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The word sashimi means "pierced body", i.e. "刺身 = sashimi = 刺し = sashi (pierced, stuck) and 身 = mi (body, meat). This word dates from the Muromachi period, and was possibly coined when the word "切る = kiru (cut), the culinary step, was considered too inauspicious to be used by anyone other than Samurai. This word may derive from the culinary practice of sticking the fish's tail and fin to the slices in identifying the fish being eaten.
Another possibility for the name could come from the traditional method of harvesting. 'Sashimi Grade' fish is caught by individual handline. As soon as the fish is landed, its brain is pierced with a sharp spike; and it is placed in slurried ice. This spiking is called the Ike jime process. The flesh contains minimal lactic acid because it died instantly so it will keep fresh on ice for about ten days, without turning white or otherwise degrading.
The word sashimi has been integrated into the English language and is often used to refer to other uncooked fish preparations. Many non-Japanese use the terms sashimi and sushi interchangeably, but the two dishes are actually distinct and separate. Sushi refers to any dish made with vinegared rice; and, while raw fish is one traditional sushi ingredient, many sushi dishes contain seafood that has been cooked, and others have no seafood at all.
Sashimi often is the first course in a formal Japanese meal, but it can also be the main course, presented with rice and miso soup in separate bowls. Many Japanese people believe that sashimi, traditionally considered the finest dish in Japanese cuisine, should be eaten before other strong flavors affect the palate. Culinarily, sashimi represents the Japanese cultural appreciation of subtlety. The finer sensation can vary from salmon (not traditionally Japanese) to squid and everything in between.
The sliced seafood that composes the main ingredient is typically draped over a garnish. The typical garnish is Asian white radish, daikon, shredded into long thin strands, accompanied by one green perilla leaf per slice. Wasabi paste is sometimes mixed directly into soy sauce as a dipping sauce, which is generally not done when eating sushi, however. Purists denounce the practice of mixing wasabi into soy sauce, saying that this dilutes the sharp hot flavor of wasabi. Another more correct way to flavor soy sauce with wasabi is to place the wasabi mound into the soy sauce dish and then pour it in. This allows the wasabi to infuse the soy sauce more subtly. A reputed motivation for serving wasabi with sashimi (and also gari, pickled ginger), besides its flavor, is killing harmful bacteria and parasites that could be present in raw seafood.
Sashimi is normally served only with a dipping sauce (soy sauce with wasabi paste or such condiments as grated fresh ginger, or ponzu), and such garnishes as shiso and shredded daikon radish. Dimensions vary but are typically about 2.5 cm (1") wide by 4 cm (1.5") long by 0.5 cm (0.2") thick
See also: List of sushi and sashimi ingredients
Some of the most popular main ingredients for sashimi are:
Less common, but not unusual, sashimi ingredients are vegetarian items such as yuba (bean curd skin) and raw red meats, such as beef, known as gyuunotataki, and horse, known as basashi. Chicken "sashimi", known as toriwasa, is considered by some to be a delicacy; the French poulet de Bresse and its American derivative, the blue foot chicken, are favored by many for this purpose, as, besides their taste, they are certified to be free of Salmonella. Chicken sashimi is sometimes slightly braised on the outside.
Sashimi bocho Kitchen knife for Sashimi
Basashi (馬刺し = 馬 ba = horse + 刺し sashi = pierced, stuck), or namasu, is raw horse meat, a traditional dish from Kumamoto, Matsumoto, and Tohoku region. It is often served sashimi-style, and can be found in restaurants in Osaka, Tokyo and other large cities in Japan.
A raw food, sashimi can cause foodborne illness because of bacteria and parasites, such as Anisakis simplex (Pseudoterranova decipiens). In addition, incorrectly prepared Fugu fish may contain tetrodotoxin, a potent neurotoxin with no known antidote.
Traditionally, fish that spend at least part of their lives in brackish or fresh water were considered unsuitable for sashimi because of the possibility of parasites. For example, salmon, an anadromous fish, is not traditionally eaten straight out of the river. A study in Seattle, Washington, showed that all wild salmon had roundworm larvae capable of infecting people, while farm-raised salmon did not have any roundworm larvae.
Freezing is often used to kill parasites. According to European Union regulations, freezing fish at −20°C (−4°F) for 24 hours kills parasites. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends freezing at −35°C (−31°F) for 15 hours, or at −20°C (−4°F) for 7 days.
While Canada does not federally regulate freezing fish, British Columbia and Alberta voluntarily adhere to guidelines similar to the FDA's. Ontario attempted to legislate freezing as part of raw food handling requirements, though this was soon withdrawn due to protests by the industry that the subtle flavours and texture of raw fish would be destroyed by freezing. Instead, Ontario has decided to consider regulations on how raw fish must be handled prior to serving.
Intake of large amount of certain kind of fish may affect health as described in an article, Mercury in fish.
The increased popularity of bluefin tuna for sashimi is reported to have brought this popular species to the verge of extinction. Farming bluefin does not help the situation, because the captive fish are not raised from spawn, but rather from small wild fish that are netted and transported to the farms, mostly in the Mediterranean.