Skip to comments.Sushi's Secret: Why We Get Hooked On Raw Fish
Posted on 05/24/2014 5:10:03 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Raw fish is sizzling hot right now.
Los Angeles has brand new bars devoted to an Italian style of raw fish, called crudo. President Obama kicked off his visit to Asia last month noshing nigiri at Jiro's famous sushi bar. And back in December, The New York Times named Sushi Nakawaza as its top restaurant of the year.
But why do so many of us find utter bliss in eating raw sea creatures but aren't so inclined to chow down on uncooked birds, cows or pigs?
A big part of it is gravity or the effective lack of it in the ocean, says biophysicist Ole Mouritsen, author of Sushi: Food for the Eye, the Body and the Soul.
A feast for the eyes and the mouth. Tuna swim long distances, but their muscles are still soft and tender.i A feast for the eyes and the mouth. Tuna swim long distances, but their muscles are still soft and tender.
Kyodo /Landov "Fish are so soft. You can stick your finger through their muscles," he says. "Try doing that with a chicken or cow. Fish muscle is very different than that in land animals."
Why? Because fish can afford to be lazier than terrestrial animals. Fish essentially float all the time. So their muscles don't work constantly to fight gravity.
"Fish don't have to support their body weight," Mouritsen says, "so their muscle fibers are shorter and less tough than those in land animals." The same goes for the connective tissue holding the muscle fibers together: It's delicate and weak.
The result? Fish has a silky, smooth texture when it's raw, and a flaky, light texture when it's cooked.
By contrast, "Land animals like ourselves are always working to keep themselves upright and keep their shape," Mouritsen says, so our muscle fibers are thicker, tougher and firmer.
The result is a ropy, chewy and less appetizing texture when the meat is raw. Cooking softens the connective tissue in meat and improves its texture (it also makes it juicy and flavorful).
In general, the more a muscle works, the tougher, more sinuous it gets, Mouritsen writes in his book. This idea explains why the belly of the tuna, known as otoro, is exceptionally soft: The belly of the fish is the laziest muscle of them all.
One fish, two fish, white fish, red fish: Muscles that depend on oxygen tend to be red, while those that don't are white. Salmon flesh is orange because of the food the fish eat.i One fish, two fish, white fish, red fish: Muscles that depend on oxygen tend to be red, while those that don't are white. Salmon flesh is orange because of the food the fish eat.
Kake/Flickr.com "In contrast, those muscles that are more active in a tuna, say the ones in its fins and tails, are a bit more chewier than other muscles," he says.
Under a microscope, fish, chicken and other meat muscles look similar, with long, parallel fibers, like ropes, stretched out and tied together.
But when you zoom in a little closer, the fish muscles look like the Kate Moss of the bunch: Their fibers are slimmer, shorter and more delicate than the others.
The muscle properties of fish also explain the rainbow of colors you see at a sushi bar.
"Fish that are constantly on the move say, a tuna have muscles that are always working and burning carbohydrates aerobically," Mouritsen says.
The muscles need oxygen to make energy. And the molecule that carries oxygen to muscle contains iron. Guess what color iron is in the fish? Red.
In contrast, fish that mostly hang out in one place or on the bottom of the ocean say, for instance, flounder have muscles that don't rely on oxygen to create energy. No oxygen means no iron to carry it, which means the muscles tend to be white. (Of course, most fish have a mixture of these two type of muscles and thus can look red, white or pink.)
So what about the pinkish-orange color of salmon? That's a special case, Mouritsen says.
"The coloring is due to what salmon eat: shellfish that are enriched with a pigment that's related to carotene in carrots, called astaxanthin."
This pigment creates the characteristic bluish-gray or green color of raw shrimp and crabs. The molecule turns bright pink or orange when the salmon eats the shellfish or we cook it.
Guess I just don’t have the refined palate necessary to enjoy this stuff.
Out here on the farm, we call this bait...
It’s the Wassabi and soy sauce, I like it on raw beef too.
It’s okay even good but I don’t eat it often and you buy a little bit and it cost a lot.
Oh and let’s not forget the thin sliced ginger to go along with it.That and a cols Asahi lager.
I love sushi, but the mention of Obama cost me my appetite.
Don’t let anyone tell you that Blue Marlin is tender and soft. We tried to eat some marlin on time and there is a tough membrane every 1/2”. There is more than one reason it is a game fish.
I had never tired sushi and didn’t want to but my Daughter and S-I-L bought some at a Publix. I decided to just try it and it wasn’t bad but not good enough that I would order it myself.
I found your post interesting...
Our local Marsh Supermarket has freshly prepared sushi that’s really pretty good.
$6.95 an gets you 12 pieces of California roll or a few other varieties.
I keep telling naysayers that sushi doesn’t necessarily have to have raw fish in it. Veggies, cream cheese, fake crabmeat, etc.
I can do tuna ans salmon, but I draw the line at eel
Like most things, it is an acquired taste. It helps to have some sake on hand.
I think it has something to do with the radiation from the Fukushima reactor. It just adds to the flavor and gives you that warm “glow” inside. Nothing else come close.
Conceptually very simple, with a wide variety of flavors, and servings are innately small which lets you try a lot of different stuff in one trip. Also very good social food.
Eh? Eel is yummy!
Grocery store sushi is an abomination. Part of the idea is that it is prepared and then you eat it just a few minutes later. When it sits around the flavors blur, things toughen up, the rice goes from sticky to gummy. Yuck.
Neanderthal man loved raw animal meat. A main advantage to homo sapiens was a more healthy gut by cooking, and eating more of the other stuff too. I suspect neanderthal would like lots of raw fish...
I always have sake with my sushi/sashimi, but after a few swigs, I definitely would fail to have it on my hand - it would slip off. :-)
Good sushi is very very good. But good sushi is expensive.
Its the essence of fish.
Hooray for Unagi!
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