Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ah(I) Tuna!

Another product I scrutinize is tuna. Not only the tuna I serve but the tuna everyone else serves. I enjoy good tuna and my customers have grown accustomed to quality fresh tuna. Too often when visiting other restaurants I am served a frozen tuna product that has been altered to enhance the color of the flesh. To the best of my knowledge it's a cold smoke process that permanently turns the meat a bright pinkish red color. No matter how old that tuna gets it's still the same fluorescent pinkish color. You may have seen it at your grocery store in the frozen fish section. The tuna is usually triangle shaped and often packed two to a pack. Many restaurants serve it because tuna is a tricky animal. It spoils quickly and the flesh of fresh tuna begins to turn gray when exposed to air. So it's difficult to slip it by the customer. How do you know it's safe to order tuna in a restaurant? Two big factors, the restaurant's reputation and price. Good tuna is not cheap, bad tuna is.

There are different types of tuna varying in quality. The most precious is "Bluefin". Used extensively in sushi and sashimi. It's VERY expensive and is becoming scarce. Next down the tuna chain is "Big Eye". Very nice tuna and a good alternative to Bluefin. Then comes "Yellowfin", this tuna is probably the most abundant among restaurants that serve fresh tuna. It's not as expensive and is still a nice product. It's also broken down into grades of quality. Number one being the best, then two++, two+ and two. It's further broken down by size. The smaller the fish the less expensive. Bigger fish have a higher fat contact. In tuna and many other fish fat is a good thing. The bad thing is the fatter the fish the higher the mercury content. It is most prevalent in Bluefin. They are larger, dive deeper, and have the highest fat content. There was a recent study done in New York city studying Mercury levels in tuna and the amounts were alarming. The highest levels were found in Bluefin. I'm not suggesting you refrain from tuna, you would have to eat tuna often to worry about it.

Other types of tuna are Albacore and Skipjack. I'm seeing Albacore sold fresh and is also used in canning. Skipjack, also known as Bonito is canned and dried.

A couple of terms that are associated with tuna are "Ahi" the name for Yellowfin tuna, "Maguro", the Japanese term for Bluefin tuna and "toro", the fat under belly of Bluefin (Abolutely delicious).

Because of the severe shortage (and the price)of Bluefin I serve Big Eye and #1 Yellowfin. Still great products if you can move enough to keep it fresh. Hence the reason why so many restaurants serve the frozen variety.

I've included a link below about sushi tuna. I encourage you to try it. I like it seared rare with a little soy glaze, pickled ginger and wasabi. Rare seared tuna is also known as "tataki". I also feel it should be eaten with chopsticks. I hate it when I'm served thinly sliced rare tuna with a fork. When we go out I'm going to have to start bringing my own chopsticks with me.



Michael Walsh said...

I agree about the chopsticks. something about metal and raw fish don't sond appetizing to me.

In cleveland we get alot of yellowfin tuna. Very rarely do you see bluefin available, and whenyou do it's not expensive enough to think it's the real deal. From what out of town cooks have told me, the tuna we get is not all that good, graded on a slippery scale of +1 and what not. But i've enjoyed plenty of raw tuna, that i've cut myself at the restaurant and soaked in soy, sake, and seaweed salad. that is what i like.

Salty said...

Yep, sounds good.

We don't see much Bluefin either. I've found Bigeye a good substitute. It's becoming more available from my Chicago distributor or I'll fly it in from Hawaii. The price is similar.

EatWisconsin said...

Great post. I am amazed at how many restaurants serve this frozen stuff. If you see a seared tuna steak or sandwich for 8.99, you are getting pretty mediocre tuna.

That frozen stuff from the store always has an off-putting metallic taste to it and though it is red/pink it doesn't ever look like the high quality stuff you get at your nicer restaurants.

I like quickly marinade tuna in a mix of soy sauce, 5 spice powder, ginger, honey, sriracha hot sauce, and cilantro and sear it, then I take the marinade and reduce it down to a thicker consistency throw in some sesame seeds and drizzle over the tuna.

Another thing I do is take whole cumin seed, coriander seed, peppercorns, and fennel seed and toast them in a pan. Chop them in a spice grinder to a very coarse grind, mix in some salt and pack that on the tuna and sear it. I usually eat it with a cannellini bean salad. Its a nice change from the typical Asian inspired preparations.

Salty said...

I sell the bulk of my tuna during the week to my out of town business clientele, the locals for the most part are still reluctant. I happen to think all the bad tuna out there is partly to blame. Even the sushi restaurant in town sells the frozen product. Can you imagine?

Michael Walsh said...

Just playing the devils advocate... but at least the frozen stuff is healthy....opposed to a nice piece of fresh yellowfin that is 8 days old.

Where i work now, we buy number one yellowfin, sear it, and freeze it in 5 portion size pieces, because we figure it takes us, on average, 3 days to sell 5 portions, and we don't want to sell tuna older than 3 days. and 3 days is pushing it.

everytime we get a loin in, i butcher it, sear the nice pieces, then scrape all the meat off the tendons for a tartar special which usually covers the cost of the tuna. it's a great way to make money on a high end product.

I feel like this is the safest, most fulfilling way to sell tuna where we are. Idealy it never would go in the frezer, but like i said, at least it isn't rotten.

Salty said...

Sear it then freeze it? How's the color after thawing? That sounds like a much better solution then the processed stuff.

Anonymous said...

I do not think I ever had really good Tuna until I lived in New York of all places. What hooked me (no pun intended) was kama from a Bluefin at a little sushi place in the TriBeCa district. Red meat will always be my first love, but that kama was sublime.

Dave Risch

Salty said...

Kyoto, a little sushi place on Layton has great toro. They don't have it all the time but when they do I always order it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip. On the rare occasion I eat sushi in Milwaukee it is usually at Nanakusa but I will give Kyoto a try sometime.

While we are on the subject, I was not surprised to see that the sushi restaurant around 130th and Bluemound closed. Their "special" was half-priced sushi on Monday nights. If that is not a flashing red light with a blaring alarm to stay away I do not know what is.

Salty said...

It's nothing fancy but the same two sushi chefs are there every time I go in. Solid sushi in a friendly relaxed atmosphere. I eat there more than any other restaurant. Also a great value.

Anonymous said...

No big surprise here, but this may be of interest...


- Dave R.