EAT SOMETHING RAW!
Eating a raw fish is a concept that is totally revolting for some and terrifying for others, but it doesn’t have to be. It just takes an open mind and a trustworthy source of seafood to get started. Once you have a handle on those prerequisites, you can explore your personal preferences to find something that will work for you. There are many ways to tiptoe into eating raw fish. You don’t have to start by tackling a 4-ounce slab of cold raw mackerel. You could, for instance, start with a nice spicy poke bowl with rice as a textural base and plenty of flavors that are already comfortable for you.
A thin slice of great yellowfin tuna has a clean flavor and almost vanishes in your mouth as you chew it. A cube of nicely marbled salmon has a butteriness unlike any other food item, with the possible exception of butter. I could take or leave cooked salmon, but when raw salmon is at its best, it is a sublime eating experience. The same can be said of a perfect piece of snapper sashimi. The tenderness of a raw vermilion snapper has no comparison to the average flavor and texture of this same fish when cooked.
There are many great things about eating raw fish. For one, the flavors and textures are much more consistent. You don’t have to worry about overcooking it or using too much or too little heat. It is never dry or mealy. There is only one variable; freshness. Using a fresh fish or a properly frozen and thawed fish is all you need to guarantee a great meal. Another great thing about raw fish is how easy it is to prepare. It doesn’t require a ton of skill and the fish is always the star of the show. Just add a few simple ingredients and enjoy. Even with preparations like ceviche which need to sit for several hours, the active prep time is really short. Raw fish is easy to learn, easy to prepare, and consistently reproduceable. There are not many foods that share all of these qualities. Plus, raw fish preparations are an art. There are so many gorgeous ways to display raw fish.
To begin dabbling in eating raw fish, start by understanding what it is that scares you about the adventure. Is it a concern about food safety? Is it texture? Is it flavor? Is it the idea of a raw fish in general? There are remedies for all of these. Here, I’ll address each one:
· Food safety – Of course eating a raw fish has some risk, but more than likely the risk in your head is much exaggerated. Start by developing an understanding of food safety and then follow reasonable precautions. Consider these things that are more likely to make you sick than eating a raw fish (You probably do most of them): Eating raw cooking dough, keeping a sponge on the back of your sink, eating improperly washed spinach, eating a raspberry in a restaurant, putting raw chicken on your cutting board. All of these things are statistically more likely to make you sick than eating a piece of raw fish. Your risk of having any issues from sushi in a restaurant is minuscule. If you make any raw fish at home, follow this rule: Tuna that has never touched any other type of fish or any unclean surface is safe to eat, and every other fish needs to be frozen to -4 F for 7 days.
· Texture – If the feel of a cool raw piece of fish in your mouth makes you uncomfortable, you can still enjoy a nice, fresh, citrusy ceviche. Contrary to what many people believe, the citrus does not cook the fish. It does not make it any safer to eat. You must start with safe fish. What the citrus does do however, is creates a firmer, almost cooked texture. This fish is still raw. The flesh does not caramelize and does not develop any cooked flavor. The citrus takes away the soft squishy texture, and the other components like avocado, onions, tomatoes, or peppers all add their own textural notes. A good ceviche is more like a meaty salsa or guacamole. That shouldn’t scare anyone. So, if texture is your issue, try a ceviche.
· Flavor – If the pure flavor of fish just seems too much for you, there are several ways to layer on other flavors. The ceviche I just mentioned, is a great way to add a wide range of flavors to a raw fish. Another way is to try a poke bowl. These can have flavors of teriyaki, wasabi, spicy mayo, soy, ginger, onions, chilies, sesame, or dozens of others. This wide range of flavors can help you enjoy the fish and get past any discomfort you might have with raw fish flavors. Sushi rolls offer some similar options. Look for a roll that has a lot of interesting flavors to support the fish. Sushi isn’t all just sashimi on plain rice. Rolls are frequently 90% composed of ingredients other than fish.
· If the idea of raw fish in general does not appeal to you, maybe tiptoe in with a cold smoked fish or a cured fish like gravlax salmon. These are still raw and have some of the great properties that come with eating raw fish, but they can seem more like a cooked fish. With rich smoky flavors and soft texture, these fish can be quite delicious. Some have a nice peppery barbeque flavor and some have a deep creamy richness, better and more tender than a top notch beef jerky. Nova Lox is salmon that is cured in salt and then cold smoked to achieve a nice soft, buttery texture. Think of it like a fish cold cut. That shouldn’t be too intimidating.
Try to look past your preconceived notions and approach this with an open mind. I’m confident that anyone can find something to like among the raw fish options. Give it a try this week. As always, I’d love to hear of your successes of failures and I’m happy to help you navigate any roadblocks you run into. Good luck!