What Is Crudo?

Dan Harkins

Raw fish dishes often are lumped into the popular Japanese dish of sushi, but this method typically includes a lump of rice and spicy wasabi. Other countries prepare and present their raw fish differently. In Italy, this style of cooking-less preparation is called crudo, which literally means "raw" and has become a European way of referring to a handful of raw seafood preparations. The traditional method, however, is a simple drizzling of high-end oil with a hint of fresh herbs and citrus for bitter, sweet and acidic elements.

Caperberries, one of the ingredients in crudo.
Caperberries, one of the ingredients in crudo.

The list of fish species that can be used for crudo is expansive. Some stick with traditional proteins like salmon, tuna or scallops. Any fish that can be prepared in a pan, however, is a candidate for this raw treatment — from catfish and cod to shrimp and octopus.

It's common for crudo to accompany a green salad.
It's common for crudo to accompany a green salad.

A key consideration when making crudo is the type of oil that will be used to coat it. Many chefs stick to various types of high-end extra-virgin olive oil, though others mix it up by using almond or truffle oil instead. A more ordinary vegetable oil, however, might not impart a sufficient amount of flavor.

A simple drizzling of oil over the fish is typically the final step in preparing a plate of crudo. First, citrus juice from lemons or oranges is often dripped onto the plate. A small salad of greens or fruit is another common accompaniment. For instance, one crudo recipe starts with lemon juice, then slices of albacore, then sea salt, pepper, oil and, finally, Sicilian caperberries.

The possibilities are more varied than one might at first believe. Some restaurants devote entire menus to crudo exclusively. Various sauces, dressings, vegetables and citrus combinations provide for a myriad of flavors and textures.

According to San Francisco Chronicle writer Carol Ness, some culinary insiders have come to think of other raw preparations as crudo too, including the distinctly different ceviche, carpaccio and tartare styles of presenting an entree without cooking it first. There are major differences between all of these methods, though. Tartare is seafood or red meat that is ground and seasoned, and it is used as a spread for bread or crackers. Ceviche involves bathing minced seafood and often vegetables in citrus juice for a replication of the cooking process. Finally, carpaccio is meat of seafood that's sliced thin, pounded and lightly seasoned or oiled before serving.

Oranges might be used to make crudo.
Oranges might be used to make crudo.

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