Friday, November 11, 2011

How to Not Cook Tuna

If you are fortunate enough to find yourself in possession of some fresh yellowfin or even better yet, bluefin (be still oh heart!) tuna, there are countless ways to cook it.  Personally, I feel the best way to cook it is to not cook it at all. 

But, let’s step back a bit. 

Preparing tuna properly starts when the fish on the line is pulled close enough to the boat to reach with the gaff.  Ideally, there is a team of three involved: the person handling the rod, the person wiring the fish (hand lining the leader to position the fish next to the boat), and the person wielding the gaff.  When the fishing line to leader connection reaches the rod tip, the rod man steps back away from the stern, allowing the wire man to grab the leader and lead the fish up to the side of the boat, away from the propellers.  With the fish in position, the gaff man cleanly gaffs the tuna in the head, to avoid damaging the consumable parts of the fish.  The gaffed tuna is lifted onboard the boat, stabilized, and quickly dispatched via a blow to the head, or an awl to the brain.  That keeps the fish from thrashing about and bruising the meat by pounding against the boat.  The fish is immediately bled out via a vertical cut made just behind the pectoral fins.  This must be accomplished quickly, while the heart is still beating, so that the blood is pumped out completely.   Once bled, the fish is gutted and the cavity packed with ice.  The fish is then stored in an insulated fish box filled with a slurry of ice and salt water.

Once back at the dock, each fish is loined – that is, cut into 4 long pieces or “loins”.  The fish has 4 rows of bones extending from its backbone.  When viewed from the front of the fish, they are aligned like the 4 points of the compass – North, South, East, and West – and the 4 loins lie between them.  As the fish is loined, invariably, some meat is left on the bones.  There is often a ¼” thick strip of tuna left behind after the loin is removed.  We remove this with a filet knife and place it on a clean cutting board.  That strip is cut into 1” x 2” pieces, and represents the first fruits of the catch.  A dab of wasabi and splash of soy sauce, and the crew quickly becomes seagull-like in our zeal to enjoy the fresh sashimi.

Invariably, cleaning a dozen and a half large tuna at the dock tends to attract a crowd of onlookers.  The reaction of the crowd to the crew in a feeding frenzy eating the scraps left on the bones ranges from sheer horror to intense jealousy.  We typically share our good fortune with the envious, and watch with amusement as the horrified slink away aghast. 

The loins are then individually stored in large zip lock bags to keep them from exposure to the water, and stored back in the large coolers full of the saltwater and ice slurry for transportation home.  Once home, the majority of the tuna is vacuum packed and frozen, as you can only eat so much tuna while its still fresh.  I usually leave one or two loins unfrozen for consumption fresh. 

Here’s two of my favorite ways to enjoy it:

Just Eat It (sashimi)
Cut a section from the loin, about 6” long.  Remove the skin if that hasn’t been done yet.  Now take the section and cut it the long way into 3 or for “mini-loins”, each about 1” x 2” x 6” long.  Finally cut each mini loin into ¼” slices and enjoy with wasabi and soy sauce.  

Spicy Crunchy Tuna Rolls (sushi)
Cook and chill a batch of sticky rice.  Look for Sushi Rice in the international section of your supermarket, and follow the basic instructions on the label.  The label won’t tell you so, but the rice comes out better if you add a little salt and a teaspoon of sugar to it after it is cooked.  The instructions will call for rice vinegar, so be sure to pick some up when you buy the rice.  If you don’t already have one, pick up a bamboo sushi roller.  They are inexpensive and easy to use.  Also get some nori, which is sheets of dried seaweed.  You will also need Panko Japanese bread crumbs, sesame seeds, and optionally, if you can find one, a ripe mango. Finally, pick up some Sirachi (Japanese hot sauce).

Spread out the Panko bread crumbs and sesame seeds on a cooking sheet and toast lightly in the oven or toaster oven.  This provides the crunch to the sushi.  Mince the raw tuna into small pieces (approx ¼” cubes) and mix them in a bowl with Sirachi to taste (it’s hot!), and a bit of mayonnaise to hold it together.  Lay out your bamboo sushi roller and line it with plastic wrap to keep the rice from sticking to it.  Now lay out the sticky rice onto the roller and spread it out evenly.  (Tip: Have a bowl of cold water handy to dip your hands into.  This helps keep the rice from sticking to your fingers.)  Lay a sheet of nori onto the rice, scatter the toasted Panko and sesame seeds on the nori, then lay out a row of the seasoned tuna.  If you have ripe mango, lay a long strip next to the row of tuna.  Roll it all up, slice the roll into 1” pieces, and enjoy with a dab of wasabi and splash of soy sauce.  I’m betting you’re going to love it.

Here's a couple pics from some recent fishing trips.

Back at the dock...

Nice yellowfin tuna just caught

Things can get a little messy at times...

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Chowda Time!

There's nothing that says "Summer" like raw freshly dug Rhode Island littleneck clams on the halfshell.  Of course, not all the clams cooperate and give themselves up while still young and tender.  So, whenever I find myself with a batch of big quahogs, I like to turn them into home made New England Clam Chowder. Here's how I make mine.

New England Clam (Quahog) Chowder

¼ lb salt pork, diced small
4 doz large quahogs
2 small bottles clam juice
1 qt fresh chopped clams
6 large white potatoes, peeled and diced
   (leave skin on fresh new potatoes if desired)
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
1 pint heavy cream
½ tsp (or to taste) each of thyme, dill, and nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Pour the bottles of clam juice into a large pot, place a vegetable steamer tray in the bottom of the pot, and add the 4 doz large clams (wash well first).  Steam open the clams.  Remove the steamed clams from their shells and chop them up (a food processor works well for this).  Reserve the broth from steaming the clams.  Rinse out the pot, and wipe dry.  Next fry the salt pork pieces until brown and crispy.  Remove and discard the fried pieces, leaving the melted fat in the bottom of the pot.  Cook the onions in the fat until soft. Next, add the clam broth and potatoes, thyme, nutmeg, dill, salt and pepper, and bring to a boil.  Cook for 10 minutes.  Add the celery and cook for 5 more minutes. Add all the chopped clams and continue cooking until the pot just starts to simmer, to cook the clams. Don’t boil vigorously, or the clams will be tough. In a separate pan, heat the cream until it just starts to steam, and whisk in 3 or 4 tablespoons of flour until it starts to thicken.  As soon as it begins to thicken, immediately pour and mix it into the chowder pot and turn off the heat.  Do not boil again once the cream has been added, or the chowder will separate. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Blackfish Scampi

Welcome to Bob’s Fish Tales.  This has absolutely nothing to do with the pharmacy.  It’s just random musings about my second love (after Marion of course), and the other woman in my life, the Ambrosia Mae. 

If you haven’t guessed, my second love is fishing, primarily on my boat, the Ambrosia Mae, which, by the way was named after two of my favorite ladies of all times, my grandmothers, Ambrosia Gandarillas, and Mae Murphy Bradley.

Well, we’re in the heart of blackfish season.  Blackfish, aka Tautog or just “Tog” are bottom feeding fish that dine primarily on lobsters, crabs, and mussels.  You are what you eat, and blackfish, in addition to being great fighting fish, are simply delicious.  Don’t bother asking for them at the fish market, as they are virtually unavailable commercially.  Nope, you have to catch 'em to eat 'em.  Here’s my favorite blackfish recipe:

Blackfish Scampi

  • Blackfish fillets cut into serving sized pieces
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Chopped or dried Parsley (preferably fresh)
  • Olive Oil
  • Butter
  • Garlic cloves
  • Capers (optional)
  • ¼ lemon
  • Chardonnay
  • Linguine

Cut blackfish fillets into serving sized portions. You be the judge on just what that is.
Start salted water for linguine. Pasta should hit the pot just before you start to cook the fish:

Salt, pepper, paprika, and parsley the fillets, then dredge in flour.

Cover the bottom of the pan with about 1/8” of olive oil.  I prefer extra light oil.  Heat the oil with a nice pat of butter in it. Saute crushed garlic in olive oil and butter until soft. With the pan hot and sizzling, toss in a teaspoon of capers, then drop in the seasoned fish, and saute for about 1 - 2 minutes, until browned. Turn the fish, saute for another 1 - 2 minutes, then squeeze in about 1/4 lemon, and a good shot of a nice chardonnay (no, I don't measure – use the glug, glug, glug approach). Do not turn the fish again.

It will bubble up and over the fish, then settle back down. Put a cover on the pan tightly, and reduce heat as low as it will go, so the fish poaches to finish cooking. Figure a total cooking time of 10 minutes per inch of thickness, including time spent sauteing. The fish should be done at about the same time as the pasta. Drain the pasta, toss in a little butter and/or olive oil, and serve with a piece of blackfish on top. Drizzle the sauce from cooking the fish over each serving. I like to break up the blackfish, as the juices add a lot of flavor to the linguine.

Put the rest of the chardonnay to good use.