One of the biggest roadblocks to making sushi at home is finding fish! Unfortunately the question of “what fish can I use for sushi at home?” doesn’t have a simple answer, so I’ve tried to break down the key information to help you make an informed decision. Please note, this guide is written assuming you’re in the United States and may not be accurate for readers from other countries.
What is “Sushi Grade”?
The term “Sushi Grade” is often used by retailers to mark fish that is intended to be used for sushi. It’s important to note that this term is not federally regulated in the US, so retailers can technically put this label on anything they want. When you purchase “sushi grade” fish from a store, you are trusting the retailer that the fish is safe to consume raw. These business don’t want to make you sick, so as long as you are going to a reputable retailer purchasing anything labeled “sushi grade” is a great option! To avoid confusion around the term, I use the term “sushi quality” fish rather than “sushi grade” on this site, because there are other options out there which are discussed in this article.
TL;DR: Purchasing “sushi grade” or “sashimi grade” fish is a great option for making sushi at home, but it isn’t the only option!
What risk is there when consuming raw fish?
Consuming raw foods in general carries a higher risk of food-borne illness because the process of cooking food can kill off harmful bacteria. This is not unique to fish, and proper handling, such as making sure the fish doesn’t get too warm prior to use, will limit the risks associated with this. The unique risk that raw fish carries is the potential for parasites – these parasites are harmful to humans when consumed, but are quite rare. The parasites are visible to naked eye (they are about the thickness of a piece of thread) so its a good practice to look closely at the fish you are preparing as you go just in case. The FDA provides guidelines to reduce the risk of parasites in sushi fish, this involves freezing the fish to kill off any parasites that might be there.
Freezing Requirements for Sushi Fish
As stated above, the FDA provides guidelines to reduce the risk of parasites in sushi fish, this involves freezing the fish to kill off any parasites that might be there (but parasites are very rare). Some types of fish are exempt from the freezing requirements because they are known to have a very low risk of parasites, to my knowledge these are: bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna. Fish that has been raised through aquaculture practices that meet certain requirements are also exempt (most farmed salmon falls into this category).
The lower the freezer temperature, the less time the fish needs to spend at that temperature to be considered safe. These are the times and temperatures provided by the FDA (source):
- Freezing and storing at an ambient temperature of -4°F (-20°C) or below for 7 days (total time)
- Freezing at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and storing at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below for 15 hours,
- Freezing at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and storing at an ambient temperature of -4°F (-20°C) or below for 24 hours
Most home freezers only go down to around 0 F, so this isn’t an ideal solution to try at home. Additionally, when fish is frozen in a commercial setting it’s frozen very quickly due to low commercial freezer temps. Fish that is frozen quickly suffers very little quality loss, however fish that is frozen slowly (as it would freeze in a home freezer) suffers more quality loss because it tends to form larger ice crystals which damage the flesh. Because of these two points, I do not recommend trying to freeze fish at home in order to make it safe. Instead, look for fish that is frozen at the super market, or that is labeled as “previously frozen”. You can also ask your butcher if the fish has been previously frozen.
Keep it simple – what should I buy?
If you want to keep it simple I recommend buying either:
- Fish labeled as “sushi grade”, “for sushi”, or “for sashimi” from a reputable grocery store or fish market.
- Fish that is frozen, or has been previously commercially frozen.
When considering what fish to buy, keep in mind that the quality in terms of taste and texture is also an important factor. The question is not just “what fish is safe?” but also “what fish is high quality?”.
When considering the taste and texture quality of the fish, I have had the most success with fish labeled for sushi/sashimi from a Japanese grocery store or fish market. This fish will be more expensive, but you are paying for higher quality. Frozen fish from a regular grocery store will be safe to consume raw, but it likely won’t be as nice of quality compared to fish intended for sushi. Because quality will vary everywhere, I would encourage you to try out whatever options are available to you and compare them if you plan to make sushi at home regularly.
The high quality salmon pictured below was purchased from a Japanese grocery store. This salmon is higher quality than what I have received at many sushi restaurants, and is used throughout the meal in rolls and nigiri. I can consistently find beautiful, high quality fish at the Japanese grocery store near me.
Where to Shop for Sushi Fish
Japanese Grocery Store
The best place to shop for sushi fish and sushi specialty items is a Japanese grocery store. A well-stocked Japanese grocery store will carry a variety of sushi fish sliced into nice little fillets, shellfish, bbq eel, fish eggs like tobiko and masago, and much more. Additionally they will have all of the other pantry items you need like nori, sushi rice, and sauces. There are many Japanese grocery stores in the US, however they are not all over so you may not have one that is convenient for you. Try searching for “Japanese grocery stores near me” on google, or click this link to check! In the Los Angeles area my favorite Japanese grocery stores are Tokyo Central and Mitsuwa Marketplace.
Other Asian Grocery Stores
Most Asian grocery stores, such as Korean or Chinese grocery stores, will carry at least a small selection of sushi fish. They probably won’t be as well stocked as a Japanese market, but they should at least have the basics. Pretty much all major cities in the US have at least a few Asian grocery stores, making this option accessible to many Americans. Try searching for “Asian grocery stores near me” on google, or click this link to check!
Local Fish Markets
Fish markets are a great option, especially if they offer fish that is labeled for sushi! If they don’t offer fish already marked for sushi you can ask the workers if any of it is suitable for sushi. Looking for fish that is frozen or that has been previously frozen is a safe bet.
Regular Local Grocery Store
As stated in the previous section, it’s safe to buy fish from a regular grocery store and use it for sushi as long as it is frozen or has been previously frozen. Keep in mind the taste and texture quality of this fish might not be as high, but as long as you enjoy it this can be a great option! Many people on the r/sushi subreddit speak very highly of the frozen salmon from Wholefoods!
Online Fish Market
If you want high quality fish that is safe to eat raw, but you can’t find it near you, buying online is a great option! Typically, this means that the fish will be shipped frozen, via 1 day or overnight shipping to make sure it’s still frozen when it arrives. The only downside with this option is the high shipping costs, which will vary based on your location and the location of the fish market. Since everything arrives frozen, I would recommend stocking up with an occasional large order (if you can spare the freezer space) to make the most of the shipping.
The online fish market I have used and recommend is Catalina Offshore Products, which is located in San Diego. They have a large selection of sushi fish as well as specialty items like tobiko, uni, and more! You can even use my discount code CRAFTY to get 10% off your order!
This post is part of the Sushi Beginner’s Guide
Click the links below to open up other sections of the Sushi Beginner’s Guide!
Why Make Sushi at Home?
Types of Sushi
Sourcing Fish for Sushi at Home
Sourcing Ingredients for Sushi at Home
Equipment for Sushi at Home
Simple Sushi Rice
How to Slice Fish for Sushi
How to Make Sushi Rolls
How to Top Sushi Rolls
How to Make Nigiri Sushi
Beginner Friendly Sushi Recipes