How to Cut Salmon Sashimi and Nigiri
By Bobby B. | December 16, 2019 | Blog
Unless your a sushi chef, or know someone who is, you’re probably not 100% sure how to cut salmon sashimi or the similar, but slightly different nigiri slices. Not to fear, we at BladeAdvisor have compiled this detailed list of step-by-step instructions to help you with both. In theory, it’s actually quite simple to learn, but takes lots of practice and a sharp sashimi knife, or yanagiba, to perfect the cuts and not waste any of the salmon.
Just in case we have any noobs, let’s define and differentiate sashimi and nigiri real quick…
Sashimi is a Japanese dish made up exclusively of raw fish. It is often accompanied with just soy sauce and sometimes wasabi. Sashimi can be made out of several different types of seafood. Besides salmon, the most common include tuna, shrimp, yellowfin, squid, octopus, and mackerel.
Nigiri is similar to Sashimi and is made of some sort of thinly sliced fish. However, nigiri is served draped over a finger-shaped ball of sushi rice and is a type of sushi in itself. Nigiri commonly consists of the same types of seafood that sashimi does.
Sashimi Vs. Nigiri: What’s the Difference?
There’s not a lot of difference since they are both thinly sliced raw seafood dishes hailing from Japanese culture. However, they do differ slightly. Sashimi is not sliced as thin as nigiri and is also eaten alone or garnished with a sauce (most common: soy or wasabi). On the other hand, nigiri is not eaten alone. It is always accompanied with a ball of sushi rice.
Starting With a Salmon Fillet
Both sashimi and nigiri start with a salmon fillet. If you’re making either in bulk, it’s best to just use an entire fillet of fresh salmon when possible. If you’re unsure how to fillet a salmon, here are some instructions. If you’re not making that much, you can buy smaller chunks of salmon fillets that will cost less. They often come vacuum sealed and already filleted and skinned. Either way works. It just depends on how much you’re trying to make.
What part of the fillet gets used for sashimi and what part for nigiri? See the white line down the center of the fillet? In order to split the fillet long ways, remove this white line. This part of the fish is tougher and does not have the same texture that most enjoy in the rest of the fillet.
Everything on the belly side of the line (thinner, right side) will be sliced into nigiri. The other side of the fillet will be turned into sashimi.
Note: Assuming you’re not feeding an army or have a restaurant, we see others making both sashimi and nigiri out of any part of the fillet. This is not the only way to slice the fillet, but the most effecient use of the salmon if using an entire fillet.
How To Cut Salmon Sashimi
Ok, now that we have the fillet cut into two pieces, use the thicker section (towards the back of the fish) and orient the piece of salmon in such a manner that you can slice it against the grain comfortably. There are a couple of reasons we always cut fish against the grain. First, it helps to hold the fish together so it doesn’t fall apart when we cut it. Second, and equally important, it only leaves short fibers and an almost equal amount in each slice. If we cut the salmon sashimi with the grain, some pieces would be very fibrous and tough, while others would have no fiber and be falling apart. Cutting against the grain allows for the most consistency and it looks pretty too!
Due to the orientation of the grain in this piece, you’ll almost be able to cut the fillet perfectly perpendicular and get it against the grain fro a beautiful presentation. With an ultra-sharp yanagiba, you’ll just need a single slice pulling through from the back end of the knife to the tip in one motion. There are many ways to present sashimi once sliced. Have some fun with it! We like to slice sashimi about 1/4″ thick. It’s not too big of a bite, but enough to get a feel for the texture of the sashimi-grade salmon we bought.
How To Cut Nigiri
Nigiri is cut similarly to sashimi with a few minor differences. First, we like to slice it slightly thinner since we’re adding rice to it. Also, since you’re now cutting on the belly side of the salmon fillet, you’ll need to cut at roughly a 45 degree angle to slice against the grain of the fish.
The first piece will be like cutting the corner off the fillet. Don’t let this piece go to waste, but it won’t fit in with your other nigiri either. Similar to the sashimi, use one single long stroke (pull) of the yanagiba sashimi knife to make the cut. Using a back and forth motion will just tear the salmon up and ruin your presentation. Make sure you have a sharp knife before slicing.
Following the previous cut, do the same thing for the remainder of the fillet creating nice thin, uniform slices the entire way.
Similar to our comments above, you won’t always be making both sashimi and nigiri out of your salmon fillets. If you need to, turn the fish 90 degrees and cut the nigiri the opposite direction in nice thin slices, still against the grain like shown below.
And for the presentation of the nigiri, it’s simple. Dampen your hand and grab some sushi rice. Ball it up into the shape of a football and place the salmon over the top like so. Like all sushi and sashimi dishes, the presentation is everything.
Summary and Video
It’s difficult to show all the cuts and angles in pictures, even when going step-by-step along the way. Here’s a couple of good videos that should help with any questions you still have. As you’ll notice between these videos, not everyone cuts the salmon exactly the same way. You’ll find a way that works for you. There are just a few things to make sure you keep in mind.
1. Always Cut Against the Grain
2. Make Sure and Use a Sharp Sashimi/Sushi Knife (See Our Recommendations)
3. Have Fun With It!