Red snapper is one of the most versatile types of fish used in sushi making, as both the flesh and skin of the fish can undergo specialized culinary skills to produce a unique and exquisite sushi experience. Red snapper is rather difficult to find in American supermarkets and may require a trip to your local fish market or asian grocer. I highly endorse Catalina Offshore Products for their overnight shipping and absolutely top-notch fish quality. The price is pretty competitive as well
Red snapper is a white fish classified under the Japanese name, shiromi. They are treated in the same manner as other white fish such as halibut and sea bass. The flesh part of red snapper meat has a distinct, swollen texture with a delicate sweet aroma and is watery in quality. Red snappers are found in several parts of the world. In Japan, they are located in the Naruto strait in the central region of the country, which is also known for producing a rare variety of red snapper called kobu dai, or bump snapper. In the United States, red snappers are found in the Gulf of Mexico and the southeast Atlantic coast.
Red snapper can be prepared in several ways, but the three most practiced are dry-aging, matsugawa tsukiri (pine bark preparation) and kobujime (infusion). The first and traditionally standard way of preparing red snapper is concerned with the flavor concentration. In its freshest form, red snapper has a unique texture but a slightly bland taste. In order to enhance its flavor, the fish is refrigerated for a few hours to draw out the excess moisture and concentrate the flavor. The process is not unlike placing fruit in the sun for hours to produce dried fruit. But as with dried fruit, the texture evolves and it is an important factor to consider before executing it. The general rule of thumb for red snapper is whether to aim for freshness or flavor: leave the fish as is for the former or go for drying it if it’s the latter.
Another way to experience red snapper is actually through the skin. Red snapper skin, like salmon skin, can be considered as a separate dish from red snapper sushi. The process in cooking red snapper skin is called matsugawa tsukuri, or translated as “pine bark preparation,” referring to the pine bark-like quality the skin resembles. Matsugawa tsukuri is accomplished by carefully pouring boiling water on the skin of a red snapper filet and then “shocking” it in ice water to prevent any heat from cooking the fish any further. The process is similar to how some may cook green beans by boiling them in water briefly before transferring them immediately to bath of ice water to prevent discoloration and retain the crunchy exterior. In matsugawa tsukuri, it is essential to cook only the skin while it is still on the fish but to not go as far as cooking any part of the meat. Naturally, it is a delicate process that is best left to professionals.
The third most widely used method of preparing red snapper is kobujime, a process that entails the infusion of kelp into the flesh of the red snapper. Wet the kelp and place the red snapper fillet directly on it to allow the moisture from the fish to infuse into the kelp, and vice versa. This will concentrate the flavor of the red snapper as well as the kelp.
Red snapper, or tai as it is called in Japanese, is a highly valued fish that also symbolizes luck. It is best consumed in the spring when they are the most fertile and at their fattiest.