Although the literal translation means raw fillets of fish eaten alone, some other seafood have come under this umbrella and these include crustaceans, molluscs and shellfish. Most formal Japanese meals include sashimi which, served with sake, is the first course in a sushi bar. For non-seafood fanciers, there are a couple of variations based on raw beef : au natural (niku-no-sashimi) or marinated (niku-no-tataki).

With the exception of tuna (maguro) - arguably Japan's most popular sashimi - which is usually served in neat little oblong blocks, a large part of the spectacle of sashimi is the transparent thinness of the slices of raw fish and their artistic arrangement. The fattier, belly tuna (ranging in fat content from chutoro or moderately fatty cut to otoro, the fattiest, palest pink, most tender cut) is often cut into thin slices which are arranged in the form of a rose. Some other popular sashimi fish, particularly suited to being thinly sliced, are sea bream, sea bass, halibut, carp, jewfish, bonito, mackerel, kingfish, trout and though not usually eaten raw in Japan, a popular sashimi fish in the West is salmon. Add to this a selection of other sea creatures including squid, octopus,  horseneck clam or geoduck and abalone.

There are several basic cutting techniques used for sashimi. Thick-sliced sashimi is suitable for any fish, especially those with soft or fragile flesh. Thin-sliced sashimi works best with firm, pale-fleshed fish. Thread-cut sashimi suits squid and other thin-sliced muscle meats. Cube-cut sashimi suits tuna or thick-filleted, soft-fleshed fish.

Sashimi is traditionally served with wasabi (Japanese green horseradish) and a dipping sauce of soy (with a little of the wasabi mixed in) for dipping tuna or, for white fish, ponzu. Quality and freshness of fish is paramount. Pollution in oceans and rivers necessitates that you be sure about the source of your fish for sashimi. Even freshwater fish from a clean river can be risky as freshwater fish sometimes carry parasites that cannot exist in salt water. This would not normally pose a health risk in Western cuisine as bacteria and parasites are killed by the cooking.

Eating sashimi is most hazardous when the sashimi is fugu (blowfish, globefish, puffer fish).

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