All photos by Dan Gentile
Be warned: things are about to get raw.
To further help you navigate the daunting world of sushi (basic etiquette tips here!), we asked 13 of the nation's most reputable sashimi masters to reveal which fish they think to be the most overrated, and which are true diamonds in the rice.
So next time your favorite sushi restaurant is out of fatty tuna, don't worry: there are plenty more fish in the sea.
MATT FOREMAN, HEAD SUSHI CHEF, UCHI (AUSTIN)
"Salmon, without a doubt. It's 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. 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."
Underrated: Saba (mackerel)
"This is 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."
TAICHI KITAMURA, EXECUTIVE CHEF, SUSHI KAPPO TAMURA (SEATTLE)
Overrated: Hamachi (yellowtail)
"It lacks flavor. It's fishy and oily to me. I don't know a single sushi chef that likes hamachi."
"It has a lot of flavor. It's buttery and packed with Omega-3 fatty acids. It's great cooked or as sushi."
EIJI ICHIMURA, HEAD SUSHI CHEF, BRUSHSTROKE (NYC)
Overrated: Shima-Aji (striped jack
"Flavor is pretty neutral, and everyone seems to like the texture of the fish. It's popular at all times of the year."
"50% of the American customers won't eat squid because of the texture, but it's so rich in flavor and
it contains umami, which is just delicious. Because of the firmness of the fish, it's easy to age and takes well to the rice and vinegar."
CHEF TOM NOZAWA, CHEF/CO-HEAD OF OPERATIONS, SUGARFISH (LA)
Overrated: Bluefin otoro (tuna)
“The belly is way too oily on the palate, go for the shoulder, or better yet the shoulder of bigeye.”
Underrated: 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.”
MASA HAMAYA, HEAD SUSHI CHEF, UCHIKO (AUSTIN)
"Some people call this fish 'butter fish', 'super white tuna', or 'walu.' Escolar doesn't have too much flavor, but it contains a good amount of oil."
Underrated: Iwashi (sardine)
"Sushi chefs in the US have been refraining from serving iwashi. 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."
TYSON COLE, EXECUTIVE CHEF, UCHI (AUSTIN)
"The liver is quite tasty, but otherwise the only edible part is the tail, which is all muscle. The meat is in turn very tough, and hard to cook properly."
Underrated: Uni (urchin)
"The most underestimated item on all sushi menus usually causes quite a bit of fear to the diner. They are sweet and luscious, and combine with other ingredients amazingly well."
HIROYUKI NARUKE, EXECUTIVE CHEF, Q SUSHI (LA)
"In terms of most overrated, I am surprised by the popularity of albacore ('bincho') in the United States. 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."
Underrated: Kurage (jellyfish)
"People probably have misconceptions about the taste and texture. 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."
JOHN DALEY, EXECUTIVE CHEF, NEW YORK SUSHI KO (NYC)
Overrated: Otoro (fatty tuna belly)
"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."
Underrated: Aji (horse mackerel)
"It's a very underrated, flavorful fish whose sub-category of mackerel often scares diners away."
CHRIS CLIME, EXECUTIVE CHEF, PASSIONFISH (DC)
Overrated: Yellowfin tuna
"Yellowfin has become one of the most ubiquitous cuts of sushi, but it's really much better for hot preparation like searing or tekkamaki. When it comes to raw fish for sushi, this one is definitely overrated."
Underrated: Hamachi (yellowtail)
"Yellowtail is much better for sashimi, rolls or nigiri. The marbled fat content gives it a versatile flavor profile that lends to a variety of different flavor combinations. It's spicy, salty, and rich!"
WILLIAM SELIN, CHEF, MASU SUSHI & ROBATA-NE (MINNEAPOLIS)
Overrated: Bluefin Tuna
"It's something we shouldn't be eating in the first place. Stop asking for it. Stop being irresponsible."
Underrated: 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."
TAKE ASAZU, CHEF/OWNER, KOME (AUSTIN)
Overrated: Unagi (freshwater eel)
"It's one of the most generic fish you can buy. 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."
Underrated: Saba (mackerel)
"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 & kelp for two hours, and vinegar for 30mins. Preparing this fish requires an aptitude for the art of cooking and patience. The end result is a flavor profile well worth the wait."
BILLY BEACH, CHEF/OWNER, BILLY BEACH SUSHI AND BAR (SEATTLE)
Overrated: Farm-raised toro (fatty tuna)
"It comes with the tuna anyway -- why are people paying so much money for it?"
Underrated: Albacore belly
"People think Albacore is chicken of the sea, but cut the right way, wild albacore belly is incredible. I'll take it over toro anyday."
MARCO MORIERA + MASA SHIMIZU, OWNER + EXECUTIVE CHEF, 15 EAST (NYC)
Overrated: Any fish combinations
"This is not considered sushi by the experts. 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."
"While not a fish, it is in our opinion the most underrated aspect of a sushi meal. 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."
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's national food/drink team who recently purchased a very nice toaster oven and is excited about exploring the world of crispy reheated food. He also enjoys hating mustard. Follow him to pots of gold/Twitter at @Dannosphere.