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I Guess I like Frozen Sushi


bourdain
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One thing that would have enhanced the article would have been a taste test. As much as I admire and respect Shin Tsujimura, his testimony that he can't taste the difference between fresh and frozen tuna just doesn't cut it as the whole evidentiary basis for a New York Times article. The Times should assemble a panel of its food writers and maybe some chefs and really get to the bottom of this. Because the article raises some interesting issues, but it doesn't answer the fundamental question: is it possible to freeze fish in such a way that not even the world's top sushi chefs can tell the difference? If there's no difference in taste or texture, by all means, go ahead and freeze it all. If not, let's hear what the differences are so we can decide -- as with raw milk cheeses -- whether or not we support the regulations.

I can't tell you about sushi in New York - but I used to do a lot of fishing in the Bahamas when I was younger. And we used to gut and clean and freeze what we caught - everything from yellowtail to strawberry grouper to dolphin - even tuna - in blocks of ice - immediately on the boat (of course - our freezer wasn't anywhere near what they were talking about in the article). That fish tasted better than 99% of all "fresh" fish (i.e., 3-5 day old fish) you could find in fish markets in Miami.

As for food safety regulations - for me to get on board in terms of your suggestion that it's up to the consumer - I'd say: 1) eliminate all liability on the part of food sellers - including restaurants (we currently have strict liability in Florida); and 2) provide that people pay any medical bills they incur out of their own pockets (no insurance - no free ER treatment). We recently had a stupid bill passed in Florida regarding the use of helmets while driving motorcycles - and injuries and deaths and hospital costs from the lack of use of helmets are way up (and guess who pays - the taxpayers - and the other people the insurance companies insure). If a person agrees to accept *all* the risks of loss out of his or her own pocket - whatever he or she does is ok by me. Robyn

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Most would be even more surprised to learn that if the sushi has not been frozen, it is illegal to serve it in the United States.

Food and Drug Administration regulations stipulate that fish to be eaten raw — whether as sushi, sashimi, seviche, or tartare — must be frozen first, to kill parasites. "I would desperately hope that all the sushi we eat is frozen," said George Hoskin, a director of the agency's Office of Seafood. Tuna, a deep-sea fish with exceptionally clean flesh, is the only exception to the rule.

I really didn't understand the thing about parasites in the article. I have seen fish with parasites - like worms (you cut a fish open and it's like basically disgusting - all these wormy things crawling around - and forget about it - you just throw it back). I don't care whether these things are frozen are not - they look revolting and I don't want to get anywhere near them.

As for other fish problems - like ciguatera - freezing won't kill the toxin that makes you sick. Nor will cooking.

So I am not sure what health purpose is served by freezing (unless there are people who sell fish that's crawling with worms). Robyn

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They've been eating sushi in Japan since before refrigeration was invented, and the emergency rooms and courthouses of Tokyo have hardly been overrun by hordes of uninsured with sushi-related illnesses and lawsuits. In most of these food-safety cases, we're talking about risks on the order of being struck by lightning. If every risk on that order is regulated in every facet of living, you have totalitarianism. There has to be a balance, and the FDA tends not to strike that balance very well.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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No I'm sure they have a national healthcare system or whatever. I was just trying to point out the absurdity of treating raw fish as a national health risk when one of the healthiest populations on the planet has been eating the stuff for generations. Cross-cultural an international comparisons often make a mockery of food-safety claims, not to mention other types of health claims. Meanwhile, while we're busy obsessing about the hazards of raw fish, we're stuffing ourselves with shit from McDonald's. So are the Japanese, which is why the next generation will probably be just as unhealthy as us.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I really didn't understand the thing about parasites in the article...As for other fish problems - like ciguatera - freezing won't kill the toxin that makes you sick. Nor will cooking.

So I am not sure what health purpose is served by freezing.

One particularly common parasite in fish is roundworm. It is not particularly obvious in a fish when you catch it that it is infected (It must be different than whatever kind of worms the fish you used to catch had). When consumed, it causes anisakiasis (which, believe me, you really don't want to get. Constant severe abdominal pain and vomiting for anywhere from a week to a month). The roundworm parasite is very common in many of the most popular fish we consume, especially salmon. It must be frozen properly before consumption to be safe to eat (at least -20 for 7 days or -35C for 15 hours). Freezing fish immediately after catching also eliminates the danger of Scombroid Toxin, which you also don't want.

I was thrilled to see that article! I deal with all these ridiculous fresh fish evangelists at the time who run around saying idiotic things like "I don't even understand how they can have sushi on the East Coast. By the time they could fly it there, it's not fresh enough to eat." When I try to explain to them that their fish is required by law to be frozen, they become hysterical. I've actually gotten into some seriously loud public arguments about this.

The article also says that tuna is the only exception to the freezing rule. I'd have to check with the FDA, but it was my understanding that mollusks, crustaceans, and some farmed fish were also permitted. You can't tell me it's illegal to serve oysters that have never been frozen

Shellfish are categorized differently. Roundworm is not a danger in eating shellfish. Your only concern with them is if they were not stored properly or if they have eaten certain types of algae (so they need to be harvested from waters known not to contain those algae).

When fish is frozen properly, you will not be able to tell the difference between fresh and frozen. The frozen fish that ends up tasting terrible is, ironically, the fish that has not been frozen cold enough. That will adversely affect both the taste and especially the texture. If anyone wants to conduct a taste test, you'll need to catch the fish yourself, because there really isn't any way to ensure that fish you're buying has not been frozen. Almost all of it has.

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I don't want to conduct a taste test. I want the New York Times to conduct a taste test, spending all the money and time necessary to do so, so that I can read the results for free on the Internet. So sure, let them go catch two fish and freeze one of them.

If enough credible, controlled taste tests proved that freezing doesn't damage the flavor or texture of fish, I'd be entirely willing to accept it as gospel. But at this point all we have are assertions, and they go against most everybody's personal experience as well as what the best chefs routinely say. Granted perhaps most of us haven't had fish that was frozen the right way and have mistaken plenty of frozen for fresh, and granted some of the chef talk may be propaganda, but I think the burden of proof is squarely on those who want to freeze fish into a block of ice.

One thing I can say is that I've heard this same set of arguments from those who advocate freezing beef. And in that regard, I have been told by ranchers, processors, scientists, and chefs that you can't tell the difference between fresh and frozen beef so long as the beef has been frozen properly using super-expensive equipment at a billion degrees below zero or whatever. And I have been told that, moreover, the frozen is actually better than the fresh. And I have done a tasting under the best possible circumstances, using super-premium product from a single farm, which some Canadian beef-industry guys set up for me in '02. And guess what? All those claims are total bullshit. Any idiot can taste the difference between fresh and frozen beef and the fresh tastes much better.

I'm also extremely curious about the cultural side of all this. The consumption of raw oysters is deeply embedded in American culture. We know that there will be a certain number of deaths per million people who eat oysters (something like .2 per million -- http://www.cdc.gov/epo/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00020736.htm ), and a not-totally-insignificant number of illnesses. Yet the consumption of raw oysters remains legal. Meanwhile, when it comes to something foreign like sushi, our regulators are running roughshod over it. And why not? There's no significant Japanese population to rise up in protest, and there's plenty of anti-Japanese sentiment to go around. I can't seem to find the numbers per million for deaths and illnesses from eating raw never-frozen fin fish, but if those numbers are lower than for oysters . . . well, the conclusion wouldn't be appealing.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have witnessed charter fishermen in Miami (at a very well known municipal marina) filleting Amberjack to find that they were completely infested with some very visible type of white worms. They scraped the worms off of the surface of the flesh with the backside of their filet knife and continued to sell the filets dockside as Amberjack, also calling it Almaco to Spanish speaking visitors to the docks.

They said this type of worm is very common is older species of reef fish. They acted as if they would be happy to eat the fish themselves – I’d like to see that. Keep in mind that these guys aren't commercially licensed fisherman and they sell the half of the boat's take for extra money. Pretty disturbing.

South Florida

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Roundworms appear commonly in redfish all along the Gulf Coast (mainly in bull reds-the very large 24 inch plus size). Usually you will only find a few as opposed to an infestation. Most people scrape them away and go on with their business.

And I promise that the difference between fresh and frozen in the kinds of fish that I like is pronounced. I live somewhere that gives me the ability to occasionally eat fresh tuna (on the back of a boat, with the fish still lying on the deck if I really wanted to-we did it once but I felt a lttle strange standing over a bloody yellow fin eating toro with my hands, but it was good :blink: ). We also eat all kinds of other fish that are just out of the water (I caught them or someone I know did, so the provenece is certain) and there is a difference. The frozen fish isn't bad by any stretch, but, especially in flaky white fish like redfish, snapper, and speckled trout (spotted sea bass for some of you) there is a serious difference in the texture of the fish. It is tougher on the tooth to some degree and has a litle less flavor than the fresh. If we are having a party we will, many times, have some fresh caught fish that someone has brought with them and some more fish out of my freezer or someone else's in order to supplement the menu and have enough for the party. Guess what goes first-everytime? The differences may be subtle, and with tuna, which is kind of a different animal in flavor and texture than many kinds of flaky white fish, they may be almost undetectable. But to say that there is no difference at all or that it is "better" than frozen is, IMHO, bullshit.

Now I should qualify this by saying that I do not have a Ronco Nuclear Fish Freezer. Perhaps if fish goes into a freezer that can basically instantly freeze and keep the stuff far below sub zero it might be o.k. (obviously it is-apparently I have been eating it for a long time in sushi bars and I love the stuff-so it is certainly not a bad thing to do) but I still say that fresh is better (at least in my mind).

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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As much as I admire and respect Shin Tsujimura, his testimony that he can't taste the difference between fresh and frozen tuna just doesn't cut it as the whole evidentiary basis for a New York Times article.

When I read this I suspected Tsujimura-san was making a political correct response in defense of the whole sushi freeze/fresh arena. A non-commital, keep- the-apple-cart-stable-and-no-one-will-get-offended, type statement. In other words, he's lying. Bring on the NYT Panel! Maguro Battle! Haaiii-YAH! :laugh:

"I took the habit of asking Pierre to bring me whatever looks good today and he would bring out the most wonderful things," - bleudauvergne

foodblogs: Dining Downeast I - Dining Downeast II

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As much as I admire and respect Shin Tsujimura, his testimony that he can't taste the difference between fresh and frozen tuna just doesn't cut it as the whole evidentiary basis for a New York Times article.

When I read this I suspected Tsujimura-san was making a political correct response in defense of the whole sushi freeze/fresh arena. A non-commital, keep- the-apple-cart-stable-and-no-one-will-get-offended, type statement. In other words, he's lying. Bring on the NYT Panel! Maguro Battle! Haaiii-YAH! :laugh:

I believe that the Japanese term for the type of behavior you are describing is "wa".

Roughly translated (where is Torakris when you need her-probably asleep) it is a word that covers the idea of working towards the good of the whole and not worrying about success as an individual.

There is a great book concerning the concept of wa-You Gotta Have Wa-by Robert Whiting. The book uses baseball as a metaphor for Japanese society. It's a very informative book and entertaining as well.

You may well be onto something.

We can call it TUNAGATE :raz::laugh:

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Granted perhaps most of us haven't had fish that was frozen the right way

But the point is that you have had fish that was frozen "the right way." Everyone has. We've all eaten it at pricey sushi restaurants and thought it was fresh. It's all frozen.

Perhaps if fish goes into a freezer that can basically instantly freeze and keep the stuff far below sub zero it might be o.k.

Yes, there is a big difference between my home freezer and the freezer needed to store fish. Anything that is not at least -20C (and my freezer at home isn't even close) is not cold enough to kill the parasites found in fish. And the closer to non-freezing temperatures that you keep your fish, the more you will be able to tell the difference in the inferior taste and especially texture of the fish.

I would never buy fish to eat at home that is frozen and keep it in my freezer. There is an enormous difference between the two types of freezing.

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One thing that would have enhanced the article would have been a taste test. As much as I admire and respect Shin Tsujimura, his testimony that he can't taste the difference between fresh and frozen tuna just doesn't cut it as the whole evidentiary basis for a New York Times article. The Times should assemble a panel of its food writers and maybe some chefs and really get to the bottom of this. Because the article raises some interesting issues, but it doesn't answer the fundamental question: is it possible to freeze fish in such a way that not even the world's top sushi chefs can tell the difference?

This sounds like something Jeffrey Steingarten could organize. He's performed methodical tastings comparing sea salts and bottled waters, why not sashimi? Judging from his adventure hunting the freshest possible tuna (chronicled in his article "Toro! Toro! Toro!"), it's something he's already interested in.

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No I'm sure they have a national healthcare system or whatever. I was just trying to point out the absurdity of treating raw fish as a national health risk when one of the healthiest populations on the planet has been eating the stuff for generations. Cross-cultural an international comparisons often make a mockery of food-safety claims, not to mention other types of health claims. Meanwhile, while we're busy obsessing about the hazards of raw fish, we're stuffing ourselves with shit from McDonald's. So are the Japanese, which is why the next generation will probably be just as unhealthy as us.

I don't think we'll ever know how many Japanese people get sick from food. They're not into lawsuits and the publicity surrounding them the way Americans are. I think they're still litigating the mercury poisoning cases (from contaminated fish) some 50 years after the fact.

Remember this is a country where - until very recently - it was considered totally appropriate for a doctor not to tell a patient that he/she had cancer.

You're just dealing with a totally different culture. So valid comparisons are hard to come by.

By the way - I don't think you can generalize about the risks of eating particular kinds of foods processed or not processed in particular ways. Some risks are - I'm sure - very slight. Others are more substantial. And the amount of risk has to be combined with what risk are you talking about - a tummy ache - hepatitis - a severe neurological problem - or perhaps death? I'm more willing to risk a tummy ache than hepatitis or death. Which is why I won't eat oysters from beds contaminated with sewage. Robyn

Edited by robyn (log)
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I was thrilled to see that article! I deal with all these ridiculous fresh fish evangelists at the time who run around saying idiotic things like "I don't even understand how they can have sushi on the East Coast...

I live in the southeast - but most of the best sushi I've had was on the west coast. And most of it was imported from Japan (and who knows where it was caught - maybe northeast Canada?). I'm sure that if it hadn't been frozen - it would have gone bad by the time I ate it. Robyn

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I'd like to add that in the case of Tuna there are so many other factors that determine the quality of the fish, not only whether its frozen or not....when the japanese buyers evaluate a tunafish they take many of the following factors into account in determining the price/ quality of tuna. For example was the fish a high fat content fish, this can vary from fish to fish within a school. Was the fish caught on hook and line, or netted, or electrocuted. Hook and line is the best if the fight time is short, netting being the worst because the fish bang into each other and bruise their flesh (typical with with those asshole yellowfin pair trawlers), was the fish bled properly and immediately after the catch then collared (head and guts removed) and put saltwater slush....the variables are endless... to properly freeze a tuna for home use it must be vacuum packed and frozen as soon as possible to ensure quality, fish prepared in this manner is quite good and will easily deceive most folks.... that being said yellowfin you caught today, grilled a steak over a hot fire tonight is is one of the most magnificent meals you can't buy.

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If enough credible, controlled taste tests proved that freezing doesn't damage the flavor or texture of fish, I'd be entirely willing to accept it as gospel. But at this point all we have are assertions, and they go against most everybody's personal experience...

...I'm also extremely curious about the cultural side of all this. The consumption of raw oysters is deeply embedded in American culture. We know that there will be a certain number of deaths per million people who eat oysters (something like .2 per million -- http://www.cdc.gov/epo/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00020736.htm ), and a not-totally-insignificant number of illnesses. Yet the consumption of raw oysters remains legal. Meanwhile, when it comes to something foreign like sushi, our regulators are running roughshod over it. And why not? There's no significant Japanese population to rise up in protest, and there's plenty of anti-Japanese sentiment to go around. I can't seem to find the numbers per million for deaths and illnesses from eating raw never-frozen fin fish, but if those numbers are lower than for oysters . . . well, the conclusion wouldn't be appealing.

I don't think such a test would ever be possible under controlled conditions one could likely reproduce. The best fish I've ever eaten was fish I caught - put on ice on the ride home - and cooked at the docks a few hours later. The worst fish I ever had was "fresh" also - from the store - probably 5 days after someone else caught it. And almost everything else was in the middle - frozen - sometimes expertly - sometimes not. So what kind of fresh fish are you going to test? The yellowtail that's 5 days old by the time it gets to New York?

By the way - the oyster beds in various areas of Florida are shut down by the regulators on a fairly regular basis as a result of fecal contamination (caused by various things like a lot of rain), red tide, etc. You can't harvest them and freeze them and sell them - you're not supposed to take them at all. (Nevertheless - these closures are routinely ignored by a lot of the good ole boys who make a living from oysters. Which is why I wouldn't eat a raw Florida oyster if my life depended on it.)

Also - every food store and restaurant in Florida that sells raw oysters has a written warning about their consumption at the fish counter - or on the menu.

So what kind of cultural bias are you talking about - particularly since almost zero percent of the sushi that's consumed in the US comes from Japan (don't reckon that the fake crab legs found in most local sushi places is imported from Japan)? Robyn

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I have witnessed charter fishermen in Miami (at a very well known municipal marina) filleting Amberjack to find that they were completely infested with some very visible type of white worms.  They scraped the worms off of the surface of the flesh with the backside of their filet knife and continued to sell the filets dockside as Amberjack, also calling it Almaco to Spanish speaking visitors to the docks. 

They said this type of worm is very common is older species of reef fish.  They acted as if they would be happy to eat the fish themselves – I’d like to see that.  Keep in mind that these guys aren't commercially licensed fisherman and they sell the half of the boat's take for extra money.  Pretty disturbing.

Also note that you get ciguatera (a very unpleasant neurotoxic disease) almost exclusively from large reef fish like amberjack (and other fish like large grouper, barracuda, etc.). Amberjack is a fun fish to catch - but I wouldn't eat it. When I do eat reef fish like snapper or grouper - I want to see the whole fish before I buy it or eat it - to make sure I'm getting a small fish - not a big one. Robyn

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particularly since almost zero percent of the sushi that's consumed in the US comes from Japan

that's interesting. is it a fact?

I was basing my statement on my personal observations of most of the common sushi I see. But I did a little digging. The US imports only about 3 million pounds of all fish (including stuff like fish sticks) from Japan (Japan is a net importer of fish - not exporter - the Japanese eat a lot more fish than most people).

We have about 300 million people in the US. So that's about 1/100 of a pound of fish per US person from Japan a year. Even if the average person in the US only eats a pound of sushi a year (and I suspect it's more - you can't find a supermarket anywhere that doesn't sell it - and every hick town has a couple of sushi restaurants) - and even if all the Japanese imported product is used for sushi (I doubt it is - I never saw fish sticks sushi) you're talking about a negligible amount.

I suspect most of the sushi we eat comes from farm raised fish from other areas of the world. Robyn

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I don't think there's such a thing as farm-raised tuna. But presumably almost all salmon used for sushi is farm-raised, with the exception of super-premium stuff served at the very top level of sushi restaurant. What would be the other most popular species used in sushi? Yellowtail? I don't think you can farm that. Uni is always wild, right? Shrimp would be mostly farmed (and cooked). Squid wild. Etc. The fake crab stuff comes from ocean-caught things, I think -- though that's not raw. Eel is also always cooked. For the purposes of this discussion, I think we're talking about raw fish only.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Back when I dove for Sea Urchins

Darn; that's a job that I probably will never have. I think johnnyd wins hands down for having had the most interesting job of anyone who has ever posted on egullet!

He's my new hero :wub: Deatils. We want details. Start a thread :smile:

True Heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic.

It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost,

but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. -Arthur Ashe

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I suspect most of the sushi we eat comes from farm raised fish from other areas of the world.  Robyn

probably not the sushi i eat. but you might be right about those hicks.

Actually I made a mistake with the calculator - looking at monthly amounts for January 2004 rather than the total for 2003. It's 19 million kilos from Japan for all of 2003 - compared - for example - with 152 million kilos from Chile. Anyway - here's the "fish calculator". You can play with it yourself and see where we get all our fish from (how much - what kinds - and from what countries). The quantity from Japan doesn't amount to much in the scheme of things. Robyn

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