Making sushi is an art, and experience is everything - Nobu Matsuhisa
Sushi can be one of life’s greatest pleasures. A traditional element of Japanese cuisine, the styles of sushi may vary from region to region and city to city, but they all include one vital and indispensable ingredient, sushi rice or as it’s more commonly known sashimi.
Take a Look ↓↓↓
In fact, it’s a popular misconception that sushi has to include raw fish, or that sushi when translated means fish. It doesn’t. Sushi actually means “sour-tasting” and refers to the rice part of the dish, not the fish part.
And in a country where tradition is just as important to daily life as the air you breathe and the water you drink, the little things like correct translations, mean everything.
Conversely, if you’ve ever had bad sushi, you’ll know that it can be one of the worst experiences of anyone’s life.
You’ll know how sick it can make you, and you probably swore that, between the multiple trips that you were forced to make to the bathroom after eating it, that you’d never, under any circumstances, be tempted to try sushi ever again.
Honestly, we know how you feel, we’ve been there and we’ve been laid low by bad sushi too. But we’re going to share a little secret with you that might just change your mind about sushi. It wasn’t the sushi that made you ill, it was time.
The problem with sushi is that, like everything else in life, it has a finite lifespan. Unlike almost everything else though, sushi has an incredibly short lifespan and because of the ingredients that are used to make it, it very rarely (if at all) lasts longer than four days.
So, in all probability, you were the victim of a “bad batch” of sushi that had spent too long on the supermarket or had taken one too many trips around the restaurant conveyor belt. It wasn’t your fault, and it wasn’t the sushi’s fault either.
The reason you ended up spending a couple of days chained by the hip to your toilet, was because whoever served, or sold, the sushi to you didn’t know, or understand what they were doing.
That’s where we come in. We’re here to tell you about how long sushi can be left to its own devices, and essentially how long it’s good for. And we’re going to do that by explaining what sushi is, how long you can keep it for before you need to throw it away and recycle it, and how to store it properly.
After all, a little knowledge can go a long way, and when you know how to recognize the signs that’ll tell you that sushi has sailed past its expiry date, you’ll be able to start enjoying it again. Why deny yourself one of life’s greatest pleasures because of someone else’s mistake?
Let’s Talk Sushi
Sushi isn’t just a Japanese delicacy. It’s a time-honored part of the country's culinary legacy and the way in which it is prepared is almost as important as the way that it tastes. It doesn’t have to use fish, and fish isn’t even the main ingredient in sushi.
The principal reason why Western society seems to have developed this peculiar fiction with sushi and fish stems from the fact that, culturally, the Japanese diet has always been centered around fish and seafood as the people who call the country home, tend to live near the coast. And when you live next to the sea, it makes sense to eat a lot of seafood.
As beautiful to look at as it is to eat, sushi defers to the cultural tradition that believes that every aspect of a meal should be enjoyed equally.
All of the senses that we use when we eat need to be satiated by sushi, so the way it’s presented and served is incredibly important and can tell you as much about the dish as the way it tastes.
Usually presented in delicate small pieces that are supposed to be eaten slowly and savored, sushi is often accompanied by either ginger, wasabi, or soy sauce (or a combination of all three), which can be added to it according to the pallet of the person eating it
Any sushi dish has to include sashimi rice, and if it doesn't it isn’t sushi. It isn’t fish that makes sushi, it’s the rice that’s used to make it, and where the westernized version of its name is derived from.
Along with the primary rice ingredient, sushi often includes fish and other seafood, avocados, radishes, and other fresh vegetables and seaweed that is often used to create the rolls that sushi is conventionally served as.
The word roll is often used as part of the name of a sushi dish, for example, an Uramaki roll (which is one of the five most commonly eaten rolls in Japan), with the word that precedes it is used to describe the way in which it is prepared, the area that it has come from or the primary ingredient that it uses. There is, as we’ve already explained, far more to sushi than raw fish.
Time Isn’t On Sushis Side
Time isn’t and has never been, on sushi's side. Unlike a lot of the food that we’ve become used to eating, all of the ingredients used to make sushi are fresh, which makes it particularly vulnerable to the passage of time.
While time isn’t a factor that you need to worry about if you’re making fresh sushi for your own consumption if you’re making sushi for someone else, time is an all-important factor. So how does it affect sushi?
A Victim of Its Own Success
One of the main reasons why so many people adore sushi is the fresh ingredients and the combination of them that it’s made with.
But the problem with using fresh ingredients is that they spoil a lot quicker than frozen and additive rich and preservative riddled ingredients do. And no ingredient has a shorter lifespan than fish and seafood.
As soon as any fish or seafood is caught, and it dies, it begins to decay. So the faster that it can reach the table the safer it’ll be. Fishermen and trawler crews usually pack fish with ice as soon as they land their catch, and at each stage of its journey from the net to the sushi chef, fish and seafood will be in some form of cold storage.
Even freezing fish and any seafood used in sushi will only delay the inevitable, and while freezing can help to extend the travel time that it needs in order to make it to its final destination.
After the fish has been defrosted, there’s a forty-eight-hour window in which it needs to be used, prepared, and preferably consumed before the inevitable march of time sets in and begins to increase the chances that it could, and eventually will make you sick.
On the other hand, the other ingredients that sushi uses, the plant-based ones, have a far longer lifespan than their sea-dwelling partners in sushi crime do.
The vegetable and fruit ingredients that sushi uses usually last nearly twice as long as the seafood ones do, which should help you to confirm, in your own mind at least, where the danger in ill-prepared sushi really lies.
Don’t Break the Chain
The majority of the food that we eat, has at some point in its journey been ferried to its final destination by the cold chain.
In the simplest terms, the cold chain is a temperature-controlled supply chain, and it’s vital to sushi’s existence.
As all of the ingredients used in sushi rely on being kept as cold as possible, for as long as possible, the only time that they should ever leave the cold chain, is when you’re about to prepare sushi, or are about to buy it.
Any break in the chain and fluctuation in the temperature at which the sushi is being transported could result in one or more of its ingredients beginning to succumb to the inevitable nature of time. And when one ingredient begins to rot, all of the others will quickly begin to follow suit.
If there is an interruption in the cold chain, it’s important that any food, especially sushi, that’s affected by the break be removed immediately and not allowed to reach either the supermarket or the restaurant that it’s bound for.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen and occasionally, things do slip through the net, which is why it’s so important to check use-by dates and throw any food (not just sushi) that doesn’t smell or look right in the trash.
Storing Sushi Properly
We’re firm believers in making our own sushi, and while it might seem incredibly difficult, with a little help from one of the hundreds of YouTube tutorials that are freely available, you probably will too.
That’s why we understand the importance of the cold chain, and why all of the ingredients that we use to make sushi are properly refrigerated as soon as we get them home, and why after we’ve made our own sushi, we either eat it straight away or refrigerate it for no longer than forty-eight hours before we do eat it.
Leaving it longer than that could be, and often is, a little too dangerous for our liking.
Some sushi fans are adamant in their belief that it’s okay to store unused sushi for up to twenty-four hours in your refrigerator if you warp it tightly enough in cling film and make sure that when you do, it’s air-tight. We don’t subscribe to the same sushi newsletter and fall into the one-bitten, twice shy camp.
The majority of sushi fandom is probably right, and we’re almost certainly wrong but having had a bad sushi experience, we have no desire to repeat it and that’s a risk that we’re unwilling to take.
We’ll happily refrigerate it for forty-eight hours before we eat it, but we won’t keep it in cold storage for any longer than that, and we’d suggest that in this matter at least, you follow our advice and in our footsteps.
And once we’ve opened the packaging, we never reseal or repackage sushi and we would never return it to the refrigerator. But as we said, that’s just an us thing, and it doesn’t mean that it has to be a you thing.
Freezing Sushi – Can It Be Done?
Refrigerating and freezing sushi are two completely different things, and while we don’t just recommend that you do the former, we’ll also happily tell you that if you don’t there’s a good chance that the sushi you leave out on the countertop will make you incredibly ill, we don’t recommend that you attempt to do the latter.
Technically, it can be done and you can freeze sushi, but just because a thing can be done, it doesn’t mean that it should be done.
If you’ve made your own sushi, you can indeed freeze it, but you’ll need to be aware that it will lose a lot of its flavor and there’s a good chance that the rice and any cucumber that you've used might not actually survive the freezing process.
Whatever you do though, do not, and we’ll repeat that last statement just to emphasize how serious we really are, do not under any circumstances attempt to freeze store-bought sushi. Those best before dates on its packaging are there for a reason and you shouldn’t attempt to increase them by either fair means or foul.
Besides, you have no idea if any of the ingredients in your store-bought sushi were previously frozen or not, do you? And you know what they say freezing anything after it’s been used, don’t you? That’s right, don’t do it. So yes, you can freeze sushi, but we wouldn’t recommend that you do.
Just Be Straight With Us, How Long Does Sushi Last For?
Since you asked nicely, and you want us to get straight to the point, we’ll tell you. It’ll last for four days from the time it’s made, to the time you need to either eat it or throw it away.
During those four days, it needs to be kept refrigerated and cool, and if it isn’t your time is up. And as soon as you start eating it, finish it and don’t attempt to put it back in the refrigerator for “later” as you’ve broken the cold chain, and you remember what we said about breaking the cold chain don’t you? That’s right, don't do it.
There are, however, two notable exceptions to that rule. For some reason, if you keep it by itself and we don’t understand why anyone would want to but someone must have in order to have discerned this, you can store sashimi rice, or sushi rice for up to five days in your refrigerator and it’ll be absolutely fine to eat.
The second and most important exception to the rule involves any sushi that contains cooked ingredients (that’s right folks, sushi doesn’t always have to be raw). If the sushi that you’ve made or bought from the store contains any cooked ingredients, you need to eat it within twenty-four hours or get rid of it when that time has elapsed.
Don’t attempt to refrigerate or freeze it, because that could be very bad for you. And when we say that it’ll be very bad, we mean that it could be food poisoning, trip to the emergency room bad.
The Signs That Sushi Has Gone Bad - How To Tell If Sushi Is Past Its Eat By Date
It’s a simple lesson that begins by learning to rely on the same things that humans have been dependent on since the dawn of recorded history. Your eyes and your sense of smell.
Seriously, they’re the most powerful weapons that you have in your arsenal when it comes to telling whether or not you can still sit down and enjoy your sushi or whether you have to toss it in the trash and go to the store to buy some more.
Take A Look Around
Let’s start with the way it looks. Cast a cursory glance at the vegetable part of your sushi, as avocado and cucumber are probably the easiest ingredients to check, and they’re the most likely to display any of the warning signs.
If they both look crispy and firm and don’t appear to be slimy, then the sushi is almost certainly still good and you can get stuck straight in.
Before you do get stuck straight into your sushi though, it might be worth checking the rice and fish too. Sushi rice should be firm, after all, it’s what gives sushi rolls their structure, if it’s started to fall apart or isn’t sticking together the way it should, then it’s a pretty solid indication that there is something wrong with your sushi and maybe you should leave it alone.
And if the rice and vegetables aren’t enough to convince you that there’s something wrong with the sushi in front of you, take a look at the fish.
As Gordon Ramsey so famously said, fish should be bright and vibrant (okay, so we’re paraphrasing a little bit and isn’t exactly what he said, but it’s close enough and the point he was making is valid and applies, so we’re sticking with it) and if it isn’t and looks dull, faded and colorless, then it’s time to toss your sushi in the trash and either head to your nearest Japanese restaurant or store to satisfy your rice itch.
Something Doesn’t Smell Right
We’re all familiar with the sour, off-smell of rotting food, and if that’s the first smell that hits you when you open your sushi, then trust us, you really need to get rid of it as soon as you possibly can.
But that isn’t the only odor that’ll tell you if your sushi is still okay to eat.
If the fish in your sushi is starting to smell, well fishy, then your sushi has almost certainly passed its safe eat by date.
Fresh fish doesn’t smell like fish, at least it doesn’t until you get incredibly close to it, and if you can smell the fish in your sushi, you really don’t want to eat it. Trust us, you’ll be a lot safer, healthier, and happy if you don’t.
The Sushi Timescale – The Last Word
Now you know everything that we do about sushi, you have all the knowledge that you’ll ever need to be able to enjoy your sushi and know, with a glance, whether or not the California and Tuna rolls in front of you are really as tasty and healthy as they look.
Dōzo omeshi agari kudasai!