Sushi, Crudo, or Ceviche? Here's Your Guide to Raw Seafood—And How to Make Each Dish

Learn all about the different types of raw seafood.

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overhead of multiple pieces of sushi rolls on a pink background
Photo: I_rinka/Getty Images

Raw seafood seems to be everywhere these days, and we're not just seeing sushi. Originating in cuisines from countries in South America all the way to Asia, eating uncooked fish is a global practice that's becoming hugely popular in American restaurants and even home kitchens. While a Hawaiian poke boom graced the mainland in the early 2010s, today's raw seafood is slightly more tilted to Latin America. Ceviche, tiradito, aguachile, crudo, and more are appearing on menus from coast to coast, but what are the differences between each dish? And is it safe to dig into uncooked animal protein? Let us help you.

Is Raw Seafood Safe to Eat?

Yes, raw seafood is safe to eat, within limits. Firstly, you'll want to know where the raw fish or shellfish you're about to eat came from, as well as how it was stored and processed. Working with a fish monger you trust, rather than shopping at the supermarket fish counter, is crucial to getting the freshest and safest product, notes chef Luis Herrera Di Prisco.

"I would go to a local fish market and ask the [monger], 'What is freshest? What's good to eat raw?'" Not only will this result in the safest seafood to eat raw at home, but also the tastiest. Opt for what's in season locally. At his Brooklyn restaurant, Ensenada, Di Prisco serves sushi-grade products, using markers like A1 grade tuna to ensure the highest quality, and rotating between fish like fluke or striped bass in various raw dishes, depending on what's seasonal on the East Coast. "Not all fresh fish is ideal to eat raw," he adds. Ask an expert for recommendations but tuna, salmon, yellowtail (also called hamachi), bass, fluke (also called flounder), snapper, halibut, and mackerel are common fish to eat raw due to their fat content and mild flavor.

Raw seafood also has to be flash frozen to kill any parasites that may be potentially living in the fish, according to the FDA. Yes, that sounds gross, but it's a safety measure to ensure that your meal can be as safe as possible.

Any signs of spoilage—bad smells, weird texture, cloudy eyes in a whole fish—signify that the fish should not be consumed, raw or otherwise. Now that you've acquired some safety tips, here's what to do with all that raw fish!

What Is Ceviche?

Ceviche is a raw seafood dish that can be made in a variety of styles, typically Peruvian or Mexican. Ceviche uses cubes or chunks of several types of white fish or squid. Mexican ceviche uses the same style of raw seafood, but marinated in leche de tigre, which is a dressing made from fish stock, red onion, cilantro, chiles, lime juice, and even some pieces of fish, if desired. "It makes a milky, thick liquid," explains Di Prisco.

In Mexico, fish is typically cured a day ahead in lime juice for ceviche, essentially cooking the fish. In Peru, the fish is briefly cured in lime. Traditionally, ceviche isn't very spicy, but can be garnished with sliced red onion and pepper, and can be eaten with tortilla chips or plantain chips for a crisp element. Some ceviches use multiple types of seafood, while others stick to one type of fish.

How to make ceviche

Believe it or not, preparing ceviche at home is much less intimidating than it sounds. In fact, many home cooks find that ceviche is easier to make than another well-known raw fish dish—sushi.

  1. Begin with a portion of sushi-grade white fish, like snapper or sea bass, or branch out and use shrimp. Dice into even chunks, set aside.
  2. In a blender, make your leche de tigre with fish stock, lime juice, chilies, onions and/or garlic, and cilantro or parsley, if desired. Add some fish cubes.
  3. Blend and strain using a mesh strainer.
  4. Marinate fish in the leche de tigre for fifteen minutes or up to overnight.
  5. Strain out extra juices.
  6. Stir in garnishes, which can be sliced red onion, sliced chilies, cubed roasted sweet potato, diced tomato, avocado, or cucumber. Orange slices or grapefruit can also add some zest to ceviche.

What Is Aguachile?

Similar to ceviche, aguachile is a Mexican seafood salad often made with shrimp, though scallops are common too. "It's less sour and typically spicier than ceviche," explains Di Prisco. Literally translating to water and peppers from Spanish, aguachile can still call for lime juice, but favors a bold dressing made out of water-based fruits—like cucumbers, tomatoes, and spicy peppers.

"You can find infinite types of aguachile," Di Prisco adds. "The most traditional types are negro, rojo, and verde, which is the most common and is made with onions, cucumbers, and peppers, like serrano or habanero. At Ensenada, Di Prisco makes variations on this dish, such as a red aguachile with clamato and horseradish, and a yellow aguachile with aji amarillo, ginger, and turmeric. Aguachile can be garnished with avocado, cilantro, and sliced radish or cucumber, and is typically eaten with a fork.

How to make aguachile

Whipping up raw shrimp aguachile takes just minutes. Make things easier on yourself by purchasing defrosted and de-veined shrimp from your local fishmonger, and make sure to enjoy the finished dish within three hours of making it.

  1. Start with defrosted shrimp, de-veined with the tail removed, and cut in half.
  2. Marinate shrimp with lime juice to cure and set aside.
  3. Thinly slice red onion and soak in water. Set aside.
  4. In a blender, mix a hot pepper (a jalapeño can work) with garlic, cilantro, a splash of water, and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth.
  5. Remove shrimp from lime juice, toss with the blended aguachile marinade, and top with soaked onions or desired garnishes.

What Is Tiradito?

Tiradito is a Peruvian dish that originated in Nikkei cuisine, a Japanese-Peruvian fusion fare invented during a Japanese wave of immigration to Peru in the early 20th century. "This dish requires slicing the fish very thin, like a carpaccio, and plating that fish flat," says Di Prisco. From there, the interpretation is up to the cook.

Tiradito differs from ceviche because it's sliced instead of cubed, and is tossed in a sauce just prior to serving. For example, it can be dressed in ponzu or balsamic vinegar, and adorned with sliced peppers, avocado, or other produce. It can also be made with pretty much any raw fish, such as tuna, fluke, or striped bass. "And you can play a lot more with flavors," Di Prisco notes. There's plenty of room for creativity with tiradito.

How to make tiradito

Tiradito requires a bit more time to make than some other raw fish dishes, because firming up the fish in the freezer is a crucial first step. When buying fish to make tiradito at home, stick to sushi-grade options, like tuna.

  1. Place a well-wrapped piece of tuna in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. This will help it firm up and allow you slice it thinly with a sharp knife.
  2. Slice the tuna and arrange it on a plate in a single layer.
  3. Thinly slice avocado and layer underneath the fish.
  4. Garnish with sesame seeds and drizzle with ponzu. Feel free to get creative and mix and match various flavors and textures.

What Is Crudo?

Crudo, which translates to "raw" from Italian, can be applied to meat or fish. Crudo made with raw fish is Italian-style tiradito that's designed to soak up some traditional Italian flavors. The fish is typically sliced thinly, though it may be a little thicker than tiradito, and cut at a 45-degree angle. Crudo can be made from fluke, bass, snapper, or scallops, and is dressed in non-acidic marinades such as good quality olive oil. Crudo is typically eaten with a fork straight off the plate.

How to make crudo

This is another fish dish in which sushi-grade fish makes all the difference. We like fluke, but hamachi and snapper will also work.

  1. Slice the fish thinly at an angle and arrange on a plate.
  2. Sprinkle lemon zest on top, and drizzle with good quality extra virgin olive oil.
  3. Garnish with flaky salt and microgreens, and enjoy.

What Is Sushi?

Sushi is a category of Japanese raw fish dishes that can include several different preparations. For example, sashimi is thinly sliced fish eaten with soy sauce, while rice-based raw fish dishes like maki include raw fish rolled in seasoned rice and seaweed. Nigiri—sliced raw fish blanketing a small rice ball with wasabi—is also popular, as is chirashi, which consists of assorted sliced fish over a bowl of rice. Sushi varies by region in Japan, with plenty of international interpretations, and is often served with soy sauce to dip, freshly grated wasabi, and pickled ginger.

How to make sushi

While sashimi may sound like the easiest type of sushi to make—it's just sliced raw fish—it takes years of skill and finesse to properly slice sashimi. Sushi beginners should start with maki, which can be fun to experiment with in terms of flavors and size. An Alaska roll, for example, includes salmon, cucumber, and avocado. Make things even easier by purchasing packaged sushi rice.

  1. Rinse and cook sushi rice according to package directions.
  2. Once the rice has cooked, stir in 1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Allow the rice to cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. Slice salmon into 1/2-inch oblong slices, and slice thin pieces of cucumber and avocado. Set aside.
  4. Lay a sheet of nori (seaweed) on a bamboo maki mat or plastic wrap. Spread some rice in a thin layer across the seaweed.
  5. Align one row of fish and veggies at the edge of the seaweed and roll.
  6. Slice into 1/2-inch pieces and serve with soy sauce, ginger, and wasabi.
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