These Are the Most Overrated and Underrated Types of Sushi
Here are some very raw opinions from actual chefs and sashimi masters around the country.
The world of sushi can feel pretty limitless. There are sticky strips of eel served over tangy rice, raw squid to chew on, and pink butterflied shrimp—and that's before we even get into the Americanized rolls crammed with mayonnaise and cream cheese. From the fatty cuts of salmon delicately placed over hand-crafted ovals of rice, to lightly sweetened eggs, it seems like sushi has something for everyone.
But not all bites of sushi are created equally. To help you navigate this vast world (with basic etiquette tips here!), we asked 13 reputable sashimi masters to reveal which fish they think to be the most overrated, and which are the ones you have to include in your next order.
So, next time your favorite sushi restaurant is out of fatty tuna, don't worry: There are plenty more fish in the sea. Here's what you should maybe ask for instead.
The most overrated sushi fish
"I am surprised by the popularity of albacore—'bincho'—in the United States," says Hiroyuki Naruke, executive chef, Q Sushi. "It is not abundant in Japanese waters and is not traditionally served there. Albacore lives in warmer currents than tuna, and as a result it has a milder taste and softer texture throughout the whole body. The texture and less nuanced flavor reminds Japanese chefs unfavorably of old tuna."
Bluefin Tuna (Otoro)
“The belly is way too oily on the palate," says Tom Nozawa, chef/co-head of operations at Sugarfish. "Go for the shoulder, or better yet, the shoulder of bigeye.” John Daley, chef/owner, Kintsugi, agrees."Such a fatty cut can lack that great tuna flavor, and often the texture provides little resistance or presence. Otoro certainly has its place, but it's quite overrated." Plus, farm-raised tuna belly can be overpriced, says Billy Beach, chef/owner at Billy Beach Sushi & Bar. "It comes with the tuna anyway—why are people paying so much money for it?"
William Selin, corporate executive chef, Masu Sushi & Robata, believes there are also ethical reasons to avoid bluefin tuna. "It's something we shouldn't be eating in the first place. Stop asking for it. Stop being irresponsible."
"Some people call this fish 'butter fish,' 'super white tuna,' or 'walu,'" says Masamoto Hamaya, executive chef, Dragonfly Izakaya & Fish Market. "Escolar doesn't have too much flavor, but it contains a good amount of oil."
"It lacks flavor," says Taichi Kitamura, executive chef at Sushi Kappo Tamura. "It's fishy and oily to me. I don't know a single sushi chef that likes hamachi."
"The liver is quite tasty, but otherwise the only edible part is the tail, which is all muscle," says Tyson Cole, executive chef and founder of Uchi. "The meat is in turn very tough, and hard to cook properly."
"Salmon is a very non-threatening choice—a go-to for people who really don't know what they want to eat when presented with other options," says Matt Foreman, head sushi chef at Uchi Dallas. "It has become both an obligatory and nonsensical menu item. Honestly, it's just boring. I ate a lot of salmon growing up as kid because that's what my family's assumption of good fish was. It's an early food memory, to be sure, but it's one that I wouldn't mind forgetting."
Unagi (Freshwater Eel)
"It's one of the most generic fish you can buy," says Také Asazu, chef/owner, Komé in Austin. "Most of the time it arrives prepackaged and pre-seasoned, soaked in the sweet and sticky sauce, which masks its real flavor. Rarely does it come whole, and therefore it doesn't take much skill or creativity to prepare it."
"This is not considered sushi by the experts," says Marco Moreira, owner, 15 East at Tocqueville. "This isn't about fish, it's about filling your stomach. But people seem to love when they can have more than one type of fish layered with another."
The best fish for sushi
"People think albacore is chicken of the sea, but cut the right way, wild albacore belly is incredible," says Beach. "I'll take it over toro any day."
Aji (Horse Mackerel)
"It's a very underrated, flavorful fish whose sub-category of mackerel often scares diners away," says Daley
"It has a lot of flavor," says Kitamura. "It's buttery and packed with Omega-3 fatty acids. It's great cooked or as sushi." Foreman, from Uchi Dallas, agrees, calling mackerel "a great fish. A lot of people get turned off by anything that smells 'fishy.' They quickly associate that smell with something that's gone bad, and don't realize that those kinds of flavors and aromas can be delicious. Saba has a great flavor that will stand up to stronger ingredients such as ginger and garlic. Pickled raw for sushi, or grilled and served with some fresh veg, it's a very versatile and tasty fish."
Look for quality mackerel prepared thoughtfully, and you won't be disappointed, says Asazu. "We can't speak for everyone, but our saba is not only flavorful and rich in nutrients, but it is skillfully prepared. We cure it in sugar for 12 hours, salt and kelp for two hours, and vinegar for 30 minutes. Preparing this fish requires an aptitude for the art of cooking and patience. The end result is a flavor profile well worth the wait."
Kampachi (Greater Amberjack)
"It has a nice, firm texture in addition to a little sweet and butter added to the acidity of the rice—you don't get much better than that. It also has a very low mercury content and is high in omega fatty acids," says Masu's Selin.
Fin of Engawa (Halibut)
"Sushi chefs have always loved the fin section of the halibut for its unusual texture and surprisingly rich taste from a lean fish,” says Nozawa.
"Sushi chefs in the U.S. have been refraining from serving iwashi," says Hamaya. "It's a delicacy to eat iwashi raw since it's difficult to have them in a fresh setting. It's all up to the sushi chef whether they can serve a great iwashi or not."
"People probably have misconceptions about the taste and texture," says Naruke. "We serve it cut and in a very small bowl with a sesame-based sauce that provides a very traditional taste. It has a slight crunch and is clean and bright in flavor. It is not gooey or soft like people probably expect. It's been satisfying to have so many customers try it for the first time and remark that it was their favorite dish of the night."
Uni (Sea Urchin)
"The most underestimated item on all sushi menus usually causes quite a bit of fear to the diner," says Uchi's Cole. "They are sweet and luscious, and combine with other ingredients amazingly well."
"While not a fish, it is in our opinion the most underrated aspect of a sushi meal," says Moreira. "People don't understand the complexity of flavor in the egg custard, and at 15 East we make it with Mountain Potato and pureed shrimp. It is a true art form and a necessary part of the sushi meal."