Making sustainable sushi
December 13th, 2011
09:05 AM ET
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Making good sushi depends on a number of things, but for Silla Bjerrum, founder of British restaurant chain Feng Sushi, where her ingredients come from is key.

“I serve a lot of fish. I buy a lot of fish,” she explains. “Ten percent of my turnover is spent on buying fish, so I think I have a duty of care to the fish and the people who eat the fish.”

Each year the award-winning chef teaches small groups of enthusiastic foodies traditional and not-so-traditional sushi-making skills in one of her London restaurants.

From maki rolls to  more daring “inside-out” rolls, she offers helpful tips to like how to wash sushi rice (at least 10 to 12 times!) and how covering your sushi-rolling mat in plastic wrap will make it easier to clean up later.

The main appeal of the class is its emphasis on sustainability, but the problem, says Bjerrum, is the definition of sustainability varies.

For her, a variety of factors make up ecologically-friendly fish but one of the most vital is sourcing.

While I roll haphazard-looking California rolls during one of her classes, Bjerrum poses several questions to consider when purchasing fish: Is it farmed? Where is it sourced from? Is that source sustainable?

To reduce the carbon footprint of her ingredients, Bjerrum says that the majority of the fish used in Feng Sushi kitchens is from the United Kingdom. She looks abroad only if she can’t find a supplier closer to home.

Salmon is one of the mostly commonly used ingredients in sushi-making and, over the past decade, Bjerrum has built a relationship with Loch Duart salmon farm on the west coast of Scotland.

She says these fish are the best tasting because they are reared in sea pens at low volumes, making them leaner and fitter, and are fed fish meal made from fish caught in unpolluted waters.

With shellfish like scallops, Bjerrum recommends, if possible, sourcing produce from day boats. These are boats that go to sea for a few days and fish in sustainably designated waters before landing the catch back to sell later that day.

Bjerrum also recommends branching out from tried-and-tested fish like salmon and tuna and experimenting with varieties that are in plentiful supply locally.

Using more vegetables in sushi is another way to be more eco-friendly, says Bjerrum. While this is not strictly traditional, the addition of avocado, chives, pickled ginger and rocket leaves to a maki roll is an unusual and delicious alternative.

“We need to be realistic,” says Bjerrum. “Why have meat or fish seven days a week? We do need a balanced diet. And I do think that is the beauty of sushi. I think that it is nice to be inventive with sushi.”

After a day-long lesson, my bag is packed with enough sushi to feed six people, all made by me.

It’s a shock there is so much because it has all come from one scallop and a single portion of salmon and tuna.

Bjerrum says that this is the great sushi secret: “I try and teach in the class to buy really good quality (fish) and have a little amount because it goes a long way. The good thing with sushi is that it yields a lot.”

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Filed under: Environment • Feature • Japan Eats • News • Sushi • Sustainability

soundoff (75 Responses)
  1. Clarky

    There is NO sustainability in this article, fish fed at fish farms are fed ocean caught (or drained) fish/krill/junk, which will soon be all gone, bye bye. I hope MikeD is right with feeder fish sustainability though with the algae thing, sounds like it may be a solution.

    December 14, 2011 at 4:10 am |
  2. joe johnson

    I would not take any Sushi advice from someone who has a restaurant named "Feng Sushi". Feng is not even Japanese!

    December 13, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  3. Jonathan C

    You're acting as though you can go to the market, pick out any raw fish in their display, and roll it into sushi. If you buy anything except flash-frozen sushi-grade fish (aside from things like immitation crab or cooked shrimp), you risk sending your dinner guest to the hospital. Has no one heard of the story of the person who caught a fish right out of the ocean, made sushi and almost died? It doesn't matter how fresh it is, the potential parasites/bacteria must be killed first. Try googling "sushi grade fish ". Thats how I found the market I've been going to for years. Make sure you ask them if the fish is sushi grade and ready to serve!

    December 13, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • Chuck

      Mr. Jonathan C is entirely correct.

      December 13, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
      • Laca


        December 13, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  4. NeverInaMillion

    I remember reading in a book one time that making caviar meant catching pregnant fish, ripping them open to harvest the eggs (maybe even while still alive?) and just discarding the fish after that, which can't survive the process. After I read that, I decided I didn't want to partake in that at all, even if the caviar is yummy. I was hoping the book was wrong. So, ever since then, I've been a little concerned about the roe or fish eggs I get on my sushi rolls. They are delicious, but are they the type that are harvested while killing and discarding the mother fish? I've eaten both the small and the large fish eggs with sushi, and I do not know if these eggs are harvested such that the entire mother fish is utilized or can stay alive, or if the mother fish is discarded, not used, but killed. It if is the latter, I may buy only the sushi that doesn't have fish eggs in it.

    December 13, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • mikeD

      Odd you mention this, there was a special on How it's Made about caviar. Most caviar today is produced at fish farms. They said during the process that the female is killed and the eggs harvested, but that the meat is also used as well and that there is minimal waste at most of the caviar farms that use this method. They did, however, forget to mention which companies use this method to harvest the caviar. As for the roe used in sushi, it is mostly from fish that is used to produce sushi as well, so most of the meat is used after the eggs are harvested.

      December 13, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • KD

      Here is link to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's seafood watch site. This shows you which roe is sustainable and which isn't.

      December 13, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  5. cotedzur

    Sea-raised penned salmon is tough to call 'sustainable' – more fish per pound are caught, ground-up and feed to the salmon than is produced, not counting the waste by-product from obtaining the feed fish including the endangered turtles and other sea-life that is just discarded overboard, plus the problem of disease transmission from farmed fish to the wild population has been a problem. Farm raised sounds good but has its issues.

    December 13, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Barnes & Barnes

      Fish Heads, Fish Heads, Roly Poly Fish Heads.....

      December 13, 2011 at 10:45 am |
      • kastaway

        eat them up yum!

        December 14, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • mikeD

      Most fish farms also now raise the feeder fish that they use to feed their main product. They feed the feeder fish with algea. The algea can also be grown right at the farm. As the technology increases, the more sustainable these farms can become.

      December 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  6. eightball

    Not a good idea to eat 'farmed' salmon. Quality and health (parasites and illness) of farmed salmon is in question. Isn't even a good idea to eat 'raw' salmon in sushi. I've had sushi in Japan a number of times, and I think they avoid raw salmon in their sushi. Article says salmon is 'key' ingredient of sushi. I saw an unlimited variety of sushi in Japan, almost all of it without salmon.

    Best practice: Eat Japanese made sushi. Their chefs train for years and learn about parasites, quality, preparation and freshness. The trend toward sushi outlets where youngsters get a week of sushi making education is dangerous, besides not tasting very good. The Koreans and Chinese have coopted the sushi restaurant business also: some good, some not so good. The gold standard: Japan sushi chef.

    December 13, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  7. Aaronski

    I like my sushi cooked well done.

    December 13, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Tonto

      Pass the Wasabi, Kemosabi.

      December 13, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  8. sugreev

    great article. more restaurants need to embrace sustainability. Be it from local sourcing as this particular one does, or other forms such as using energy star equipment, bio degradable takeout containers instead of styrofoam and plastic etc. At 500Gallons we are building a free restaurant application which focuses on increasing profitability via sustainable means.

    December 13, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  9. Mike D.

    Ahh CNN, will you ever be a News Channel?

    December 13, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  10. Gaddffly

    Gah! I just cannot stand sushi,,, just had to say it.

    December 13, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • situationalawareness

      Leaves more for those that do like sushi.

      December 13, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Aaronski

      Yum! I just love sushi,,, just had to say it.

      December 13, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • mikeD

      More for me!

      December 13, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  11. ipmutt

    More proof you people are idiots and CNN is nothing more that third grade entertainment.

    December 13, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • Captain Obviousman

      And yet, here you are.

      December 13, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  12. Dixon

    Simple, less population.

    December 13, 2011 at 9:59 am |
  13. omegarising

    It was an interesting article up until I read "carbon foot print", then I realized it was nothing more than a CNN propaganda fluff piece.

    December 13, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  14. qwedie

    I live on sushi and raw fish.

    December 13, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • hah

      I live on frozen pizzas.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Chuck

      Mr. qwedie informs us, "I live on sushi and raw fish."

      Isn't that sort of a smelly place to live? I live on the second floor; it's nice.

      December 13, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  15. Vera Waitress

    Sustainable means please stop freaking having seven children! Gluttony is a sin, and having more than two children is gluttony.

    December 13, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • Vera's Doctor

      *hands over a piece of paper*
      Here's your new prescription. We've upped the dosage just a bit.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • omegarising

      Really? Having more than 2 children is gluttony? Really? And just how did you come up with that????

      December 13, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • Aucausin

      Stop eating your children then.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Fozzyspeak

      Dont feed the animals Vera.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • situationalawareness

      You sound Chinese.

      December 13, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • cotedzur

      Vera, i have to agree with you, tho I don't know if 'gluttony' is a correct description. The worlds population has more than doubled in my short lifetime, people just fail to see that all these humans on earth is simply not sustainable. Population growth and 'control' (i know how that word just drives people crazy, and no, I am not speaking of elimination, only smart ideas like birth control) is probably the most important issue humans need to deal with. Anyone who has an argument with that is not living in reality.

      December 13, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  16. Adijii Funamoreso

    The more endangered the animal, the more delicious the flesh. Thus, bring on the Blue Whale Testicle Sushi!

    December 13, 2011 at 9:21 am |
    • Limp Noodle

      I can't get my chopsticks around these Big Blue Balls.....

      December 13, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • Confucius

      Need bigger chopstick.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • noyb

      you people are messed up. i really can't say much more.

      December 13, 2011 at 10:09 am |
  17. DemiHuman

    I love seafood. I love Sushi, sashimi...all that. I'm willing to pay more to eat from sustainable fish sources. I wonder myself sometimes, at a sushi buffett – how many more buffets before we run out. Hopefully all the resturants out there are paying attention to this aspect. I rather eat in moderation than to not have ANY at all! Count me on-board!

    December 13, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • Su5

      I also like Sushi, Sashimi, and so on. I often go to a revolving Sushi bar with my family. I think that Sushi which are revolved for a long time are really fresh. Recently, a cover which protects Sushi was invented. It is nice idea. Moreover, I want to konw whether Sushi of buffet is fresh. People should think a remedy.

      December 15, 2011 at 1:36 am |
  18. Hakamoto

    Consuming anything other than a strictly vegan diet is nothing short of barbaric.

    December 13, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Aucausin

      When I go to lunch, I'm going to eat an extra large serving of meat in your honor.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:18 am |
    • Steve Irwin's rotting corpse

      You're a maniac. Even Jesus fed the croud of 5,000 with loaves of bread and FISH. Idiot. Why don't you just die already?

      December 13, 2011 at 9:18 am |
      • Sick

        How mean of you.

        December 13, 2011 at 9:22 am |
    • johnharry

      call me CONAN

      December 13, 2011 at 9:25 am |
      • Conan the Barbarian

        NO! I am Conan! You are a pipsqueak!

        December 13, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • The Barbarian

      What is so wrong with

      December 13, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • njm

      you just made me crave for a juicy 1/2 burger for lunch and then a 24ounce medium-rare cooked stake for dinner

      December 13, 2011 at 9:52 am |
      • Hakamoto

        I think you mean "steak" there genius.

        Typical of you people. Illiterate barbarians.

        December 13, 2011 at 10:10 am |
      • Conan the Barbarian


        And maybe njm likes to eat wood.

        December 13, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • mikeD

      Tell that to your organs when they start failing from malnutrition. If we were not supposed to eat meat, we would not have the teeth that are specifically designed to do so. We are omnivores. We have teeth for both meat and vegetables. We have the digestive system for both as well. I can respect someone who chooses a vegan lifestyle, but to sit there on your high horse, makes me much less inclined to a. respect your argument and b. respect you as a person.

      December 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Chuck

      I'm a vegitarian... I only eat corn-fed beef.

      December 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  19. Lynn Ann

    The only thing that needs to be "sustainable" is your faith in Jesus and that he will provide for your needs.

    December 13, 2011 at 9:13 am |
    • Aucausin

      Please, Jesus loved to mess with the fish market. Always going down to the shore and distracting the fishermen. Anti-sushi hippie that he was.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:15 am |
      • Chuck

        He also served fish dinners for a couple of large crowds.

        December 13, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Sick

      Umm... ok.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:20 am |
    • Whorhay

      That's right, we don't need to be concerned with using the resources we have responsibly. Jesus will magically make more Dodo Birds any day now. And I'm told he's been working on sorting out the salmon decline on the western seaboard.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • Alex

      I hope you meant Buddha

      December 13, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • mikeD

      Really? So when I'm hungry I can just pray for food and it will be provided for me? I guess that's what all those starving people in the world are doing wrong. They just need to pray and all their problems will be solved. I'm religious and even I think you're a nut.

      December 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Jimdub

      But not until after football season, he's busy working in Denver.

      December 13, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
      • Jerv@Jimdub

        Too funny!

        December 14, 2011 at 7:33 am |
  20. BaldHeaded Iron Chef

    " If you knew Sushi, like I know Sushi, Oh what a wonderful Gal..."

    December 13, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • Little Timmy

      Wow. You're old.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:10 am |
      • situationalawareness

        No, you're just uncultured.

        December 13, 2011 at 10:22 am |
      • Little Timmy

        Wow. You're old, too.

        December 13, 2011 at 10:35 am |
  21. Cody

    Want sustainable sushi? Don't put fish in your sushi, then you don't have to worry about where fish comes from. No, sushi is not synonymous with fish. Sushi just means vinegared rice, and no kind of seafood is required to be either authentic or delicious.

    December 13, 2011 at 8:52 am |
    • Aucausin

      Sushi has become synonymous with raw fish, and in fact there are some forms of sushi that focus solely on a little fillet of fish. There's the rolled version, which sometimes is devoid of fish. But there is no way to make a nigiri sushi without fish, it's main characteristic is the piece of fish placed on top of a cube of rice. There is no reason not to eat fish, we just have to be careful to use sustainable practices.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:04 am |
      • Just Sayin

        There is actually classic nigiri sushi without fish....tamago or egg. Just sayin...

        December 13, 2011 at 10:49 am |
    • Quid Malmborg in Plano TX


      December 13, 2011 at 9:05 am |
    • Brad

      Sushi is just the rice, shashimi is the fish. As for giving up the fish, why would I want to do that? Love fish, and fish is incredibly good for you, especially salmon and tuna. Better for you than any tofu.

      December 13, 2011 at 9:13 am |
      • The Joe

        FINALLY some one who knows what shashimi is. I've been fighting with the UNeducated for years about the difference between the two words.

        December 13, 2011 at 9:32 am |
      • situationalawareness

        What's wrong with tofu?
        ... and when did Tofu get into this conversation about sushi? It's obviously not as nutritious as fish, but I'm perplexed as to why you even included it in your sentence in a seemingly derogatory way.

        December 13, 2011 at 10:20 am |
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