Do you remember the first time you ate raw fish? Do you eat it regularly? Are you afraid to prepare it yourself?
The first time I remember eating raw fish was during my 20’s when Hamish prepared Kingfish sashimi on the south coast of NSW. It involved thin slices of white flesh arranged neatly with just a little wasabi and soy sauce. I also remember that I didn’t particularly enjoy the firm chewy texture. 10 years later (now in my 30’s) and living in Hawaii I am eating raw fish in one form or another around 2-3 times a week. Raw fish is everywhere here and I’ve grown to love it. You can get it from restaurants, from supermarkets, you can even get it from 7-11 petrol stations when you duck in to grab one of those tempting petrol station snacks. Sushi rolls, nigiri, poke or tuna salad, raw fish is a central part of the food culture. It is also a great thing to do yourself with a fish you’ve caught and often a lot easier than worrying about cooking fish.
I remind myself that I was born in Australia and it was less than a generation ago that we were doing things to tuna (the king of raw fish sashimi) that defy belief in today’s modern world. For example during the 1970’s the tuna industry in NSW hit its peak with 6100 tonnes of southern bluefin tuna taken out of the ocean annually. 6100 TONNES. IN ONE YEAR. To give you some idea of what 6100 tonnes might have looked like on the water, Dr Bryan Pratt, a well known fishing identity, tackle-store owner, ecologist and journalist described the tuna schools in those days on radio. Essentially there was a black ribbon of fish swimming offshore, roughly past the town of Bermagui that lasted for a week. Millions of tuna swimming shoulder to shoulder on their way north to warmer waters, so closely packed together that the water looked black. What did we do with these fish before the fishery inevitably collapsed due to over fishing by 1983? The boats would unload their catch into big open-air trucks which drove up the road to the cannery at Eden where they were turned into cat food… For a couple of bucks a tin it is obviously a tiny fraction of the price these fish would fetch for sashimi grade meat or what tourists would pay to catch one with a rod and reel…
I’m not criticizing the people involved, I’m sure they were extremely hard working men and women and the cannery in Eden was open for 54 years and employed nearly 200 people. These people were creative and credited for starting the flavoured tuna tins during the 1990’s when demand for tinned tuna for human consumption was still lagging in Australia. I’m just highlighting, in a roundabout kind of way, that until very recently Australians didn’t consider Tuna a desirable eating fish and collectively we certainly didn’t go around eating raw fish. And this was still the dominant culture as I grew up during the 80’s and 90’s.
So, there are lots of reasons why recreational anglers might like to embrace raw fish. One, it’s really easy to prepare as it (obviously) requires no cooking and no stress about over or under cooking the flesh. Two, species which are not considered “good eating” when cooked in classic western styles (such as Tuna, Aussie salmon and trevally) make excellent sashimi. Three, it’s super healthy as you don’t need to smother the fillets in a beer batter, deep fry in oil, or douse in creamy tartare sauce – although all 3 are genuinely delicious options when done at the same time! But for those who are still a little unsure about the texture, taste or appearance of raw fish, as I was, here are 3 recipe ideas in order from ‘least fishy’ to ‘most fishy’ that you might like to give a go:
Pronounced poh-ke, this Hawaiian dish combines small pieces of raw fish, with any combination of seaweed, green onions, furikake, mayonnaise, sriracha chili sauce, sesame oil and soy sauce. It is a winner eaten by itself as a snack or combined with rice as part of a meal. The creamy mouth feel, the little bit of zing from the chili and the super soft fish makes this a popular dish with tradies, small kids, businessmen and grandparents. The easiest recipe would be something like this:
1 x 1-2kg cubed fish (eg trevally or striped tuna)
1T soy sauce
1T sesame oil
2T Japanese mayonnaise
1T sriracha chilli sauce
1/4t Wasabi (optional)
Some chives, spring onions or shallots (finely diced)
Mix all the ingredients well.
2. Sushi rolls
Nestled into the seaweed paper, rice, cucumber, avocado, celery or carrot is your carefully prepared raw fish. With a dash of soy sauce, a little wasabi and perhaps a thin slice of pickled ginger, this is an easy way to enjoy raw fish without necessarily feeling like you’re eating raw fish. It’s not actually that hard to make sushi rolls yourself with a rolling mat and a little practice.
Now we are reaching expert level. A thin piece of raw fish draped over a small block of sushi rice might not be everyone’s idea of fine cuisine, but fresh nigiri with a little wasabi, soy and ginger should be an absolute delight. Fresh and super soft, the fish should virtually melt in your mouth. I was fortunate enough to try otoro* nigiri recently and it was all of these things and more, and worth every cent!
*Otoro is the highly desired belly meat of tuna and rich in fat.
Case study: Uku – Blue Green Snapper
While trying to jig up one of Hawaii’s resident GTs recently the jig was thumped by this feisty Uku (blue green snapper). We quickly dispatched it, bled it and put it straight on ice. Later that afternoon I took the two fillets off, cut it into small pieces and added the ingredients for poke. The whole procedure was done and dusted in 30 minutes and waiting in the fridge for a pot luck dinner with around 40 guests later that evening. No stress – no worries. I didn’t have to worry about when to cook the fish, about over or under cooking it, I simply mixed all the ingredients together and cracked open a beer – now that’s cooking!
In summary raw fish isn’t as scary as I had assumed. Sure you need to be aware of the risks, practice good knife hygiene and keep your catch cold, but because it is so normal to prepare and eat raw fish here people are incredibly relaxed about it. But if you do feel like you’d like to know more about caring for your catch, Hamish has written one of our most popular posts here. I had thought raw fish had to be consumed within a day or two or risk putting those nearest and dearest to you in a prolonged race to the bathroom. But quite a few people have said that the fish is actually better eating after a few days in the fridge as it tends to soften. The local ‘she’ll be right’ attitude has certainly given me the confidence to play with raw fish more often to a point where it is now my default option for preparing fish. I can only encourage you to give it a go, particularly for those fish that may not have been considered ‘good eating’ in the past.