Shiromi: White-Fleshed Fish

Start with Shiromi!

One of the pleasures of dining at the sushi counter is having the chance to ask the chef what sort of shiromi is best that day. Sushi chefs want you to star t your sushi meal with shiromi so that the stronger- tasting akami (red- fleshed) fish doesn’t overpower your palate. The taste of shiromi is lighter and simpler. However, it has a more refined and sophisticated umami flavor characterized by savoriness, a chewy mouth feel and a deep, rich after taste. Here are some popular shiromi:

Red sea bream / Winter to Spring

Called madai in Japanese, red sea bream is a longtime staple of sushi in Japan. In ancient times, when the Japanese wanted to indicate “fish,” they would use a picture of madai. During cherry blossom season, from the end of winter to around April, it is known as sakuradai as it gains more flesh in preparation for giving birth and takes on a beautiful red hue.

Kisu / Summer

Kisu, or sillago, is a kind of shiromi that has a transparent and yellowish brown body. Kisu is used not only as a sushi topping but also for cooking tempura. It is known for having little fat, so its taste is very light and simple. To make the umami stand out, kisu is sometimes served with sea tangle, a brown seaweed.

Hirame / Winter

Hirame’s transparent and fatty flesh is cooked in various ways. We can use all of the fish, including the skin and bones, so hirame, or flounder, is known as a no-waste fish in Japan. Also, its engawa, which is along the base of the fin, is popular as a sushi topping for its muscular fat.

Kawahagi / Summer to Fall

The threadsail filefish’s name in Japanese, kawahagi, means “ripping off the skin.” It’s called that because when we eat it, we need to strip the skin from its head. One of the recommended ways to eat kawahagi is putting liver, chives, and momijioroshi on it with ponzu. (Both momijioroshi and ponzu are kinds of Japanese seasoning.)

Buri / Fall to Winter

Japanese amberjack is also a shusseuo fish. Buri is the name for the adult of a mojako. Mojako changes its name to wakashi, warasa, and then finally becomes buri. It usually takes more than five years to become a buri, which is between 60 centimeters and one meter long. Buri are natural, while the midsize fish raised artificially out of inada and warasa is called hamachi. Hamachi is as tasty as buri because the technical skill of those who raise fish on farms has improved greatly. However buri has more crunchiness than hamachi.

Suzuki / Summer

Japanese sea bass is famous for being a shusseuo fish. Shusseuo is a fish that changes its name according to its age. Suzuki changes its name from seigo to fukko, then to suzuki as it grows. Summer is the best season for eating suzuki. It’s tender and increases its flavor more and more as we chew. From winter to spring, hirasuzuki, blackfin sea bass, is sold in the markets. It’s difficult to distinguish suzuki and hirasuzuki by just looking at them, but hirasuzuki is flatter, more expensive and filled with more umami than ordinary suzuki.

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.