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[Austin] Sashimi grade retailer


Kent Wang
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Quality Seafood sells sashimi-grade farmed Atlantic salmon ($7/lb) and Ahi tuna ($16/lb) but the quality varies. Some days, it's about as fresh as what you might find in the sushi boxes at HEB, other times it is quite good but still not on par with what you would expect from a good sushi restaurant. The species variety is restricted to salmon and tuna. You can request hamachi and a few others but the minimum order is 10 lbs. Central Market also sells salmon and tuna, but at significantly higher prices though I have not tried them. I'm skeptical that the quality is any better Quality.

Where else can someone buy good sashimi-grade fish? I know it'll be difficult to match a sushi restaurant as they have special purveyors and the logistics make it difficult for the retail buyer to have access to very fresh fish. Don't get me wrong about Quality Seafood, though. The salmon is always a good buy. If it's not fresh enough for sashimi, you can always make a roll or just cook it. I'd just like to have access to some more variety and superior freshness.

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Find the best sushi restaurants in Austin, make friends with the sushi chefs and owners, and ask them where they get their fish. Kyoto on Congress used to be wonderful.

I have purchased fish from the sushi restaurant or made contact with their supplier and arranged to purchase directly from them - but you may need to 'co-op it' because the quantities can be more than you might be able to handle.

I would also be a bit wary of farmed fish for sushi or sashimi - parasites can be an issue if the fish was not frozen, and farmed salmon, aside from being rich in omega 6 fatty acids, is also rich in polycholorinated biphenyls.

Theabroma

Sharon Peters aka "theabroma"

The lunatics have overtaken the asylum

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Quality Seafood sells sashimi-grade farmed Atlantic salmon ($7/lb) and Ahi tuna ($16/lb) but the quality varies. Some days, it's about as fresh as what you might find in the sushi boxes at HEB, other times it is quite good but still not on par with what you would expect from a good sushi restaurant. ...  Central Market also sells salmon and tuna, but at significantly higher prices though I have not tried them. I'm skeptical that the quality is any better Quality.

...I'd just like to have access to some more variety and superior freshness.

First off, you assume that the fish offered by HEB, Central Market, and the sushi teams that work there is automatically substandard strictly because it's not in a restaurant. I don't care whether you actually think that. I do care that people reading this thread may have the wrong impression because of that statement. So I respond to provide more background for those who have reserved judgement.

Based on conversations with sushi chefs around Austin (most pointedly, Tyson Cole of Uchi) and on the west coast I distrust the consistency and quality of sushi restaurants long before I distrust major chain retailers fighting every day to maintain a "fresh" image in the public eye, with thousands of people every day evaluating their offerings and sharing their unpleasant experiences. One bad health inspector visit, one strongly disappointed customer, one undercover video of employees bleaching old fish (hello, Safeway) and all that effort is lost.

Now, to share some facts. CM and HEB (and most likely Whole Foods, Albertsons, Quality, and Fiesta but I don't know for sure firsthand) purchase fish daily from around the globe. That fish is usually already destined for a particular store by the time it hits the distribution warehouse.* The seafood managers in the store have a goal - sell everything through, every day, to maintain a fresh image for the store. They don't order stuff that doesn't move. So the fish you are getting gets to the counter asap.

The seafood manager orders for the sushi team as well, so their fish is on the same timeline. All the sushi is made fresh daily, none is held over. If you're buying sushi while the team is there, they can tell you what they've just made. They also will do special orders without requiring you to buy 10 lbs of fish.

Have you tried asking the seafood manager to meet a special order? Have you asked the CM guy for a sample? And yes, there's usually a minimum order. To keep prices overall low, they can't afford to toss out 9 lbs of $15/lb fish so that you can buy one. That would be unwise and irresponsible to the customer base.

You could go to Uchi and talk to Tyson about buying fish. But be prepared to pay the price. He orders for his business, not for resale. Or you could go to the docks and try your own luck with the fishermen. Neither is efficient or cost-effective on an individual scale.

Hope that provides more data for the masses to make their own decision.

--LHG

* exception is frozen items, as these are not as perishable.

Edited by LonghornGal (log)
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First off, you assume that the fish offered by HEB, Central Market, and the sushi teams that work there is automatically substandard strictly because it's not in a restaurant.  I don't care whether you actually think that.  I do care that people reading this thread may have the wrong impression because of that statement.  So I respond to provide more background for those who have reserved judgement.

It has been my experience that Quality is slightly fresher than any of the supermarkets. They get shipments straight from the airport while all the supermarkets go through local distribution centers first. I have purchased salmon from Quality several dozen times, when it's good it's about par with any high-end restaurant. When it's not so good, it's well below what you would ever find at a decent sushi establishment. This has been my empirical experience.

Have you tried asking the seafood manager to meet a special order?  Have you asked the CM guy for a sample?  And yes, there's usually a minimum order.  To keep prices overall low, they can't afford to toss out 9 lbs of $15/lb fish so that you can buy one.  That would be unwise and irresponsible to the customer base.

Yes, CM said it could not be done, WF said they were changing distributors at the time and also could not accomodate. I will check again next time I go.

As you and theabroma have suggeseted, the best way would be to befriend the chefs at a restaurant. I live a block away from Musashino, so perhaps I will give it a shot.

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Kent, have you tried ordering direct from someplace like CIty Fish in Pike Place Market in Seattle? If you want someplace closer, maybe try Joe Patti for seafood from the Gulf and have it shipped in directly to you.

That is one way to get fresh seafood if the local markets do not meet your needs. I do this sometimes because the local markets are pretty far from any source up here.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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They get shipments straight from the airport while all the supermarkets go through local distribution centers first. I have purchased salmon from Quality several dozen times, when it's good it's about par with any high-end restaurant. When it's not so good, it's well below what you would ever find at a decent sushi establishment. This has been my empirical experience.

Wow. we'd love to see your empirical data and graphs on these experiences. An opinion is an opinion, you'd best stick to making statements as such, or folks may start forming opinions about you that you might not like.

As for the fish, we're talking a difference of a few hours, max, and possibly not even that between delivery via the airport and through a local distributor. On the days when good fish isn't available, most sushi restaurants don't cut their menu back. What sort of fish are you getting then? Where are the sushi restaurants are getting their fish, if not from the airport or a local distributor? Certainly not Lake Travis! :laugh:

Oh, and CM does get fish (and meat, and produce, and product) direct. HEB has its own fishing fleet in the gulf. Just more data for your emperical evidence.

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Kent,

Central Market's fresh yellowfin tuna comes in as grade #1, which means that the whole fish is flown in within 1 day of hitting the docks and cut on the premises. Meanwhile, the frozen sushi-grade fish is just that: sushi-grade fish. In Texas, and most states, you are not allowed to sell a fish retail as sashimi or sushi-grade unless it is frozen for one week and sealed in air-tight packaging (think FoodSaver-style). When the new Whole Foods opened up on Lamar in March, they were cutting chunks of yellowfin loin off the fish and throwing it in the case and calling it Sushi-grade. They got busted for this within a month (by the way, they are still looking for a seafood manager. I think they are on number three since the store opened up nine months ago).

A restaurant can claim whatever it wants as sushi. They could go and get something out of the Riverwalk, throw it on a bunch of rice, throw some soy sauce on the biznatch and call it a Fiesta Roll. They get to deal with the Health Department from there, but the labeling goes how they want.

Going back to the fresh yellowfin tuna, I've eaten it straight off the fish before as it's been cut, pulled it off the line and eaten it raw, as have many of the customers. The CM folks can't call it sushi, but it essentially is. Grade #1 means there is bacteria in the air, on the knife, on the gloves, etc.

hope this helped.

ak

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Wow.  we'd love to see your empirical data and graphs on these experiences.  An opinion is an opinion, you'd best stick to making statements as such, or folks may start forming opinions about you that you might not like.

empirical - adj., originating in or based on observation or experience

Empirical has nothing to do with graphs or chart. Perhaps that would be implied if I said 'scientific' or 'objective', but of course I did no such thing. Having purchased fish several dozen times, I feel that I can speak rather authoritatively on this subject. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter how quick they are getting their fish -- after all, how do you know, other than what each of the retailers are telling you? -- I just eat it and I can tell whether it's good or not. Here is my final statement on the subject: after purchasing several dozen pounds on several dozen occasions throughout the past nine months, I find retail salmon to be, on the average, inferior to what I have had at restaurants.

I have only had noticeably unfresh salmon at a restaurant a few times, once at Kyoto. It is quite possible that shadier restaurants have less qualms about serving sub-par fish, but I tend to avoid those establishments.

AndrewK, thanks for the information about labelling. I've never seen CM actually label anywhere that their fish is Grade #1. I'm supposing you mean that they will tell you that it's Grade #1 if you ask, but by not putting it down on paper anywhere do you think they would be able to skirt the laws? I will give the CM fish a shot in the future.

Everyone, if I am able to place a special order for sashimi grade fish, would anyone be interested in splitting it with me? I'm mostly interested in hamachi (yellowtail). Quality says minimum order is 10lbs, I think between my friends and I, we can eat 3 lbs. Anyone else interested in the rest? PM me and we'll work out the details.

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empirical -  adj., originating in or based on observation or experience

Empirical has nothing to do with graphs or chart. Perhaps that would be implied if I said 'scientific' or 'objective', but of course I did no such thing. Having purchased fish several dozen times, I feel that I can speak rather authoritatively on this subject. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter how quick they are getting their fish -- after all, how do you know, other than what each of the retailers are telling you? --

Thanks for asking. I know because I am paid to know, and can speak authoritatively from the standpoint of training, connections, education, and experience in the retail and wholesale grocery industry, along with personal consumer experience comparable to yours.

Thanks for the definition link. Did you see definition #2: "relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory."

fwiw, Whole Foods had some sashimi grade fish out today. But I tried the smoked fish instead. Tasty.

And the guy who runs Quality Seafood is a frequent customer of the CM seafood section and well known to the team that works there. He's a guy who knows his stuff, as is the lead at the CM seafood department.

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Thanks for the definition link.  Did you see definition #2: "relying on experience or observation alone often without due regard for system and theory."

Yes, I should have quoted that too. Like I said above, it really doesn't matter to me how a retailer gets their fish; even if they have a device that teleports in fish straight off the boat, if it doesn't taste good then it doesn't matter.

I went to CM South on Saturday. The only salmon they could sell me that was sashimi-grade was some wild Coho. It doesn't taste too fresh, but what was worse is that it was rather mushy. I described my experience in another thread.

Yesterday, I went to CM North and when I asked for sashimi-grade salmon they sold me a 6 oz pre-packed branded farmed Atlantic. I thawed it out and tried a piece of it raw. I had to spit it out. This was really one of the worst pieces of salmon that I have purchased in the last few years, reminds me of the stuff my cheapo dad would by at Sam's Club. Very dull color, zero marbling.

So, LonghornGal, how does one purchase good sashimi-grade salmon from CM? Next time, should I try to buy wild Pacific, make sure that it's not too mushy, freeze it for 72 hours and then thaw? Judging from the advice that you and others have given out in this and the other thread, that seems to be the best course of action. Though I find it disappointing that the staff at both CMs failed to offer this advice.

I did buy a half-pound of yellowtail from CM North that I have frozen. I will thaw it out in the next few days and see how it tastes.

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