Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus raw proteins elsewhere

My Japan Times Food article this month is about all the raw proteins Japanese people like to eat. You probably know that Japanese people like raw fish (in the form of sashimi, and as a topping for sushi), and raw eggs (on rice or noodles) - but did you know that we also eat raw horsemeat, beef liver, and even chicken? Read more about it here. The accompanying recipe is a how-to for making a great plate of sashimi.

A couple of photos that didn't make it into the article: Here is a plate of katsuo or bonito sashimi. Lean katsuo is in season in Japan right now, and it's one of my favorite types of fish to enjoy as sashimi. Instead of wasabi, grated ginger, garlic and/or finely chopped green onions are the preferred condiments. Raw garlic on raw fish, you say? It's really good. Just don't have it before a job interview or a first date. (Incidentally, since someone asked, all the photos that accompany my Japan Times articles with just a couple of exceptions were taken by me, The Guy or my mom.)

katsuo-sashimi.jpg

This is a sashimi bocho, a knife for slicing sashimi. It has a long blade, narrow blade (this one is about 30 cm / 12 inches long, but there are even longer ones) which has a minimal surface area to come into contact with the fish. It's nice to have one of these but not totally necessary unless you eat a lot of sashimi. A santoku type knife (with the little indentations all along the blade, like this one) does a good job too. Any knife you use has to be very sharp for clean slices.

sashimi-bocho.jpg

A few words about raw proteins elsewhere

Since English speakers who live in Japan are the primary readership of The Japan Times, the articles I write for them are aimed at people who are in Japan. All the buying recomenndations and so on are for Japan.

However, the primary audience for this site, Just Hungry (and JustBento too) is people who have an interest in Japanese food and cooking who don't live in Japan. If you look through the archives here, you wll notice that there are very few recipes that feature raw proteins. Most of my sushi recipes on both of my food sites use cooked or smoked fish, other cooked food like aburaage (fried tofu skins) or vegetables. (Sushi does not mean 'raw fish' after all; it refers to the vinegar, salt and sugar flavored rice used.)

This is because I want my readers to be able to make my recipes without having to worry about food safety. I believe that the basic rule of thumb is: Unless you are really experienced in sussing out how fresh a particular food is, if your country or community's food supply chain is not used to supplying a particular food to be consumed raw, don't risk it. And if you've seen 'cook thoroughly or else' type warnings issued by the government or industry associations, be really wary.

Take raw eggs or undercooked for example. Raw eggs are eaten on a daily basis in Japan, even for breakfast. And in France, a properly cooked omelette is baveuse, soft on the inside. In both countries I do not hesitate to eat eggs in all their runny glory as long as they are fresh, because if people got sick from eating eggs in the way they are used to there would be a huge uproar. On the other hand, in the U.S. the American Egg Board recommends that "Eggs should be cooked until the whites are set (completely coagulated and firm) and the yolks begin to thicken (no longer runny, but not hard). Scrambled eggs and omelets should be cooked until firm throughout with no visible liquid egg remaining." Not to get too political on you but this smacks of "covering our asses against lawsuits and our substandard ways of manufacturing eggs" to me (can warning labels on egg cartons be far behind?) - but in any case, if you do choose to eat raw eggs in the U.S. you may want to stick to pasteurized eggs or eggs you know for sure have been laid in good conditions.

In regards to sashimi, again in Japan everyone eats sashimi at home, and most home cooks know how to sniff out (sorry for the pun) good fish. It's just part of the culture. If you're attempting to make sashimi at home, make sure you get your fish from a reputable seller: one that really knows what 'sashimi grade fish' is. Most Japanese grocery stores are fine, as are good fishmongers such as Citarella in New York. See also: Making your own sushi? Proceed with caution, which I wrote back in 2007. Not much as changed since then. Personally, I do occasionally make sashimi or sushi at home because we have a really good local fishmonger, but I've learned how to discern what's sashimi-suitable from my mom and the chefs at the New York sushi restaurant she used to manage, where I hung out a lot. Teaching this kind of thing over the internets is pretty hard unfortunately, as much as I'd like to.

As I mentioned in the article, last year Japan was rocked by an e.coli scare caused by raw beef, served as _yukke_ or yukhoe (a Korean dish) served at cut-rate yakiniku ('grilled beef') restaurants. It turns out that the beef in question was not sold to the restaurants as being fit for consumption, and furthermore had not been handled properly. Raw beef was not widely consumed in Japan except at speciality restaurants until fairly recently, when Korean food exploded in popularity and discount yakiniku restaurants proliferated all over the country. I don't know about you but eating raw beef at a discount eatery does not sound like a good idea.

As the weather gets warmer in the northern hemisphere, food safety becomes more of an issue. Exercise caution and let's all stay (or in my case, get) healthy this summer.

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