Choosing the Best Fish

Sushi begins from choosing the best fish of the day. A typical day for a sushi chef starts by visiting the local fish market around 4am. Here, begins a fierce competition between professionals with the most trained eyes to get the best fresh catch of the day. Some fishes that can survive in aquariums are brought into the market live, and some are slaughtered by the fisherman on the boats right after they are caught.

(WARNING: Some material may be graphic)

The method of slaughtering the fish is very important. Top quality fishes at the fish market are painlessly knocked out with a quick strike to the head, and then the blood is quickly removed while the heart is still beating. Some experts can quickly pull out the central nerves out of the spine. This is called the ike jime (live slaughter) method and it keeps the quality of the flesh closest to when it was alive. Some fish are brought in alive, and this is called the plain ike (live). The final and most ignored type of caught fish is the no jime (field (as in sea) slaughter). This is done mostly by amateur fisherman, and the fish are caught and basically left alone until they die. This is considered unethical, and these fish are also considered lowest in quality, since the blood is harder to remove, and their texture is lowest in quality because they result in severe muscle damage along with an increase in lactic acid since they jump and wiggle after they are caught.

Sushi chefs are trained to choose the best fish by just looking at them. Every one of them know which one is the best catch of the day, so they are auctioned off by the market. Chefs carefully look for the ike jime fish, the stiffness of the body, scales that are in tact, clear and bulging eyes, and bright red gills just to name a few basic characteristics of a extra fresh fish. It is known that each fish have many hidden areas that can be observed to rate the best quality.

The fish are only auctioned off to licensed members which include sushi chefs, restaurant businesses, supermarkets, and other retail shops, and most of them are not open to the public. Auctions are over by 7 or 8am and then the fish are ready leave with their purchasers.