What Is Sushi Grade Fish?

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Alice Choi)

Buying fish you’ll be eating raw can be a little nerve-wracking, especially if you’ve never done it before. It’s expensive and you want to make sure it’s safe to consume, so here’s a guide on what to look for and what questions you should be asking.

What is sushi grade fish?

Although stores use the label “sushi grade fish,” there are no official standards for using this label. The only regulation is that parasitic fish, such as salmon, should be frozen to kill any parasites before being consumed raw. The best practice for this is flash freezing on the boat immediately after the fish is caught, which preserves freshness and texture.

The label sushi grade means that it is the highest quality fish the store is offering, and the one they feel confident can be eaten raw. Tuna, for example, is inspected and then graded by the wholesalers. The best ones are assigned Grade 1, which is usually what will be sold as sushi grade.

(Image credit: Kathryn Hill)

How to Buy Sushi Grade Fish

Although something may be labeled sushi grade, here are a couple of things to know and questions to ask before purchasing:

  • Go to the right place. As is always the case with fish, go to a reputable fishmonger or market. Look for one that sells through fish quickly, gets in regular shipments, and has knowledgeable staff.
  • Choose sustainable. Being a responsible consumer helps contribute to healthy oceans, so make sustainable choices. This Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guide is a great reference, and you can also download their smartphone apps to always have up-to-date, regional information when you’re at the store.
  • Ask the right questions. Don’t be afraid to ask the staff where the fish came from, how it was handled, and how long it’s been there. If the fish was processed at the store, ask if the equipment is sanitized to prevent cross-contamination from non-sushi grade fish.
  • Use your senses. “Touch and smell – the fish should only smell like the ocean, and the flesh should not be soft or flaky,” says Skylar Roubison of Monterey Fish Market. Since it’s being served raw, look for vibrant color for the most eye appeal. If you have any doubt of the fish’s quality, take a pass.

Once you get the fish home, use it as soon as possible since it’s highly perishable. Then savor every bite of your sushi grade fish, whether you use it in sushi, sashimi, ceviche, or crudo!