Fish varieties for the best nigiri to serve up an exquisite sushi dining experience

Nigiri sushi (握り寿司) is the most loved form of sushi, for its simplicity to bring out the taste of sashimi ( 刺身 ) selected and prepared by the Chef. Nigiri sushi means “hand-pressed sushi”, and is a slice of fish rested upon a small ball of marinated premium Japanese rice.

Because improvements in the technology in refrigeration over the decade, top Japanese restaurants with top-of-the-line chillers can now provide very premium raw fish to their guests to be served as sashimi and sushi ingredients. In addition to the secretive ageing and fermentation techniques with umami and vinegar that the traditional Japanese master chefs of yesteryears use to preserve the fish that also enhances the taste of the fish to make it even more delicious, the best omakase chefs are able to create a sushi course from the lightest, least oily fish, to the marinated ones, before fishing your meal with the heavier, oiler fish for a most exquisite culinary experience that will delight your senses.

Ahi nigiri – raw Tuna sushi

Ahi Sashimi

Ahi is yellowfin tuna, that is less expensive than the bluefin, but while not comparable in quality to the bluefin, is not that inferior in quality. It is usually deep pink in colour and has a stronger flavor. It is often aged, seared or grilled in preparation. More often served as a sashimi, but it is increasingly common to see it in sushi as the world’s love and demand for raw tuna continue to rise.

Aji nigiri – raw Spanish Horse Mackerel sushi

Aji sushi - Aged Mackerel sushi

Aji is by comparison fairly mild and has a sweeter taste compared to traditional mackerel that have a stronger taste. Aji can be sereved raw, or cured, and is often served with a drip of citrus.

Akagai nigiri – raw Ark Shell sushi

Akagai is also known as Ark Shell or Red Clam. The Chef will usually slam it on his cutting board to tighten its flesh, before butterflying it and serving it on his bed of sushi right. Akagai has a wonderfully sweet and crunchy texture.

Ark Shell (also called red clam) is a truly classic Edomae sushi-dane. Akagai used to be in plentiful supply right in Edo bay, but sadly these days it has become scarce and very pricey. The shellfish is washed in vinegared water, then carefully butterflied and sliced as pictured above. You’ll often see the itamae slam the ark shell on the cutting board to further tighten the flesh. The resulting bite is deliciously sweet and wonderfully toothy. The himo (or mantle) can also be consumed and is delicious as well.

Akamutsu nigiri – raw Rosy Seabass sushi

Akamutsu is a deep sea white fish. Its meat is fatty and oily with a sweet flavoured. It is usually served raw in nigiri or aburied.

Amaebi nigiri – raw Sweet Shrimp sushi

Amaebi means sweet prawn, and the texture is so soft that it will melt in your mouth and fill it with a plumpness and a juicy sweetness. As part of the omakase, the chef will also served you a its head, freshly fried to perfection.

Anago nigiri – salt water eel sushi

Anago is a salt water eel that has a softness and fluffiness to its taste. It is usually served with a brush of the restaurant’s homemade tare sauce.

Aoyagi nigiri – raw clam sushi

Aoyagi sushi - Surf Clam sushi

Aoyagi has been a favorite since the Edo period because of its sweet flavor and crunchy texture.

Awabi nigiri – raw or cooked Abalone sushi

Awabi is a shellfish that is in season in the summer months. As Japanese abalone feeds on kelp, it has a beautifully sweet taste that oozes out when we chew on its bouncy, crunchy texture. As such is it often premium sashimi and sushi that is costly, but it is definitely worth a try. It can be eaten raw, although many restaurants serve it steamed too.

Ayu nigiri – raw Sweet Fish sushi

Ayu is a a freshwater trout that has a delicate flavor and soft texture.

Bincho nigiri – raw Albacore White Tuna sushi

Albacore tuna, has delicate flesh and smooth texture for it lives in warmer parts of the sea. To accentuate the Bincho’s flavor, it may sometimes be aburi-ed (torched), or tatak-ied and then dipped in ice water. It is a seasonal fish often only available from July through September.

Buri nigiri – young Yellowtail sushi

Buri nigiri - young Yellowtail sushi at Miyu

The Japanese amberjack or yellowtail that is native to the northwest Pacific Ocean, from Japan to Hawaii. The young is known as Buri.

Chutoro nigiri – medium fatty raw Tuna sushi

The second most prized part of the maguro tuna behind the o-toro. It has a beautifully rich flavor but yet not too oily.

Ebi nigiri – cooked Sea Prawn sushi

Ebi sushi - Prawn Sushi at Miyu

Usually the large, fleshy and striped kuruma ebi, or the botan-ebi. They are delightful.

Ebodai nigiri – Skipjack (Butterfish) sushi

Butterfish has a high fat content and a smooth, medium texture. Because of its oily texture, it makes for a good aburi sushi.

Engawa nigiri – Flounder’s Fin sushi

This is the frilly edge of the flounder’s fin. The meat is soft and has a chewy and slightly buttery flavor. It is usually served with a dash of salt or citrus.

Geso sushi – Squid tentacles sushi

Geso are the legs of the squid, and are often served decoratively over the sushi rice much a work or art. They have a chewy texture and a delicate texture and is almost always served raw.

Hamachi toro sushi – raw Yellow Tail / Amberjack belly sushi

Japanese amberjack, also known as yellowtail, is beloved for its fat marbling. Hamachi is fatty, almost like tuna but a little bit more buttery. Because of its wider availability and sustainability, its price is much less than the maguro.

Hamaguri nigiri – Hard Shellfish Clam sushi

Hamaguri is usually served boiled or steamed and marinated, and with a dash of the restuarant’s secret sauce.

Hamo nigiri – cooked Pike Conger sushi

Hamo is the very fat and tender pike conger eel. Its flesh is exteremly soft and sweet to the taste, just like anago. It is usually served by chefs broiled, then lightly aburied (torched), with a dash of the restaurant’s sushi dressing sauce.

Hirame nigiri – raw Halibut sushi

Halibut is a lean, light and airy fish, with an exceptionally rich taste.

Hokkigai nigiri – cooked Surf Clam sushi

Hokkigai has a very attractive appearance, with a slightly rippled fin shape and pink colours. It has a mild and elegant flavor and is slightly chewy.

Hoshi Garei nigiri – Starry Flounder sushi

Hoshi Garei is a very exclusive and prized fish. The Starry Flounder is a white fish that has a smooth, fatty flavour and is in season during the summer.

Hotate nigiri – raw Scallop sushi

Hotate is one of the most popular seafood ingredients because of its soft and sweet taste. They are usually sliced across its middle to butterfly it and served with a dash of house sauce or citrus. Its texture is smooth and creamy.

Ika nigiri – raw Squid sushi

Squid or ika has a slimy texture and umami flavor that makes it one of the best toppings for nigiri. With its transparent white meat and chewy texture, it is a favorite for seasoned sushi connoisseurs but may be an acquired taste for others.

Ikura nigiri – Salmon roe sushi

Ikura refers to salmon eggs, which are large and plum. When bitten into, it “pops” in your mouth with a juicy taste. Ikura is often marinated, and is normally served on a gunkan.

Ishidai nigiri – Striped Beakfish sushi

Ishidai has a rich taste with a succulent texture. In winter, the Striped Beakfish gets fat and the oil has a beautiful aroma.

A rare fish, ishidai does not show up very frequently on sushi menus. A small fish that is indigenous to Japanese waters, it is found in shallow water and features distinctive black and white stripes. It has a clean, sweet flavor typical of shiromi and good fat content considering its rather small size.

Iwashi nigiri – raw Sardine sushi

One favourite of sushi chefs – underrated, slightly salty, lightly sweet, oily and usually marinated to balance its flavours.

Kani nigiri – cooked Crab sushi

The most premium of which is the Hokkaido king crab with a very fine texture and very sweet yet sea salt taste to its flesh.

Kamasu nigiri – raw Japanese Barracuda sushi

Kamasu is a white, predatory fish that can swim very fast. It is usually served with some of its skin still on and aburied.

Kamasu is a very fast predatory fish that can swim upwards of sixty miles per hour and can reach up to five feet in length, although specimens used for sushi are much smaller and usually only weigh less than a pound. The best kamasu comes from Kanagawa prefecture just south of Tokyo. 

Kanpachi nigiri – raw Amberjack sushi

When a Yellowtail reaches mid-maturity, it is know as kampachi. They are in season between July to September and they have an elegant cream colour. Kampachi has a mild, slightly sweet taste that and is usually served freshly cut and unmarinated.

Kasugo dai nigiri – raw baby Seabeam sushi

Kasugo dai is in season from late winter to spring. When a sea bream is around one year of age and six inches in length, it is called kasugo (child of spring), and it is lean. Usually, Kasugo is served with its skin.

Katsuo nigiri – raw Skipjack Tuna sushi

Katsuo is a strong, meaty fish with read and purple flesh and has different qualities depending on the season. In winter, the flesh is oiler, while in spring it has a leaner flavor. Often served in a marinade of sweet and sour ponzu to enhance its flavours for a complex yet beautiful taste profile.

Kawahagi nigiri – threadsail file fish

Kawahagi is in season only in November, and has a subtle and delicate taste. It is often served topped with its own liver that has a rich creamy flavour to create a delight for the palate.

Kibinago nigiri – raw Silver Striped Round Herring

Kibinago is from Kagoshimam and its flesh is very sweet and tasty. As they are small, chefs use several slices of the Herring’s filet to make the nigiri.

Kinmedai nigiri – raw Japanese Golden Eye Seabeam sushi

Kinmedai is a deep sea water fish that is in season in the winter months. Its tasty white meat contains a lot of fat. The Golden Eye Seabeam has a delicate, tender and mild taste.

Kisu nigiri – raw Japanese Whiting sushi きす握り寿司

Kisu is a  delicate fish with translucent flesh that is low in fat, with a slightly sweet, yet clean flavour.

Kohada nigiri – raw Gizzard Shad (Silver fish) sushi

A shiny, silver fish that is almost always served with its beautiful shiny skin on display. As it has a strong taste, it is often prepared by top chefs with marinade of vinegar and salt to create a delightful tasting experience. A sushi favourite.

Maguro nigiri – raw Bluefin Tuna Sushi

Maguro Nigiri - Bluefin Tuna sushi at Miyu

Bluefin tuna is the most prized fish in Japan for its heavenly rich flavor as it has intense marbling. When it is aged properly, has a particular balance of flavors. Maguro that comes from Oma in Japan that’s widely considered to be some of the best in the world.

Mirugai nigiri – Giant Clam sushi

Mirugai is a rare giant clam, with a firm and crunchy texture, and has a sweet and delicate flavour that is a delight to the senses.

Nishin nigiri – raw herring sushi

Nishin is in season in Spring . It has a distinct flavour and aroma, with its definitive reddish flesh and silver and white skin.

Otoro – raw fatty Tuna

Otoro nigiri - Bluefin Tuna sushi at Miyu, Singapore

Otoro is taken from the tuna’s belly area toward the center and rear of the fish and is the most prized cut of the maguro due to its softness and richness because of its high fat content. Bluefin otoro is the crème-de-la-crème, and it melts in your mouth.

Saba nigiri – raw Mackerel sushi

Saba nigiri - raw Mackarel sushi at Miyu Sushi and Omakase, Singapore

Saba has a strong fishy flavor and hence is often served cured in vinegar and salt. The Saba is often regarded a test of the restaurant’s chef’s culinary skills because of its strong taste that requires very skilled preparation.  If the restaurant’s saba nigiri is very good, you can generally be assured that all their other sushi will be excellent as well.

Sanma nigiri – raw Pacific Saury sushi

Sanma is an autumn specialty. Delightful taste of the ocean.

Sawara nigiri – raw Spanish Mackerel sushi

Sawara is the premium, pinkish-white mackerel. It is meaty but has there is a lightness to its flavor.

Sayori nigiri – Japanese Halfbeak (Needlefish) sushi

Sayori is a long slender fish with almost transparent flesh . It is only in season from late fall to early spring. Because of its very delicate taste, is served fresh will little preparation.

Shako nigiri – Mantis Shrimp sushi

Shako is in season for a few short weeks from late spring. It is often broiled then aburied. The Mantis Shrimp has a firm, sweet taste and is a favourite ingredient of sushi chefs in top restaurants.

Shinko nigiri – raw Baby Silverfish sushi

Shiko, is the baby of the Silverfish and is season for a very short time between late spring and early summer. They are usually small and so the Chef will use a few pieces to create the sushi. It is a delightful tasting fish and because of its short seasonality, is a treasured treat of late spring.

Shirauo nigiri – cooked Icefish sushi

In season from winter through spring, these are small fish and so chefs will use a few to make the nigiri. They are usually steamed or boiled in sauce and then chilled before serving.

Tai nigiri – raw Red Snapper sushi

Tai nigiri - raw Japanese Sea Beam Sushi at Miyu Singapore

Tai has an almost translucent, pinkish-white flesh. It has a sweet and delicate taste and is a favourite fish among sushi chefs.

Tairagai nigiri – Japanese Pan Shell sushi

Only the Tairagai’s adductor muscle is served. It has a firmer texture and Chefs often prefer serving the Japanese Pan Shell over hotate.

Torigai nigiri – Japanese Cockle sushi

Torigai is in season between April and May. The Japanese Cocle has wonderful flavours and has a soft and light texture, while its flesh oozes sweetness. Torigai is considered by top chefs to be among the best shellfish topping for sushi.

Tsubugai nigiri – raw Whelk Clam sushi

Tsubugai is a shellfish known as Whelk Clam and has a crunchy and refreshing taste. It is usually served with a dash of ponzu or the restaurant’s sushi sauce.

Umi Masu nigiri – raw Ocean Trout sushi

Orange in colour similar to salmon, has a tender and buttery taste.

Unagi nigiri – grilled Freshwater Eel sushi

Unagi or Eel is usual served roasted and brushed with the restaurant’s sweet tare sauce. It has a bold, rich taste and is often served grilled. Goes very well with rice and is hence a nigiri favorite of some sushi chefs who do not use Anago.  

Uni – raw Sea Urchin sushi

Omakase at Miyu - Uni

Uni is regarded as a treasure in Japanese cuisine and is valued for its buttery, oceanic flavor and creamy texture. The best uni are from Hokkaido and is usually served as a gunkan maki rather than nigiri style. It has incredible sweetness and its distinctive, melt in your mouth creamy flavor.

Wagyu nigiri – cooked premium Beef sushi

Wagyu beef is obviously not a fish but it is worth a mention as it is gaining increasing popularity as a nigir ingredient. Wagyu beef is considered a very high end beef and is served by restaurants raw, aburi-ed or even medium well.

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