Is Salmon Sushi Japanese?
July 18, 2021 12:37 AM   Subscribe

Here is the story:
Even though the Japanese have eaten raw fish for centuries, the famously orange salmon was not a common sight in this dish until very recently. The Japanese simply did not consider their Pacific salmon clean enough to eat raw.
But is it true? The Great Salmon Sushi Conspiracy [SLYouTube, 15:36, has a commercial you can skip past pretty easily]

Here's another story about the Norwegian origin of salmon sushi, that has more detail and other links.
(There are many side issues about debunking, proof, and so on raised in the second half of the YT video.)
posted by CCBC (42 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Being farm raised, the salmon had no parasites,

[citation needed]
posted by away for regrooving at 12:56 AM on July 18 [22 favorites]


the Norwegian salmon is free of parasites because they’re farmed

This is not the reputation of farmed fish, generally. Monocultures do not do well with pathogens. Perhaps we just need sources of cheap protein, while they aren't yet extinct.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 1:28 AM on July 18 [8 favorites]


Love this guy; subscribed instantly.
posted by jamjam at 1:45 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


ELI5 thread with comments from industry folk

Sushi restaurant owner here... Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) ...Keeps frozen for 7 days at or under -40°F. Never should you eat any salmon raw without doing this process.

We also salt /wash our salmon before we do this procedure to help kill any worms.

All salmon for sushi is now farmed to have less parasite a good but a bad since the only way to rid parasites is antibiotics/meds.

posted by snuffleupagus at 2:32 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Omelet nigiri, however, has been eaten in Japan since a long tamago.
posted by acb at 2:51 AM on July 18 [106 favorites]


Omelet nigiri, however, has been eaten in Japan since a long tamago.

Holy maguro, was that a terrible pun!
posted by Umami Dearest at 3:10 AM on July 18 [9 favorites]


I assumed Norwegian salmon was parasite-free because the water is colder.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 3:53 AM on July 18


I like My Name Is Andong, especially his videos about Soviet era food. I recommend his video about the sausage that is remembered fondly by people who ate it.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:01 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


And, live worms in raw fish show up regularly on r/whatsthisbug.
posted by Bee'sWing at 4:04 AM on July 18


I like sushi from time to time. But salmon is about the only fish that I do not like to eat raw. It has a greasy mouth feel to me and always tastes a little "off" even when I'm certain (as certain as I can be) that it is fresh.
posted by SoberHighland at 4:10 AM on July 18


I love raw salmon, but raw mackerel tends to taste a little moldy.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 5:32 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Mackerel tends to be my personal sushi shibboleth - if a new place can't do good mackerel then I'm probably not coming back. And certainly not ordering anything designed to disguise poorer quality ingredients.
posted by mce at 6:52 AM on July 18 [4 favorites]


Omelet nigiri, however, has been eaten in Japan since a long tamago.

But whether it’s good or not really depends on hamachi you pay for it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:55 AM on July 18 [31 favorites]


Mackerel tends to be my personal sushi shibboleth - if a new place can't do good mackerel then I'm probably not coming back. And certainly not ordering anything designed to disguise poorer quality ingredients.

Raw mackerel that is not quite fresh is an extremely good test of whether you have a fish histamine allergy. Just have it with some alcohol and in half an hour tell everyone to stand 8 feet away so they are out of the scromboid spray range. Oh and make sure you have someone who will take care of you for the next 24 hours or so.

I strongly recommend not getting sushi on a friday or a sunday because the fish may be quite old. Even good sushi places fuck this up and for people with the allergy the results are like being a teenage binge drinker all over again.
posted by srboisvert at 7:06 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


Sushi restaurant owner here...It's called Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) ...Keeps frozen for 7 days at or under 40°F. Never should you eat any salmon raw without doing this process.

It may be a matter of this Reddit comment's phrasing, but while freezing is a control point for parasites, Hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) is far more than keeping fish in the freezer. The current FDA Fish and Fishery Products Hazards and Controls Guidance document is 542 pages.
posted by zamboni at 7:07 AM on July 18 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: in half an hour tell everyone to stand 8 feet away so they are out of the scromboid spray range
posted by lalochezia at 7:44 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Omelet nigiri, however, has been eaten in Japan since a long tamago.

Aji what you did there
posted by phooky at 7:57 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


Yeah -- I pulled that bit out of the Reddit thread bc it was the most pertinent to this thread, but there are other interesting comments there.

Like the one about the laser-armed fishcams.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:15 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I used to love the taste of sushi but for some reason knowing what I know about the state of the oceans & how fish are cultivated has kind of made it start tasting disgusting to me. So none of this is surprising to me this fits into my mental model precisely.
posted by bleep at 9:21 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


We're just on a course of wrecking every good thing in existence.
posted by bleep at 9:22 AM on July 18 [9 favorites]


The anthropocene effects are scary, but by the same token disgust w/r/t to food is famously cultural. (viz Sahlins, Culture and Practical Reason, "Le Pensee Bourgoisie"; and Mary Douglas generally).

We're now disgusted by the polluted state of the oceans and repulsed by factory farming, making us prone to fetishize foodways from before food safety was even a glimmer and condemn the results of the green revolution etc. without considering what the normality of scarcity used to be like (or is still like in some places).
posted by snuffleupagus at 9:26 AM on July 18 [19 favorites]


> Being farm raised, the salmon had no parasites,

[citation needed]


It was only ever at the farm, that's the only site, ergo there was no pair of sites.
posted by cortex at 10:38 AM on July 18 [13 favorites]


The Japanese simply did not consider their Pacific salmon clean enough to eat raw.

This isn’t just a weird cultural quirk the way it is presented here. Salmon famously live part of their lifecycle in freshwater. When you’re presented with a piece of raw salmon on a plate, you have no way of knowing if it’s a freshwater salmon or an ocean salmon, and freshwater fish should always be cooked for safety reasons.

When I visited Japan in spring of 2019, I read a lot of articles to try to understand why so many Japanese people wore masks in every day life, and the articles tended to assume that the masks didn’t really work to prevent transmission of illness and it was due to some kind of cultural germ phobia and a certain amount of shyness. Not one of the pieces I read connected it to SARS. When COVID landed last year, the penny dropped and I understood that the people of Japan survived a deadly pandemic. Of course they wear masks.
posted by chrchr at 1:54 PM on July 18 [10 favorites]


Correct me if I am wrong, but all salmon has parasites and you have to freeze the salmon at least once to kill the parasites and make it safe to east.

And yeah, freshwater vs ocean fish: in Japan there's most certainly two tiers of quality, at least a perceived one: saltwater fish is the good stuff, while freshwater is considered more base and lesser in quality.
posted by zardoz at 1:58 PM on July 18


When I was a child, I loved salmon, specifically Baltic wild salmon, which had a beautiful pale pink color and a rich, but not greasy taste. Now you can't get them anymore, at all. I guess you are allowed to fish for them as an amateur with a rod. To me, the Norwegian farmed salmon taste of lamp oil. Or something. Not really edible, though I will be polite and eat whatever people give me in small amounts. The farmed salmon from the Faeroe islands are slightly better, but still, I buy it because I dream of my childhood favorite, and I am always disappointed.

I love raw salmon, but raw mackerel tends to taste a little moldy.
The other day, I was looking at the cooking time for whole mackerel, and found a professional site. It said fresh mackerel should always be eaten the same day it is caught. Already the next day, it will have that moldy taste you describe, they used the exact same word, but in Danish. And they said it is mildly toxic. This is why, in a fishing town, you can buy very cheap mackerel during the season. They have to get rid of the ones that weren't sold in the morning for canning or smoking right away. And when they are very fresh, they are delicious as nigiri. Or on the grill, or "en papilotte".
posted by mumimor at 2:08 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


There are other freshwater/brackish fish eaten as sashimi/sushi in Japan, such as Kohada or Izumidai (tilapia). Not sure if these are typically frozen or not first, and there are probably specific rules around sourcing.

Sashimi/sushi is pretty much the only way I like salmon --- cooked salmon never tastes good to me.
posted by thefoxgod at 3:41 PM on July 18


I live on Lake Michigan, where King, Coho, Sockeye and a few other kinds of ocean and river-dwelling salmon were introduced maybe 150 years ago. Thanks to their diets, they taste nothing like their non land-locked kin and I'm a little creeped out by their pale flesh. I'm not a fan, but people here love them and prepare them in all the usual ways, in addition to smoking and barbecuing them. I can't imagine using them as sushi.

One of my favorite sushi experiences happened in Seattle, where I was able to order a flight of nigiri composed of different salmon varieties. Chef's kiss.
posted by carmicha at 5:59 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


My Name is Andong is great stuff and everyone should absolutely subscribe, yes.

Here is some more informational background on salmon sushi and Japan! Yes, salmon sushi existed outside of Japan before it existed inside Japan, almost certainly because there was access to sashimi-grade Atlantic salmon. The funny thing is that internationally, salmon sushi almost always uses the Japanese word sake or shake to refer to the salmon, whereas in Japan salmon sushi is always always referred to using the English loanword salmon.

Why? Well, in Japan, sake or shake refers specifically to types of Pacific salmon that are not fit to be eaten raw due to parasites, and which must consequently be thoroughly cooked to render them safe to eat. This is also related to the fact that, until the late '80s or early '90s, there simply wasn't salmon sushi in Japan until that one Norwegian guy decided to get clever with his marketing outreach.

But yes, in other words, the various menus from around the world advertising sake nigiri are all but explicitly advertising "this sushi is topped with fish that is not safe to eat raw," heh. (In practice, though, the sake/shake vs. loanword "salmon" distinction is a trivia fact even within Japan, though, so even native speakers would merely find it curious and maybe think it feels a little "off" rather than overtly noting that it's explicitly claiming to be non-sashimi-grade fish.)
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:39 PM on July 18 [7 favorites]


Separately, anyone who hasn't tried it, please give my favorite sushi a chance sometime: grilled mackerel. It is dead simple to make so long as you can prepare sushi rice, because the conventional way to prepare it is to get a long, narrow container and place your grilled mackerel fillets into it, skin-side down, then fill the container with a layer of rice, and press it into shape, then turn it out like an upside-down cake and slice it. Maybe top it with just a teensy little bit of grated daikon or grated ginger on top. Sooooo good.
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:42 PM on July 18 [5 favorites]


Sashimi/sushi is pretty much the only way I like salmon --- cooked salmon never tastes good to me.

Oh, good, I'm not the only one. I keep trying to cook it in some way I find more than barely palatable and failing.
posted by praemunire at 6:49 PM on July 18


And yeah, freshwater vs ocean fish: in Japan there's most certainly two tiers of quality, at least a perceived one: saltwater fish is the good stuff, while freshwater is considered more base and lesser in quality.

At this point in my life, i take this as a given feature of any coastal cuisine culture. At least the ones I grew up in, if they're at all seafood heavy and live off the sea, they'll always be biased for ocean fish. In my family's local parlance, river/freshwater fish is known as 'muddy fish'.

Also, +1 for grilled mackerel.

I do like My Name is Andong, but if i have an anti-rec (as a local) it's probably the laksa video lol. Only on the cooking bit!
posted by cendawanita at 7:41 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


At least the ones I grew up in, if they're at all seafood heavy and live off the sea, they'll always be biased for ocean fish.

Just a note: Baltimore has "Lake Trout" pretty much everywhere. Maryland has no natural lakes, and the etymology is a bit unclear, but the fish is actually (Atlantic) Whiting.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 8:37 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


I keep trying to cook it in some way

Forgive me— I presume you’ve tried the obligatory cedar or juniper plank?

How do you do with lox & bagel? Smoked is still cooked, it’s just not hot when you eat it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:41 PM on July 18


But salmon is about the only fish that I do not like to eat raw.

Man, salmon is by far my favorite fish to eat raw. I think texture has a lot to do with that? And not necessarily my favorite to eat cooked, though it’s fine.
posted by atoxyl at 11:23 PM on July 18


In practice, though, the sake/shake vs. loanword "salmon" distinction is a trivia fact even within Japan, though

Indeed --- I've asked my wife and several other Japanese people what the difference between "鮭" and "サーモン" and yours is the first good explanation I've heard :) [I never really think about it outside sushi restaurants, or I would have looked it up before...]
posted by thefoxgod at 12:26 AM on July 19 [1 favorite]


For those who need a salmon recipe, try cooking it in a paper bag -- en papilotte -- as I recommended above. I fold the "bag" out of a sheet of baking paper. Put in the well-seasoned fish, some slices of lemon, dill, maybe some fennel fronds if you have them, or fresh tarragon, a splash of white wine. Close the bag and bake in the oven till just cooked through (the timing depends on the size of the fish, but you can open the bag and peak in after 15-20 minutes and close again without problems). For a whole side or a whole fish, you can achieve similar results in a foil-covered pan. You are basically steaming the fish in its own juices.
Serve with plenty of lemon wedges, hollandaise sauce, asparagus and new potatoes. Leftovers are good on bread with mayo.
Since I don't like farmed salmon, I do this with sea trout, for similar results. And with all sorts of other fish...
posted by mumimor at 12:33 AM on July 19 [3 favorites]


I presume you’ve tried the obligatory cedar or juniper plank?

Alder wood is the way to go! The effect is similar to cedar planked salmon, but subtler - it doesn't compete with the flavor of the fish like cedar can.
posted by Vervain at 1:28 AM on July 19 [2 favorites]


The funny thing is that internationally, salmon sushi almost always uses the Japanese word sake or shake to refer to the salmon, whereas in Japan salmon sushi is always always referred to using the English loanword salmon.

Great comment, but want to say that I've never seen it referred to as such in NYC -- even in places where every other word on the menu is transliterated Japanese!

Oh, good, I'm not the only one. I keep trying to cook it in some way I find more than barely palatable and failing.

You may just not like it! But just in case, I think the biggest mistake people make with it is to overcook it; you really want to cook it more like a steak and less like it's chicken. A skin-on salmon that is quickly pan-fried is *chef's kiss*
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:35 AM on July 19


It was only ever at the farm, that's the only site, ergo there was no pair of sites.

Nobody ever uses "ergo" unless they are making a logical argument structured joke. It's practically a natural law. I call this the ergo-nomic.
posted by srboisvert at 3:13 PM on July 19


it doesn't compete with the flavor of the fish like cedar can.

Woah! Old School hipster throwdown! Mentioning the throwback "cedar can" like a 1970's voyageur who made it all the way to the British Columbia! Next we will talking about stubbies.

Yes, I am drinking a fine high ABV tequila barrel-aged beer. Why do you ask?
posted by srboisvert at 3:20 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]


The funny thing is that internationally, salmon sushi almost always uses the Japanese word sake or shake to refer to the salmon, whereas in Japan salmon sushi is always always referred to using the English loanword salmon.

Great comment, but want to say that I've never seen it referred to as such in NYC -- even in places where every other word on the menu is transliterated Japanese!


There’s a very good chance this is a generation gap thing! A fair number of the “sake nigiri” examples seem to come from back before Japan ate salmon sushi, and modern restaurants internationally may well use the common Japanese convention nowadays, if only because maybe the chefs there were used to calling it “salmon” in Japan
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:18 PM on July 19 [2 favorites]


There are other freshwater/brackish fish eaten as sashimi/sushi in Japan, such as Kohada or Izumidai (tilapia). Not sure if these are typically frozen or not first, and there are probably specific rules around sourcing.

I ate a lot of kohada sushi when visiting Japan -- the fish was always pickled, presumably that would kill anything problematic. I wish I could find it here...
posted by janewman at 8:56 PM on July 20


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