Sashimi vs. Sushi
This is a response to a question from Barry Strugatz, posted on the Los Angeles board (in the thread titled "A Good Sushi Place).
Barry asked, "When and how do you order sashimi as opposed to sushi?"
The choice between sushi and sashimi is mostly a matter of individual preference. Sometimes I want to eat my fish with "sushi," which is the word for the vinegared rice with which the fish is served. Sometimes I want to savor just the fish alone, without the rice, and order sashimi. Almost all the fish that is served as sashimi can also be served as sushi. Exceptions might be things like ankimo (monkfish liver) that, because of its soft, delicate texture, might not hold up well atop nigiri sushi, the oblong balls of sushi with the fish placed on top, although I suppose you could serve ankimo as part of a hand roll (temaki), boat wrap (funamori) or cut roll (norimake). Whenever Ive ordered ankimo, however, the chef has always prepared it as sashimi. For most other fish, say, hamachi, hirame, or maguro, the chef will usually ask you "sushi or sashimi," indicating his willingness to serve it either way.
Most good sushi chefs will let you know if they think youve asked for an unwise presentation or combination. If, for example, you order something as sushi that the chef thinks should only be served as sashimi, he will probably give you a quizzical look, and than ask, "sashimi?" Take the hint, and nod "yes" to his suggestion. Likewise, if you try to compose your own sushi, and ask for certain ingredients that the sushi chef doesnt think go well together, he will often let you know of his disapproval or refuse to prepare it. This is particularly true for non-traditional ingredients like avocado. Some traditional sushi chefs, for example, will even refuse to prepare the ubiquitous "California roll."
Sushi chefs often have individual preferences that can be discovered when you order "omakase," giving the chef his choice of what to serve you. For example, at Shibucho, which was my favorite sushi restaurant in Los Angeles before its recent sale, the now-retired master sushi chef Shibuya-san usually begin by serving me sashimi, rather than sushi. My guess, although I never asked him this directly, is that he felt that his choicest fish were best appreciated by themselves. Shibuya-san also had a certain order in which he served the sashimi, always beginning with toro (when it was available).
Id suggest trying the same type of seafood both as sushi and as sashimi, and see if you have a preference. As far as my preferences go, I like most things either way, although, to give a few examples, I prefer to have aji (Spanish mackerel) and engawa (the muscle that controls the fin on a halibut) as sushi, and anago (salt-water eel) and seared albacore as sashimi.
In sum, sashimi versus sushi is a mostly matter of personal preference, or even whim of the moment, like most of our selections of what to eat (e.g., sushi vs. pizza, chicken vs. lamb). The more sushi and sashimi you eat, the more knowledgeable you will become about what types of fish you like best as sashimi and what types you like best as sushi. And my guess is that, like me, you will bounce back and forth between the two even for the same type of fish.