The 7 Best Substitutes for Fish When Making Sushi

Sushi is practically synonymous with raw fish but it does come with a ton of other items too if you don’t really like the idea of eating fish or are unable to eat fish.

What can you substitute for fish in sushi? You can technically use any kind of ingredients for sushi, but among the most common are eggs, seafood, shellfish, fruits, vegetables, chicken, beef, and pork. You can even use canned food items like sausages if you really want to but this will affect the overall freshness of the dish.

You are free to use any ingredients when making sushi if you would rather avoid fish but you need to be careful about the combinations or you will be spitting the sushi out.

7 Delicious Substitutes to Fish in Sushi

Sushi can either be the best thing that you have ever tasted or the worst, there is no middle ground. On that note, there are ways to make the experience more or less pleasant depending on what you do. One of these is to substitute the ingredients to ones that are better suited to your particular tastes. It just so happens that not all people appreciate the charms of fresh fish.

Among the reasons given by people for avoiding the consumption of raw fish meat, the most common are:

·         They don’t like the taste

·         They don’t like the smell

·         They have hygiene concerns

·         There are issues of parasitic or bacterial infection

·         They fear digestive issues

Those are the usual issues that folks can have with eating raw fish meat. With that being the case, it only makes sense that substitutes are found so that you will be able to eat sushi and enjoy it. Fortunately for those who have this concern, the table below has seven of the best items that you can use to replace raw fish when making sushi.

Japanese Fried EggThere is this Japanese fried egg dish called tamago, which is basically an egg roll that is sliced and then placed on top of a rice ball to form a nigiri
Seafood and ShellfishEither cooked or raw, seafood and shellfish like crabs, oysters, sea urchin, and more are often used as ingredients for sushi
FruitsFruits are often a mainstay in sushi, with ripe mango and avocado being among the most popular, but other examples like kiwi, turnip, and even apples can also be used
Vegetables and GreensVegetables like cucumbers, carrots, and scallions can be used in sushi, as well as lettuce, cabbage, and microgreens
ChickenBelieve it or not, there are actually places in Japan where sushi restaurants offer raw chicken, which is only done under very specific circumstances, with the meat ideally being served cooked for most people
BeefNaturally, beef can also be offered raw, which is not as unusual as chicken, but roast beef can even more preferable
PorkFinally, there are braised pork slices that are then torched or toasted before being used as toppings for sushi

Those are just the most common substitutes that you can easily get your hands on, as well. If you were in Japan, you could even use a bear for that, but I digress. The point is that if you only need something to replace the raw fish with, there are plenty of other options for your sushi.

Just to make sure that you don’t get the wrong idea about those items, though, it is worth looking into them a little more. As such, you might want to take a look at the discussion below.

Japanese Fried Egg – Without a doubt, if you are going to ask anyone if there is a suitable replacement to raw fish when talking about sushi, many would point to tamago or fried egg as the response. This is because it is one of the simplest dishes to make and is one of the tastiest to go along with the sushi rice and nori, as well.

Now, you might be wondering if it has to be a Japanese fried egg instead of just any old regular scrambled egg, and the answer is not really. You need to understand that one of the biggest issues with using a fried egg to pair with anything is that it can be messy. The Japanese have found a way around that by rolling the fried egg in a special pan, which makes it easier to work with.

The result is an egg dish that you can slice and position without worrying about bits and pieces falling off. What’s more, the ingredients used in even the most basic version of this type of egg dish leads to a sweet, flavorful result.

In most cases, the eggs are mixed with mirin, stock, salt, sugar, and vegetable oil before being beaten and fried on a square or rectangular pan. The egg is then carefully rolled in the pan until you end up with a log-shaped egg dish. From there, you can slice into the eggs, thus resulting in rolls that you can eat on their own or you can place on top of rice sushi balls.

The reason why this is the most readily available answer to the matter of replacing your raw fish when eating or making sushi is the issue of simplicity and convenience. It is the safest option because everyone has eggs and most people would have the rudimentary skills to fry an egg. For those who can’t, well, why on earth would they even think about making sushi?

If you are really adamant in your no raw fish rule, this is your best bet. If you want to take it a level further, then you can keep on reading.

Seafood and Shellfish – Before we go into this any deeper, it needs to be pointed out that seafood and shellfish are not technically the same things. Basically, all shellfish are seafood but not all seafood is shellfish, and it is important to get this distinction right. Otherwise, you might end up with seafood that is not suitable for your needs.

For more context, shellfish refers to anything with an exoskeleton or a shell such as crabs, oysters, clams, mollusks, shrimps, and crayfish. In a more generalized concept, seafood is often known to refer to things like squids, octopus, and the marine mammals that can be consumed even though they really should not.

Even things like seaweed would technically fall under the category of seafood because it is food that can be obtained from the sea. Unfortunately, too many people can’t really make this distinction, which leads some to assume that when you say seafood, you only mean shellfish. With that covered, let’s talk about using them to replace fish.

It needs to be said that yes, you can eat many types of seafood raw. In fact, this is done on a regular basis in many Asian and frozen places. However, it doesn’t apply to all examples of seafood and cooking them is still the best way to make sure that they are safe. In sushi, you can use both methods to replace food.

You see, raw squid and grilled squid work just as well when you use them as either toppings or fillings in sushi. As long as you make sure that you clean the seafood properly, there should be no reason why you can’t eat it.

Fruits – Next is fruits, which have been inherent parts of the sushi culture since the very beginning. However, this is a bit of a more complicated topic than you would initially think because most of the fruits that were used for this particular dish were local to Japan. As the dish began to gain worldwide fame, however, things began to change.

These days, you can count on there being some versions of sushi containing any kind of fruit you can think of, from jackfruits to cherries, to even kiwi. In certain instances, sushi can almost be treated as a dessert or an appetizer with so many fruits and berries stuffed in them.

Coming back to the main point, though, you can basically create an entire lineup of sushi dishes that are composed of nothing but fruits. This is then a great way for you to replace raw fish while turning your sushi experience into something that you may never even have thought of.

Simply put, if you forgo raw fish for your sushi and go with a slice of ripe mango and then wrap that with nori, for example, you end up with a fairly refreshing dish. The contrast that you will get when you dip it in soy sauce and then throw in some wasabi can be quite the experience. Just try it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.

Vegetables and Greens – In addition to fruits, vegetables and greens also play a major role in making sushi what it is today. Cucumber is one of the most popular options because of how its crunchy texture adds character to every bite while its light flavor does not clash with other ingredients. It also contains a lot of moisture, which only improves the mouthfeel.

This is what you are looking for when you are using vegetables in your sushi. On that note, other options are also available to you, include lettuce, cabbages, scallions, celery, and many others. Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, you can even use deep-fried sweet potatoes if you wanted to. The important point is that they should bring something to the table.

It is worth pointing out that the main reasons for the use of vegetables and greens in sushi are to extend the contents, add texture and flavor, as well as give the dish some color. However, vegetarian sushi has become more popular of late and there have been many variants created that rely solely on vegetables. With this being the case, you shouldn’t have any trouble finding recipes.

On top of that, there is also the matter of vegetables being quite suitable as partners for the sushi rice. In terms of the texture and flavor, vegetables offer an interesting contrast that makes you forget what you are actually eating. With this being the case, it is easy to see why there would be many who like it even if they don’t really like vegetables that much.

Chicken – Then we have chicken, which is arguably one of the least known ingredients that can be used in sushi. Yes, there are many Japanese dishes that made use of chicken and have also gained their own brand of worldwide acclaim. Among them are the yakitori dish, which is made of grilled chicken chunks and okonomiyaki, which is a dish that is made with eggs, greens, and chicken.

In the case of sushi, though, there are no such connections that global fans of sushi are really aware of. However, this does not mean that it does not exist. In fact, there are dishes in japan where chicken meat is served raw either as some odd stand-in for sashimi or sushi. Now, it needs to be said that eating raw chicken meat is a very bad idea and you could get sick from doing so.

Raw chicken is infested with salmonella, which is deadly to humans. However, there are some parts of Japan where the chicken is raised in such clean environments and with such precise care that consuming them uncooked is possible. For the rest of the world, though, settling for cooked chicken will have to do.

You can do this by grilling, frying, roasting, or steaming the chicken meat. The latter produces a dish that can be quite the scrumptious fare too, so you might want to go with that for best results.

Beef – On the matter of food that you can safely consume in a form that is almost raw, we have beef. This should not come off as that big of a surprise since steaks are eaten rare all the time, especially by those who prefer their meat tender and full of flavor. When applying to sushi, you better believe that beef can be one of the most savory ingredients you could ask for.

Whether you are using it after a quick stint on the grill or while it is still good and bloody, beef can actually be one of the most flavorful partners to sushi rice you could ask for. It is just that the Japanese don’t really eat beef in this manner that often while westerners do. Putting it this way, you basically have a marriage between two food cultures.

Coming back to the main point, though, beef is arguably one of the best replacements to fish that you could ask for. It is quite an excellent source of protein, flavors, fat, and juicy texture. As a bonus, it is more likely to suit the tastes of those in western countries than raw fish, which is not consumed as often.

On that note, beef can have a way of bringing the balance of flavors way too far in one direction. As you should already know, a big part of sushi is balancing taste, texture, aroma, and mouthfeel. You need to keep that in mind if ever you decide on using beef.

Pork – Finally, we have pork, which is actually quite a bit more common in Japan as a sushi ingredient as most people would think. However, it is not used in the way that many might assume. It is often actually braised first and then dried, before being chilled, and then sliced. From there, the thin slices of pork are placed on the sushi and torched with a kitchen blow torch.

However, you don’t necessarily need to do something like this if you are in the west since there are far better options. At least, for those who have grown up with a western diet. You can always use bacon for the job, which you can either use as a filling or as a wrap. That’s right, you can literally wrap sushi in bacon so that your regular California maki will full of bacon goodness.

Of course, this would be entirely up to you since you will be the one to decide in what form the pork will be used in making the sushi. In fact, you can always stir-fry it with some veggies and then use that as a filling for the sushi.

Whether you are making sushi rolls, nigiri, hand rolls, or whatever else, pork is a versatile ingredient that can really prove its worth. Just give it the kind of attention and imagination that it deserves and you won’t ever have to eat sushi with raw fish again. Then, if you get sick of all of these options, you can go for salmon afterward.

Why Eat Raw Fish with Sushi?

Now, with all of this talk about replacing raw fish as the main ingredient in sushi, you might now be wondering why on earth you would eat raw fish, to begin with. Apart from cultural differences, shouldn’t there be health concerns to take into consideration when eating sushi with raw fish? The answer is yes and no.

To really understand this topic, it needs to be understood that cooking can both be a good and bad force when it comes to food flavor. When you cook something, you impart flavor thanks to the many seasonings, flavorings, stock, and browning that occur. However, it is also a fact that you are taking something away from the food when you cook it.

Chief among these are the nutrients, which will inevitably go away when you cook something, except for such cases as with tomato’s lycopene. When you eat something raw, though, you keep those nutrients intact. This is why eating raw carrots is healthier than eating cooked carrots and the same can be said about meat.

However, some meat simply needs to be cooked because the benefits of their nutrients are outweighed by the risks that they post. This particular point of concern does not apply to things you can get from the sea or the water. Fish are quite safe to eat while raw as long as they meet the right conditions, starting with freshness.

As long as the fish is fresh, properly stored, and has no parasites, it offers you quite an interesting range of flavors. There is sweetness, juiciness, and fatness in raw fish that can be lost when you subject it to heat, oil, water, or seasonings. This is then what makes them so compelling as fillings or toppings for sushi, or even on their own in the form of sashimi.

Why Avoid Raw Fish in Sushi?

With that said, there are times when you need to avoid eating sushi that contains raw fish, with the most compelling cases being pregnancy and being afflicted with dangerous diseases. A healthy body with no excess baggage is perfectly capable of processing raw fish because all of the immune system and digestive system are directed towards that action.

However, if you are carrying another life inside you, your body is basically working in overdrive in keeping both of you alive. Likewise, if you are incredibly sick, your immune system will need to be able to focus on just one problem at a time. This is why meat must be consumed in its cooked form if you are in either situation, with vegetables and fruits needing to remain raw.

On that note, there could also be the reasons related to your palate that you will want to keep in mind. Not everyone will be able to stomach eating raw fish and not everyone has to. Those who love eating salmon nigiri are free to enjoy the dish while those who don’t should certainly be free to go with other options. The variety of sushi makes room for those kinds of things.

Related Questions

What Sushi Has No Fish?

A lot of sushi varieties have no fish, which only gives rise to the notion that sushi is not really about the fish but about the rice. There are plenty of sushi dishes that have eggs, vegetables, and even pickled fruits. You would be surprised at just what can’t be used for sushi, which is almost nothing.

Can Sushi Be Made Without Seaweed?

It is perfectly possible to make sushi that does not have the seaweed or the nori, which is a sheet of dried kombu. You can take the regular salmon or tuna nigiri, for example, which are really just the rice balls and the respective fish meats. You can even make a sushi cake without the seaweed.

Is Eating Raw Seafood Safe?

As already mentioned previously, it is perfectly feasible for you to eat raw seafood if that is what you want to do. However, this does not mean that you should approach the matter without thinking it through first. To start with, there are tons of diseases and parasites that you can get when you are eating compromised seafood.

You need to think of spoilage, parasitic infections, bacterial infections, or even chemical or toxic wastes. For those that have been exposed to dangerous substances, even cooking them might not make them safe to eat, let alone consuming them in their raw forms. So, if you are going to ask the question whether or not eating raw seafood is safe, the answers are that it depends.

If the seafood is clean, fresh, and of high quality that comes from a trusted source, then you can easily eat without worry. If the seafood came from somewhere you don’t know, prepared by someone you are not familiar with, and does not taste or smell like it should, you would be better off eating something else.

Pork, Beef, and Chicken in Sushi

It was already discussed before, but it merits repeating once more that meats like pork, beef, and chicken have been used in sushi for a very long time. Granted, their use did shift a bit through the years and it can’t really be said that they were among the most common sushi ingredients from the start. However, they are used more commonly now.

On that note, if one were to ask if they suit the theme and purpose of sushi better than fresh fish meat then the answer is no. In the first place, one of the charms with sushi is the subtlety in flavor that they are known for. You are not supposed to be bombarded with seasonings, flavorings, and unnecessary processes since those come in later.

Sushi is supposed to be quick, simple, and delicious. This is why you can get the full experience of sushi by just having the rice and a strip of raw salmon meat and the same goes for tuna, mackerel, and others. You are not supposed to carpet bomb your mouth and tongue with intense flavors when you eat sushi, which is why raw fish is the ideal ingredient.

Then again, this all comes down to practices and preferences. 

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