarnation of tartare these days. You will recognize it as a small pile of finely chopped raw tuna meat, well-seasoned and served with something to spread it on such as toast or crackers. Tuna tartare, like ceviche, utilizes citrus juice as a cooking agent.
Cold and Sharp: Two Words to Keep in Mind When Preparing Raw Fish at Home
If you’re brave enough and ready to prepare raw fish at home there are two things to remember: keep it cold and use a sharp knife. To properly slice raw fish, keep it well chilled. Store it in the fridge until the last minute – that is, until you whip out your knife. Also, don’t buy the fish pre-sliced, as it will not taste fresh and will have lost that ocean smell that you are looking for.
The Sharper the Better
No matter how sharp your sharpest knife is, the knife you use to cut raw fish should be sharper. “Razor sharp” pretty much describes it; dangerously sharp is another way to put it. Always cut the fish against the grain, removing sinew as you proceed. Develop a light but firm touch and remember – practice makes perfect.
Raw Fish is Here to Stay
Given how popular raw fish is these days, this guide will probably be incomplete very shortly. For now, however, it’s a useful primer to turn to if you’re ready to embrace raw fish in its various forms and shapes. Before tackling it at home, it’s probably a good idea to try it out at a high-quality seafood restaurant; but when you’re ready to take the plunge – happy slicing!