You may see upscale Italian restaurants in the United States offering “crudos” or dishes referred to as “a crudo.” These are often dishes of raw fish or shellfish served as sashimi, carpaccio, or tartare. The term “a crudo” as you will often hear on Food TV, in English, is somewhat nonsensical since it would translate into “a raw” but in this case it means “an uncooked dish.”
Anything that consists of primarily uncooked ingredients can be called a crudo or just crudo. They are typically dressed with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs and aromatics, and other Mediterranean ingredients.
In Italian, the term crudo means simply raw. It is used to designate any raw, uncooked item when used as an adjective, such as prosciutto crudo meaning cured ham or “Parma ham.” In fact, the term crudo used in isolation would probably be referring to prosciutto, as opposed to prosciutto cotto (cooked ham).
Raw fish in Italian would be pesce crudo. There is confusion, though between the word crudo and the Italian cooking term a crudo, which will be addressed shortly.
Raw fish is not traditionally eaten all over Italy but it has historically been eaten in coastal fishing towns where the fish is very fresh and of high quality. Pesce crudo [peh-shay KROO-doh] is a specialty of Italy’s Adriatic coast, served simply dressed ingredients like sea salt, olive oil, lemon juice, and perhaps capers.
Although you can certainly find examples of raw fish dishes in Italy, it seems almost certain that the current popularity of “crudos” on American menus was initiated in the United States, as part of a New Italian cooking movement. Likely candidates for the initiation of this trend are David Pasternack at
Esta 1, or Scott Conant a L’Impero (now closed), both of New York City.
Since “crudo” is now seen as a style of dish on many Italian restaurant menus, and since, indeed, whole restaurant concepts have been developed around it, much emphasis is placed on the difference between crudo and sashimi, or any other raw fish preparation. Although much can be said about the difference, the primary difference is that a crudo uses more ingredients and seeks to harmonize those ingredients with the fish, whereas sashimi features the fish, with traditional accompaniments like wasabi and soy sauce. However, anything served raw could rightly be called crudo, regardless of the ingredients used.
Crudo versus ‘a Crudo’
The cooking term a crudo, in Italy, does not refer to a raw dish, but rather a method of cooking in which various raw ingredients are placed together in a pan and cooked without any preliminary sauteing or other pre-cooking.
An example of this would be a Minestrone “a crudo” where all the fresh vegetables are put into the pot along with water, broth, etc. without the use of a sofritto or any other attempt to concentrate or heighten the flavors prior to simmering.
A sofrito, by the way, is a sauteed mixture of oil, onions, garlic, parsley, and other ingredients such as carrot and fennel, used as a base to heighten or deepen flavors (also used in Spanish and South American cooking. This is a good example of a flavoring, as opposed to a seasoning.