Ultimate Guide to Making Seafood Sunomono: Freshness and Flavor

Imagine diving into a refreshing bowl of seafood sunomono, a delightful Japanese salad that perfectly marries the crispness of cucumber with the fresh zest of various seafoods. This dish, often spotlighted as a starter in Japanese cuisine, tantalizes with its light and tangy vinegar dressing, making it a favorite among those who crave something both savory and refreshing.


Dive into the fresh and zesty world of seafood sunomono. Here’s what you’ll need to create this delightful Japanese salad.

Seafood Selection

  • 1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2 pound scallops, side muscle removed
  • 1/2 cup imitation crab meat, shredded

Vegetables and Other Ingredients

  • 2 large cucumbers, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons seaweed (wakame), rehydrated and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, for garnish
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

Required Tools and Equipment

To prepare your seafood sunomono efficiently, you’ll need some specific tools and equipment. Here’s what to gather before you start:

  • Sharp Knife: Essential for thinly slicing cucumbers and red onions. A sharp knife ensures smooth, even cuts without damaging the delicate textures of the vegetables and seafood.
  • Mandoline Slicer: Optional, but highly recommended for achieving uniformly thin cucumber slices. Be cautious and consider using a safety guard to protect your fingers.
  • Vegetable Peeler: Useful for peeling cucumbers if you prefer them peeled. This tool can also help in creating thin cucumber ribbons if desired.
  • Mixing Bowls: You will need at least two mixing bowls. One for mixing the dressing and another larger one for combining the salad ingredients.
  • Measuring Cups and Spoons: Accuracy is key in the balance of flavors in the vinegar dressing, so make sure to measure your ingredients like rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, and sugar meticulously.
  • Whisk or Fork: For emulsifying the dressing to ensure that the garlic, ginger, and liquids are thoroughly combined.
  • Serving Dish: Choose a dish that complements the elegant look of the sunomono. A clear glass bowl can be a great choice to showcase the vibrant colors of the salad.
  • Refrigerator: Not a tool, but necessary for chilling the salad briefly before serving, which enhances the refreshing taste of the dish.

Gathering these tools and equipment will set you up for success and make the preparation process for your seafood sunomono seamless and enjoyable.

Preparation Steps

Now that you have your tools ready, let’s delve into the actual preparation of your seafood sunomono. Follow these steps carefully to create a refreshing and flavorful dish.

Cleaning and Preparing Seafood

  1. Select Fresh Seafood: Opt for fresh shrimp, crab, or octopus. If using frozen, ensure it is thoroughly defrosted.
  2. Clean Thoroughly: For shrimp, remove the shell and devein by making a shallow cut along the back and pulling out the vein with the tip of your knife. For octopus, clean under cold water and remove the beak if present.
  3. Blanch the Seafood: Bring a pot of water to a boil and add a pinch of salt. Blanch shrimp for about 2 minutes, octopus for about 20-30 seconds until they are just opaque. This technique will keep them tender.
  4. Shock in Ice Water: Immediately transfer the blanched seafood to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and keep them crisp.
  5. Slice for Serving: Once cooled, slice the seafood into bite-sized pieces. Set aside for assembly.

Slicing Vegetables

  1. Peel the Cucumber: Use a vegetable peeler to peel the cucumber. For a decorative touch, leave thin strips of skin for a striped effect.
  2. Thinly Slice: Utilize your mandoline slicer to slice the cucumber into thin rounds. If using a knife, aim for consistently thin slices to ensure even pickling.
  3. Soak in Salt Water: Place the cucumber slices in a bowl, sprinkle a small amount of salt (about half a teaspoon), and let them sit for 5 minutes. This process helps remove excess water.
  4. Drain and Dry: After 5 minutes, squeeze the cucumber slices gently with your hands to remove any remaining water. This step is crucial for the perfect crunch and effective dressing absorption.

Assembling the Sunomono

  1. Combine Vinegar Base: In a bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of sugar until the sugar dissolves.
  2. Add Flavorings: Include a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of sesame oil for an added depth of flavor.
  3. Adjust to Taste: Taste the dressing and adjust the seasoning if necessary. It should be a harmonious balance of sweet, savory, and tangy.
  4. Chill Before Serving: Refrigerate the dressing for at least 15 minutes before pouring it over the seafood and cucumber. This chilling period allows the flavors to meld beautifully.

Follow these steps meticulously to ensure your seafood sunomono is as delightful in taste as it is in presentation.

Assembling the Seafood Sunomono

Now that you have all your ingredients prepared and ready, let’s put together your seafood sunomono, ensuring each layer contributes to a harmonious blend of flavors.

Mixing Ingredients

Start by draining the salted cucumber slices thoroughly to ensure they don’t water down your dressing. In a large mixing bowl, combine these cucumber slices with the blanched seafood. Gently toss them to ensure an even distribution. Next, carefully add the sliced seaweed and the chopped scallion to the bowl. It’s important to mix these ingredients gently to maintain the texture and integrity of each component. This step integrates the varied textures and tastes, setting the stage for the dressing to tie everything together harmoniously.


Pour the vinegar dressing evenly over the mixed ingredients in the bowl. Using either your hands or chopsticks, lightly mix the salad to ensure every piece of seafood and cucumber is well-coated with the dressing. Allow the salad to sit and marinate for about 10 to 15 minutes in the refrigerator. This short resting period allows the flavors to meld beautifully, enhancing the overall taste and allowing the vinegar to slightly pickle the cucumbers and seafood. Once marinated, give the salad a final gentle stir before plating.

Optional Garnishes and Variations

Enhancing your seafood sunomono with a variety of garnishes and trying different variations can personalize this dish to suit your taste or make it more appealing for special occasions.

Garnishes to Elevate Your Dish

To add a touch of elegance and extra flavor, consider sprinkling these toppings on your seafood sunomono:

  • Toasted Sesame Seeds: A small handful of these can add a nutty crunch.
  • Thinly Sliced Green Onion: For a sharp, fresh bite.
  • Shredded Nori: Adds a sea-salty flavor and makes the presentation striking.
  • Chili Flakes: If you like a bit of heat, a pinch of chili flakes will do wonders.

Experimenting with Variations

Seafood sunomono is wonderfully versatile. Here are some ideas to switch it up:

  • Different Seafoods: Beyond the traditional choices, you might try thinly sliced octopus or even lobster for a luxurious twist.
  • Additional Vegetables: Thinly sliced radishes or bell peppers can add color and crunch.
  • Fruit Infusion: For a hint of sweetness, consider adding a few pieces of thinly sliced mango or peach during the marinating process.

Serving Suggestions

Once your seafood sunomono is beautifully assembled and chilled, turn your attention to presenting this delightful salad in a way that complements its refreshing and elegant flavors. The way you serve this dish can elevate the dining experience, making it not just a meal but a visual feast as well.

Choose the Right Dishware

Opt for clear glass bowls or plates for serving your seafood sunomono. This choice allows the vibrant colors of the cucumber, seafood, and garnishments to shine through, adding to the aesthetic appeal of your meal. Plates with shallow dips are particularly ideal as they showcase the light dressing without it pooling awkwardly.

Presentation Tips

  • Center Stage: Spoon the seafood sunomono into the center of your plate in a neat mound. The slight elevation helps to create an appealing profile for the dish.
  • Garnish Wisely: Top with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds, a few rings of thinly sliced green onion, or a light dusting of chili flakes to introduce an additional color and flavor layer. A leaf or two of fresh mint or shiso can add a refreshing touch.
  • Edible Flowers: For special occasions, consider garnishing with edible flowers such as pansies or marigolds. These bring a pop of color and a touch of elegance, making the dish festive and inviting.

Accompanying Beverages

Pair your seafood sunomono with a beverage that compliments its clean and acidic profile. A chilled glass of dry sake or a crisp white wine like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio enhances the refreshing qualities of the salad. For a non-alcoholic option, iced green tea or even a cucumber-infused water would be delightful.

Additional Side Dishes

Although seafood sunomono can stand alone as a light meal, you might want to serve it alongside other dishes to round out a fuller meal experience:

  • Sushi or Sashimi: These are natural companions to sunomono, sharing similar flavor profiles and ingredients.
  • Steamed Rice: A simple bowl of steamed rice adds substance, balancing the tanginess of the sunomono.
  • Miso Soup: Offer a warm, soothing contrast to the crisp and chilled sunomono for a well-rounded palate.

Make-Ahead Tips

Preparing your seafood sunomono ahead of time can be a brilliant way to save effort and enhance flavors, especially when you’ve planned a comprehensive meal with multiple dishes. Here’s how you can efficiently prep components of the salad in advance.

Prepping the Seafood

Blanch your choice of seafood—shrimp, scallops, or octopus—early in the day or the night before. After blanching, immediately plunge the seafood into ice water to halt the cooking process, ensuring it remains tender and juicy. Drain well and store in a covered container in the fridge. This method locks in the freshness and eases your final assembly.

Slicing Vegetables

Cucumbers and any additional vegetables should be thinly sliced using a mandoline for consistency. You can do this up to a day ahead. To keep them crisp, wrap the slices in a damp paper towel and place them in airtight containers. This prevents them from drying out and maintains their crunchy texture.

Preparing the Dressing

The dressing, a fundamental part of sunomono, can also be prepared ahead. Mix rice vinegar, a bit of sugar, and salt to taste. If you like, introduce a hint of soy sauce or sesame oil for added complexity. The dressing should be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed bottle. Shake well before drizzling over your salad to redistribute the flavors.

Assembling Before Serving

When you’re ready to serve, combine the prepped ingredients gently to avoid bruising the delicate seafood and vegetables. Adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve immediately to enjoy the crunch of the cucumbers against the soft, vinegary bite of the seafood. This assembly should be done closer to serving time to ensure the best texture and freshness.


Ready to elevate your next meal with a touch of Japanese elegance? Seafood sunomono is your go-to choice. By carefully selecting fresh ingredients and following the steps outlined you’ll create a vibrant dish that’s as pleasing to the eye as it is to the palate. Remember to keep the assembly for the last moment to enjoy the crispness of the cucumber mingled with the delicate seafood flavors. Dive into this culinary adventure and watch your guests be impressed by the refreshing taste of your seafood sunomono.

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