Shellfish & Sushi

Shellfish is an indispensable part of sushi. About 20 types of clams and abalone are used in the cuisine to add different texture and flavor. Here are some of the most delicious choices.

Hokkigai (Surf clam)

Hokkigai has a unique look: white flesh with a red pointy end. It is thick and chewy. A strong sweetness and umami fill your mouth with every bite. Surf clams can be found only in the waters off Hokkaido. Surf clams with black shells are called kuro hokkigai and considered especially delicious. They are their tastiest in autumn and winter.

Akagai (Red clam)

Akagai has a beautiful, vivid orange color. It is known for giving off the scent of the ocean and having a soft but springy texture. Chefs make shallow slits in the red clams to make them easier to eat.

Torigai (Heart clam)

Torigai has a striking black color on the surface. It is easy to bite through and known for its slight sweetness and moderate texture. The flavor does not change when it is frozen. Usually, heart clams are served boiled, but they are served raw during summer when in season.

Tairagai (Razor Clam)

Razor clams look like scallops but have more fiber and a flakier texture that has a concentrated sweetness. Sushi chefs may lightly roast razor clams, giving them a different flavor from when they are served raw. They are in season in spring.

Hamaguri (Clam)

Hamaguri that is cooked with traditional techniques is called nihama. The best season for these clams is early summer. Large clams in season are carefully cooked to preserve their plump texture and abundant umami. A chef must know how long to cook them and at what temperature to get the perfect nihama. If you find a sushi restaurant that can prepare nihama in early summer, it is probably a very good restaurant.

Awabi (Abalone)

In Japan, abalone has been offered to the gods during holy rituals for more than two millennia. The Japanese consider abalone a sign of good fortune. Raw abalone is firm bordering on tough, so chefs use well-place cuts to make them easier to eat. They pack a strong scent of the ocean, a crunchy texture and an elegant sweetness. Traditional sushi restaurants may prepare the abalone salted and steamed or in what is called niawabi style, where the abalone doesn’t harden when it cools. Abalone is best in summer.

Author profile

Yasushi Kurita was born in Tokyo. He has spent the last 30 years as a writer for print publications and TV. When he was in college, he spent two years in New York. His favorite band is the Atlanta Rhythm Section, making him one of about 15 Japanese people who actually like that band.