Japan's terrific tuna a tasty treat!

Japan's terrific tuna a tasty treat!

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Japan

If you go to a sushi restaurant in Japan, tuna will be one of the most popular orders. If you attend a wedding or other type of celebration, tuna is likely to be part of the menu. And if you eat dinner at the home of a Japanese friend, don’t be surprised if one the dishes served contains tuna.

Tuna is easy to come by in Japan and is something most foreigners want to try when they visit. But many are surprised that high-quality tuna can be just as expensive as world-renown Kobe Beef, caviar or foie gras.

During 2013’s year-opening auction at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, a 504 -pound Bluefin tuna caught in the Oma Strait (Aomori Prefecture) was bought for 155,400,000 yen ($15,400,000) by a sushi restaurant chain owner. It was the most ever paid for a single tuna.

While a quality bluefin can cost an obscene amount of money, tuna can be bought for a decent price at a local fish market or grocery store. And like in the States, canned tuna (often called “sea chicken” in Japan) is inexpensive and available at local supermarkets.

But why is tuna so popular? According to famed chef Yoshio Yamada, it’s all about its versatility

Tuna can be served like a steak, or raw (sashimi) or be used in a countless number of dishes, including desserts, Yamada said. 

“There are a lot of species of tuna … bluefin, yellowfin and albacore. If you use all the parts of these different species, you can create virtually any type of dish,” he said, explaining that tuna can be cooked just like beef, pork or chicken. “Instead of kalbiyaki (grilled sliced rib-meat) for instance, you can use the fatty back part of tuna instead of rib-meat, and it is much tastier and healthier than beef.” 

For those of you who watch your diet and workout, “tuna is high protein, low calorie, and extremely healthy,” Yamada said.

So what’s the best tuna to eat?

“Bigeye and yellowfin are the two most popular tunas caught off the coasts of Japan,” said tuna expert Yoshimi Suenaga of Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology.  “These days, albacore is also getting more popular as its quality has improved and is usually reasonably priced.”

What should I buy?
Many in the military community enjoy shopping off base, including at fish markets and grocery stores. The next time you find yourself eyeing blocks of tuna and contemplating what to purchase, there are a few things to keep in mind.

“If you are going to buy both the akami (red flesh part) and toro (fatty flesh part) of the same tuna, just focus on the red flesh part and choose one with fine and delicate texture,” said Fumihiko Sorimachi, manager of the tuna shop Ocean Grow in Misaki on mainland Japan. “Because if its akami is good, its toro is also good.”

If you’re in the market for bluefin, “Choose the thick black-reddish one,” he added.

Yamada has a simple trick he uses to judge the quality of fish on display. “Press the tuna meat lightly over its wrapping.  If the meat is too tender and water is oozing out when you press down, never buy that block, as its quality is not good,” he cautioned. “Remember, good tuna has strong resilience.” 

If you’re looking for some fresh sashimi, Yamada recommends “choosing a block where tendons run straight in the same direction with similar spacing between each.  That shows the block is from the middle part of tuna - the best part for sashimi.”  

Dealing with frozen tuna
If you’ve been to a big fish market, you’ve probably noticed that a majority of the monster tuna are frozen stiff. This is because after they are hauled aboard, there are immediately put into “super freezers” that flash freeze the tuna with a temperature around –70 degrees Fahrenheit. The frozen tuna is packed with fresh taste and flavor. The frozen fish are then cut into blocks.

According to Sorimachi, you can preserve a frozen block of tuna in your refrigerator for two weeks and still be able to eat it raw, but he cautioned against it. “You cannot avoid decreasing the quality of tuna in your freezer,” he said, explaining that your home refrigerator can’t come close to -70 degrees. .  “So, basically, it is recommended to defrost and eat it as soon as you buy it at market.”

When defrosting the block of tuna, do not use a microwave. Rather, put the frozen fish directly into warm salt water for a couple of minutes until about 30 percent of the block is defrosted.  Then, wipe the block with a clean dish towel.  Then wring out the towel tightly and wrap the block with it.  Put the wrapped tuna in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Although the block can be defrosted within 20-30 minutes, let it stand longer if you can.

“Since fresh tuna has a kind of fishy smell and rough taste, you had better let it stand for a while in the refrigerator, the taste and smell will mellow and get better,” Sorimachi said.

Misaki - 'Tuna Town'

If you looking to explore the coast and check out a fishing village, stop by Misaki, known to some as Tuna Town.

Misaki, which annually hauls in the second largest amount of tuna in the nation, has been known as an important tuna fishery port since 1922 when the Misaki Fish Market was established.

Misaki is located at the top of the Miura Peninsula, about 30 miles down from the center of Tokyo, and about 10 miles from Yokosuka Naval Base.  After getting off at Misakiguchi Station on the Keikyu-line, take a 20-minute bus ride and you’ll end up in this tranquil fishing village that gives off a nostalgic atmosphere. And most of the restaurants clustered around the port serve up tuna dishes.

Although old and nostalgic looking, Misaki Port boasts state-of-the-art cold storage and processing facilities.

“To maintain tuna in good shape, the temperature is the key,” said Fumihiko Sorimachi, maneger of a tuna shop Ocean Grow.  “Misaki Port has a wonderful modernized cold storage facility that enables to keep tuna in temperatures under -70 degrees Fahrenheit.  So, the quality of tuna here is second to none.”

And Misaki offers up all parts of the tuna for tasting.

“As the port facility and factories process tuna for sashimi or other tuna products right here, you can get virtually any part of tuna, such as tasty cheeks, bone marrow, eyeballs and tails that cannot be seen elsewhere,” Sorimachi said.

Misaki Town established a market facility, Fisharina Wharf Urari, in 2001. There are 13 shops selling  tuna products. You can sample not only various raw fish and tuna curry, but also the one-of-a-kind “maguro toro man” (a bun with tuna filling). And if the tuna filling doesn’t hit the spot, you can try a scoop of tuna-flavored ice cream.    

Fisharina Wharf Urari
Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Location: 5-3-1 Misaki, Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture (3-minute walk from Keikyu Bus “Misakiko” stop)  
URL: http://www.umigyo.co.jp/ (Japanese)
For more information, call 046-881-6721 (Japanese)

Tuna Shop Ocean Grow
Located within the Fisharina Wharl Urari
URL: www.oceangrow.jp
For more information about tuna and recipes, call Fumihiko Sorimachi at 046-880-1531 or e-mail him at info@oceangrow.jp


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