When you’re ready to try some of the most exotic foods on the planet, there’s no substitute for nihon ryori, also known as Japanese cuisine. Everyone’s familiar with old staples like fugu fish, traditional sushi, and natto, but have you ever thought to try torisashi? As a person that loves Japanese cooking and who has studied the language and the culture for years, until recently, I had never tried this uniquely Japanese dish, but now that I have, I realize that I didn’t know what I was missing.
For those that have never heard of the poultry dish, torisashi is a compound word – tori, which is the Japanese word for chicken or bird, and sashi, which you may recognize from the Japanese dish sashimi. If you haven’t figured it out by now, torisashi is thinly sliced, raw or nearly raw chicken!
You’re probably thinking that you’ve only heard that the Japanese love their fish raw, but the fact of the matter is that there are a number of local dishes throughout Japan that use fresh or aged raw meats. For example, bashashi is a sashsimi’d up version of horse meat that is becoming very popular in some districts and towns throughout the island nation.
When it comes to torisashi, this particular dish seems to have its most fervent fans in the Kagoshima prefecture, which is located on the island of Kyushu. With so much plentiful seafood in the area, it’s amazing that many in this prefecture enjoy so many varieties of sashimi and other dishes that originate from purely terrestrial animals, but clearly there’s great demand here.
This chicken dish is often served similarly to traditional sashimi, which means that you will be able to eat it with ginger, wasabi, and a variety of other sushi-friendly sauces. In addition to the sauces, green onion, garlic, sesame seeds and salt are often used to make the dish pop for diners, so don’t just expect to taste the chicken itself – the dish is heavily seasoned so that your palate will definitely experience some truly unique flavors.
When it comes to the texture of the dish, most forms of torisashi have a very soft and chewy texture, but if you opt to sear it slightly, it ends up taking on a bit more tenderness and texture.
One of the coolest features of eating torisashi is that it’s not just one dish. Like standard sashimi, there are various cuts and varieties that you can try if you’re feeling a bit adventurous. In fact, in Osaka, I had the opportunity to visit a chicken-only restaurant that specializes in this dish, and if you were to order it, you’ll receive a plate designed to look like an oyster shell that’s crowned with a chicken’s head. On this dish, you’ll be presented with several of the varieties of torisashi.
Here are some of the most common forms of torisashi that you can sample throughout Japan:
- Chicken Gizzard – This variety of torisashi has a slightly crunchy texture and is one of the more interesting varieties of the famous chicken sashimi. Of all of the cuts that you can find for torisashi, the gizzard is the most red in color.
- Chicken Heart – if you’re looking for chicken sashimi that has the least fat content, then the kind made with chicken hearts may be your cup of tea. This is a very beef-like cut of torisashi, and it’s definitely unique and delicious.
- Chicken Liver – This style of torisashi, as you might expect, is sliced small and is typically seared slightly. Many tasters feel that this variety has a creamy texture, and as a result, this is definitely a popular variety of torisashi. This cut breaks down quickly in the mouth as you eat it.
- Chicken Breast and Thigh – The most common forms of torisashi, the chicken breast and thigh portions are the kinds that have the chewiest texture with a slightly fibrous quality to it. Also, the flavor is definitely what you’d come to expect from a chicken dish.
Toriwasa is also a variety of torisashi that has the chef slightly sear the exterior of the chicken. In many Japanese eateries, this variety is slightly salted with black sesame added to the exterior so that you can experience a crunch. For foreigners just getting into the world of torisashi, this is a good entry point because the outer layer is definitely cooked and has the texture that you may be more used to. That being said, the center portion of the meat is definitely entirely uncooked, which means that toriwasa may be familiar to you if you like to eat dishes that are medium rare.
Why You Shouldn’t Attempt to Make Your Own Chicken Sashimi
While it may be tempting to craft your own torisashi, it’s not a really good idea to attempt it at home. For the most part, the chickens that you can use for this dish have to be slaughtered in a specific way and immediately refrigerated so that no bacteria, which can cause salmonella, can grow on the meat.
In Japan, there are less than 4,000 cases of salmonella per year as a result of this dish, which is due to the fact that torisashi is typically made using the aforementioned slaughtering methods. While this may seem like a lot, it’s important to remember that Japan is home to more than 127 million individuals, and eating raw or slightly cooked chicken is very common in the country. Also, as an extra step, much of the chicken used in this dish is irradiated in order to destroy any bacteria that may be trying to form on the meat.
Where to Try Torisashi
As mentioned, this particular dish is very popular in areas like Kagoshima and other prefectures in Kyushu, but you can also find torisashi in just about every other town and prefecture in the country of Japan. To find it, just take a trip to just about any izakaya, which is a Japanese-style of bar that not only serves drinks but also has a wide variety of sashimi to nosh on as you socialize with friends and coworkers.
In fact, hitting up an izakaya and snacking on some delicious sashimi, which often includes basashi and torisashi in some locations, is a very Japanese thing to do after work. I suggest giving this a try because not only will you enjoy some totemo oishii (very delicious) torisashi, but you’ll also get a chance to see the Japanese as they relax after a long day’s work.
I love torisashi having enjoyed it while visiting aunts and uncles in Osaka. The raw chicken has a delicate flavor that I don’t find needs to be overly seasoned. I’ve made some here in the US using chickens from small niche farms where the meat is processed right on the property and to order much like the way my grandfather did it in the 1960s.