Homemade Chirashi (New Deal Fish Market)

>>  Monday, July 26, 2010

Homemade Chirashi (salmon, yellowtail)
Have you ever purchased fish and eaten it raw at home?

I tried it once - ages ago. I bought a little pack of "sushi-grade" fish from a Japanese supermarket and tried to roll my own maki and shape my own nigiri.

It was such a pain! It took forever to shape each individual nigiri, and my rolls were so ugly. I had trouble making them as tight and beautiful as professional ones. Worst yet, the final product did not taste nearly as good, still cost quite a bit, and took way too much time.

So I didn't touch raw fish at home for ages.

More recently, one of my Japanese friends told me about New Deal Fish Market. Apparently, it's the best place to get fresh seafood, and all her Japanese friends got their fish there. In fact, the fishmongers are so accustomed to the Japanese customers that they'll use the Japanese terms for the fish.  Maguro anyone? Or maybe some hamachi or toro?

So, the other day, when a friend of mine suggested the idea of chirashi (so much less work than rolling individual makis or shaping little nigiris), I was sold. I made a beeline for New Deal with visions of fresh chirashi dancing in my head.

New Deal Fish Market
New Deal Fish Market is a small, third-generation family-owned fish market located in East Cambridge. The owner, Carl Fantasia, left his engineering job to take over the family business, which has been around for over 80 years. Carl is a living encyclopedia jam packed with fish knowledge. He can tell you where the fish is from, when it was caught, and ways to prepare it.

Going to New Deal is like going back in time. Gone are the one-stop mega supermarkets with aisles and aisles of everything you can imagine. Instead, you have your local fishmonger who just sells seafood and related items. It's like the life of a generation past, where on a typical day you might visit the local fish monger, stop by a boulangerie, and pick up meat from the town butcher.
New Deal Fish Market
New Deal Fish Market is unique in that they carry quite a selection of whole fish, which is much less common these days. Better yet, they will clean it for you and pack it on ice so it'll stay cold during transport. People really swear by this place, and many have been known to drive long distances from the burbs just to buy fish here.
New Deal Fish Market

When I asked Carl which fish were suitable for eating raw, he pointed me to the left side of the counter, which had some lovely salmon, tuna, and hamachi (yellowtail). I probed a little more, asking exactly what made them safe for raw consumption.* Was it because they had been previously flash frozen? Or were they just really really fresh?

Carl told me that this salmon was not frozen.  However, he continued by explaining that parasites were not a problem because the salmon was "ocean-farmed," meaning its diet was strictly controlled. As I discuss in more detail here, farm-raised salmon has a much lower incidence of parasites compared to wild-caught salmon. For wild-caught salmon, the FDA recommends freezing the salmon at -4 °F (-20 °C) for 7 days to kill potential parasites.

I typically prefer wild salmon to farm-raised salmon for a whole host of reasons. However, because I was preparing raw salmon at home for the first time, I was happy to reduce the risk of parasites by buying farm-raised salmon.

If you tell him you are making sushi, he will gladly remove the skin for you and even pack it up if you want to use the skin for something else (e.g, frying it up crispy to make salmon skin rolls! Yum!).
Hamachi (yellowtail) salmon sashimi
When I got home, I took out my trusty Shun Santoku knife (my all-time favorite knife at home right now - it is sooo sharp), and begin slicing up the hamachi and the salmon.

I'm no sushi chef (those guys train for years before becoming masters of their art). All I can say is to make sure to cut against the grain, not with the grain. For the salmon piece below, that meant cutting the piece in half first and then slicing the long way.
Salmon yellowtail sashimi
Once you've made the sushi rice, all you need to do is fill a bowl of rice with your favorite toppings. I personally love mixing in some flying fish roe with the rice to add just a bit of color and flavor. I didn't have any this time around, but you can definitely add a few slices of tamagoyaki, cooked shrimp, crab stick, or whatever suits your fancy. It's really up to you.

This is not really recipe, as the amounts are very very flexible, but I've tried writing it in recipe form for those of you who like having something to follow. Have fun with it, be creative, and use this more as a guide than an instruction manual. :)

Homemade Chirashi

A sharp knife
Assortment of fresh raw fish (about 1/2 lb per serving)
Sushi rice (about 1/2 cup uncooked rice per serving)
Wasabi (optional)
Soy Sauce (optional)
Picked Ginger (optional - can be purchased at Japanese specialty stores)
Flying fish roe (optional)
Tamagoyaki (Japanese omelet - optional)
Shiso leaf (optional)

Make sushi rice. Optionally mix the sushi rice with flying fish roe. Fill an Asian rice bowl with the sushi rice and top artfully with your favorite ingredients, finishing off with a small mound of wasabi. Use soy sauce on the side for dipping if necessary.


Epilogue: how was the fish?
The salmon was good - soft, buttery, and reasonably flavorful. For some reason, the hamachi had an ever-so-slightly fishy smell to it. I'm not sure why this was the case. My friend and I did buy the last of the hamachi on a Saturday afternoon, so it's possible that it was just a bit less fresh. People in general still consistently rave about this place, so I'm guessing my experience was not at all representative of the market in general. I did lightly sear the leftover fish the next day and it tasted absolutely fantastic.

I plan on going back to try some other fish that they sell there. I'll keep you posted!

Meanwhile, does anyone else have experience at this place? Or do you have another favorite fish market? Please share!

New Deal Fish Market
622 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA

*As an aside, there is no federal regulation on what constitutes "sushi-grade" fish. It is merely a marketing term, although inspectors will check that food establishments have documentation of parasite destruction (e.g, frozen for a certain length of time) for certain types of fish intended to be consumed raw.

It's still not too late to enter to win a $50 gift certificate to Smith & Wollensky! Just come here and tell me your favorite steak or burger place! Drawing occurs Wednesday night (July 28th, 2010), at midnight!

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