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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Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Raw horsemeat is also quite popular in some parts of Italy. But it is also said that you should only eat it during months that contains the letter "R", so basically in autumn winter and spring but not summer. I know in some other parts that saying is applied to seafood, and I think there's a similar one in French.

enui | 27 April, 2012 - 15:52

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

When I was living in Kobe I had raw horse. When we asked what it was on the menu the waitress said "pony". We held our laughter instantly thinking of My Little Pony but ordered it anyway. I'm glad I did because it was delicious! I'm a huge sashimi fan so that's probably why I liked it. I was born & raised in Hawaii so raw fish & Asian influence is nothing foreign to me. :)

Rei | 27 April, 2012 - 17:01

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Most Whole Foods stores have a "sashimi grade fish" section in their seafood department, but it's very expensive (especially in the landlocked state where I live).

anon. | 27 April, 2012 - 19:58

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Thanks for the reminder about eating as the natives do. And I suspect you are correct about raw food in America.

anon. | 28 April, 2012 - 02:53

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

My father who was an immigrant from Kumamoto was an ardent beleiver in eating raw chicken and raw beef sashimi. He would have eaten horse if it was available. He was one of the first in the sugar plantation camps to eat cheese, which he dearly loved.

Jim Takita | 28 April, 2012 - 05:47

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

I enjoy raw or partially cooked beef and fish, but raw eggs and chicken sound extremely off-putting. I think that might be due to cultural and family influences. Since I grew up in the U.S. with English parents, all our food was cooked to death. At least I'll eat rare steak now!

Louisa | 29 April, 2012 - 07:13

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

I have found Catalina Offshore to be both reasonably priced and good quality for fish or other seafood. As for eggs, I can usually find a local producer for chicken eggs, but for quail eggs, I am seriously thinking of producing my own. Has anybody out there tried raising quail?

Dorothy Fast | 30 April, 2012 - 08:35

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Catalina Offshore has been recommended several times by JH readers throughout the years I think. Sounds like a good company!

maki | 2 May, 2012 - 19:19

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

I don't liked to eat raw food especially raw eggs and chicken but i like to eat partially cooked fish.Apart from all i love your sushi recipes.Thanks for the post.
Regards,
Linda

Linda George | 30 April, 2012 - 12:36

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

I'd like to read and see more pictures about food, less about your political beliefs, please! Personal opinions of other countries that, frankly, have little to do with the food in question really takes away from your posts. :(

anon. | 1 May, 2012 - 11:35
maki | 2 May, 2012 - 18:57

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

I think this commenter might be talking about the thoroughly cooked egg warning you mentioned (about the US trying to avoid a lawsuit). But what an over-reaction! This is a food blog after all, not a formal cookbook. Talking about different cultures consuming raw meats/fish and the availability of fresh ingredients to do that with totally deserves to be in a food blog.

This person was just rude and should simply skim over anything they find uninteresting instead of expecting the creater to cater to all their personal desires.

Katherine Hunn | 21 May, 2012 - 15:59

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Yes. What political statement? If you can't clarify what you're trying to say, then don't say it. Immature comments should go to youtube, not here.

John | 10 May, 2012 - 15:25

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

The US Egg Board thing strikes me as a CYA to avoid lawsuits. We're a rather litigious society. I eat raw or undercooked eggs all the time and they're just regular supermarket eggs. When I baked more, I would eat leftover bits of the batter or dough. I like over easy eggs over toast (dippy eggs), so I can sop up the last bits of the runny yolk with the toast crust. I like raw or undercooked egg with bibimbap and other such dishes. Never had a problem. If I had immune system or chronic digestive issues, then I think I would take more precautions. But since I don't.....

I've only had raw milk once, fresh from the cow, and it was fantastic. It's too hard to get and (weirdly) illegal in my state, so I don't expect to have any again. Fresh and raw cheeses are available locally. They're tasty, but too expensive to have regularly.

Other raw foods have grown on me with time. I used to like my steak medium, now I prefer it seared on the outside and still red on the inside. I'll even ask restaurants if they'll server a burger pink. It's just more moist and flavorful! I've never had chicken any way but cooked, and I really can't picture eating it raw. I think the texture would get me, but I'm willing to try.

Ever since my first bite of salmon sushi almost two decades ago, I've been a big fan of raw fish. I'll have to try it with raw ginger or garlic next time - I bet it would be great! I've made my own raw-fish sushi and sashimi, and I made sure to buy the best quality fish I could find and use it right away. However, it's hard to buy just a tiny quantity of fish, and my husband dislikes the stuff, so I always end up with leftovers. I don't trust raw fish beyond a day, so that's a waste. Thankfully, there are a great many places in the area that serve good sashimi, so generally when I have a hankering I just get take-out.

I guess I just like to "live dangerously"!

The Elf | 1 May, 2012 - 15:02

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Wow, I can't help drooling. I just love the Sashimi, raw eggs and more
Well done!
If you submitted your Sashimi, raw eggs and more photos to http://www.foodporn.net , I'll bet they will make you on the home page.
Gosh, you have made me sooo hungry !

Angelica | 2 May, 2012 - 10:48

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Eating raw things make me squeamish. The only things I can stomach eating raw or semi raw are over-easy fried eggs, under-boiled eggs, beef tataki from a reputable japanese restaurant, and raw oysters. I can't imagine eating raw chicken, that's just craziness.

PS: I'm glad you're feeling a bit better. I love your blog and every posts you've written, the food posts and the non-food posts.

cooking.eating.carousing | 6 May, 2012 - 04:10

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Living on a small island in Okinawa, I've been server raw goat, horse, chicken, and of course fish. While I prefer most of them cooked, you can't beat the freshness of sea to table. I guess the biggest message is keep raw food production to the experts, or go and really learn what you're doing before you endanger yourself or others ^_^ I'll leave the goat to the islanders and stick with some fresh maguro. Great pictures!

Benjamin Martin | 7 May, 2012 - 04:40

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Informative and very helpful!

Pacific American Fish Co.
pafco.net | peteseafood.com
@PAFCO | @PetesSeafood

Ashlee Chu | 8 May, 2012 - 02:03

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Very interesting, thank you!

I'm not a fan of raw meat or fish myself, because of the texture. I don't even love cold-smoked salmon because of its raw texture (the hot-smoked stuff rocks my world!)

I think this is fairly common among Scottish people. A lot of this stuff is cultural. Strange, though, that we have such resistance to raw food when we have so much in common culturally with Scandinavia, where they love a bit of raw fish. The closest we get is cold-smoked or pickled.

I really like pickled fish, strangely. It has a firmer texture.

Catt | 8 May, 2012 - 13:20

blog

I really like your blog and I nominated it for the Versatile Blogger Award. http://versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com/vba-rules/

I write a blog about expats (I used to live in Japan) , including Japanese food, and sometimes refer to your blog in my posts.

Larissa Reinhart | 9 May, 2012 - 02:57

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Alaska Native cultures have raw-fresh animal food traditions as well (there are also raw-dried and raw-lactic-acid-fermented). My favorite is fresh limpets. You have to sneak up on the limpet and quickly flick it off the rock with your nail or the edge of a knife, because given even a second's warning the limpet will hunker down on its rock and cling on like a supermagnet. You turn the little thing upside down and just slurp it right out of its shell. It's a lovely, fresh, briny taste and one limpet is just the right size to swallow whole. (It's alive when you eat it, but it doesn't wriggle.)

Jenny Islander | 9 May, 2012 - 09:11

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Yes...what political statement? If you cannot clarify what you're trying to say, then don't say it. Immature comments should go to youtube, not here.

John | 10 May, 2012 - 15:27

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

I think culture has a lot to do with this kind of thing. I have tried sashimi and didn't care for the texture, except for tuna which doesn't have that bouncy uncooked feel to it. I don't think I could get a raw egg in my mouth. Most of my cook-all-meat-to-death philosophy comes from lots of biology classes that talked about parasitic roundworms though.

MTangel | 11 May, 2012 - 19:50

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Hi,

I am from Japan originally, so I am asked about raw fish, sashimi, sushi all the time. It was somewhat difficult to explain it to them, especially with my poor English. It is actually refreshing to read article from this side...

milk13553 | 16 May, 2012 - 16:51

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

I liked your post. Food for thought. It's interesting how different cultures classify what is eligible as a food. I would like to try some raw horsemeat, but unlikely here in New Zealand unless you are a cat(it gets used as petfood or exported to Belgium). I tried some dogmeat in Hanoi - it reminded me of turkey. We are lucky that it's relatively easy to catch your own fish here if you really want fresh fish :-)

Bruce | 8 June, 2012 - 08:44

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Well, about raw eggs in the US...

Thing is, somehow (and we aren't sure how it happened) some chickens got the dreaded Salmonella virus stuck in their actual reproductive systems. This meant that some-- a very few-- eggs have a trace of the Salmonella virus. Now, it's estimate at a 1 in 30,000 chance-- and if you are healthy, probably far from enough to overwhelm your immune system-- but the risk exists. Especially from mass-production farms, where for the most part proper handling of eggs is followed-- but there's always a slacker. Most of the problems has been in the commercial food area-- that is, restaurants, who buy a LOT of eggs.

The USDA and similar bodies suggest safe egg temperatures, but there is an alternative... the Pasteurised Egg. Costs a bit more, but is totally safe, and almost no difference in flavor, so if you're going for a classic Ceasar Salad or raw egg for your Sukiyaki, and have even the slightest but of worry, that's the way to go.

Kenko | 1 July, 2012 - 07:47

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Hello Maki ,
Do you like Chinese food?
I think Chinese food is best to eat Asian food.

anon. | 20 August, 2012 - 16:32

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

I love Chinese food, but I hate spammers.

maki | 23 August, 2012 - 22:11

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

As a Frenchy I ADORE Japanese food, especially how the texture of the food plays such an important role in the food experience (a bit like in France, really). When in Japan, I am just willing to eat and try anything (including raw chicken or eggs) but I would not trust the freshness of food in countries where the food production is just a massive industry and where respect of food has been lost in the process...
Love your blog by the way!

Emma | 3 September, 2012 - 12:04

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

I am loving the sound of this. Also, thanks for the reminder to make rosemary-infused olive oil. I need to be picking herbs and doing that sort of thing!

Bathroom Vanities

messy thomas | 30 November, 2012 - 14:05

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

Thank you for you have entered the joy and happiness to my heart
I wish you success and lasting success
And I hope that we will remain always sustained through this wonderful Blog

asae | 3 December, 2012 - 11:25

Re: Sashimi, raw eggs and more in The Japan Times, plus ...

My Mom used to avoid raw things completely and complained that she didn't like the taste, the texture or the smell. Somehow she ended up with a piece of raw lobster on her plate when she turned 75 and ate it. Said she never tasted anything so good. She now eats her fair share of sashimi (favourite being lobster, geoduck, hamachi, uni, sweet prawns) and she is 89 this year. Absolutely loves it so my budget for Japanese food has to be increased. But, you are right though, must be sure to eat at reputable venues where you can be confident that they know their raw material and handle it with respect. Love reading your blog, which I only came across recently.

Agnes Cheung | 30 January, 2013 - 05:30

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