Ike Jime: The Japanese Method Of Slaughtering Fish To Preserve Flavor

It's not often that diners are told how their once sentient food was killed. Indeed nobody really wants to know how the sausage is made. In fact, just one Google search on how your favorite fowl, fish, steak, or barbeque spare rib dish began will likely make anyone lose their appetite. And, seeing images from the inside of a slaughterhouse may even be enough to turn some people into vegetarians.

However, some ethical vegetarians do make an exception and eat fish, otherwise known as pescatarians. According to Vice, science may back up the pescatarians' moral choice because fish lack the developed neocortex mammals have and thus don't feel pain. However, others, like Peter Singer for the Guardian, argue that as there are no humane slaughter requirements for fish, they may actually suffer a significant amount of stress as they die. But, there is one Japanese method of fish slaughter that is more humane and may even result in a tastier fish: ike jime.

Ike jime, a Japanese tradition of killing fish

Ike jime is a technique of killing and preparing fish by paralyzing them and then draining the fish of its blood, which first developed around 350 years ago, according to the Michelin Guide. Japanese chefs have continued use of this technique because it allows a fish to suffer less, which means there is less lactic acid and cortisol flooding the meat upon death. This results in a higher quality of meat and a fresher taste because the flavor and texture are preserved, and when aged, an umami taste develops.

The technique is executed in four rapid steps: first, the fish is "closed" by taking a spike and impaling it through the skull to crush the brain, effectively cutting off any stress signals. Then the major blood vessels in the gills and tail are cut for drainage. Third, the nervous system is cut off via the spinal cord, and then finally the fish is left to bleed out in ice water. According to the Ike Jime Federation, this technique allows the preparer to control the texture, appearance, smell, and even flavor of the fish. Need a visual tutorial? Grab a sharp knife and follow this Youtube guide from Vox.