A Tuna That Makes the Summer More Delicious

One sure sign of summer hereabouts is the return of the tuna – actually, they don’t so much return as they simply follow the warming of the Pacific waters.  Most of the world thinks of the red fleshed Ahi tuna -of sushi fame- when tuna is mentioned.  But perhaps they forget the more common tuna -albacore- which makes up the majority of what the world knows as canned tuna.  But how can some tuna be white, and other tuna red?

Interesting question.  And the answer lies in the fact that there are more than 50 species in the tuna family, some large, some small, but all are heavily muscled and fast swimming.  The red color of some tuna flesh comes from myoglobin, an oxygen binding molecule which exist in the red fleshed tuna more than almost all other fish – the high myoglobin levels allow the tuna to utilize their muscle both for speed and to keep their body temperature higher than that of the surrounding water temperature.  Since the albacore tuna has meat that is almost colored white – pinkish when raw, they are less able to keep warm in the colder waters of the Pacific, and therefore they often move in huge migrations following the movements of the warming waters, and the large schools of the food fish which are doing the same.

And so our commercial markets are flooded this time every year with albacore tuna – we just call it ‘tuna’ since we don’t see large amounts of the Ahi type.  I find it interesting that although the general U.S. public is familiar with albacore tuna in a can, outside of the Pacific Northwest, almost no one else in the U.S. can find fresh albacore tuna at their neighborhood grocery.  Why is this?  Actually, I don’t know.  It has been identified as one our nation’s most sustainable native fishes, and when it is at its summer glory, it is perhaps our most economical local fish, often about $5 a pound when most other fish is about $10 or more.  Does this mean it is not a good tasting fish?  No way!  It is one of my personal favorites, and I’m at this moment enjoying the hell out of it.

It’s just one of life’s mysteries.

Maybe I’m wrong – maybe fresh albacore is now available everywhere – but when I first moved out here in the late 90’s, I had never ever tasted it.  Back on a beautiful summer’s day back then, we found ourselves up in Washington State doing a little exploration and we came upon a summer festival of some sort out on Washington’s Long Beach.  It was there we came on fresh albacore for the first time – I noticed a food booth with a big sign above that said: ‘BBQ Tuna‘, and of course we had to try some.  I asked the guy what made it BBQ’ed, and he replied that it was marinated in Bernstein’s Italian Salad Dressing  before grilling.  It was love at first bite, and I have not lost my infatuation with albacore since then.

One of the characteristics I most love about albacore is that it has a real taste – I am a fish lover who is quite willing to pass up the lack of any flavor offered by such fish as sole or its many relatives (however, halibut is a relative with a ton of flavor and a texture quite unlike other flatfish in its family.).  Additionally, tuna is an extremely flexible fish – I love how all types of tuna can be cooked rare, and in fact is most delicious this way (unless of course, you like it raw even better!).  I have trouble finding a best way to cook my tuna rare consistently, especially albacore – it really only takes a few seconds of searingly hot temperature to do the job.  If left in the pan much longer than that, and your fish finds its way to medium, and then well done.  Although I prefer not to cook my albacore this way, I’ve discovered that at this stage of well doneness, albacore makes superb cold tuna salad – so much better than a can of tuna can ever do!

Another thing that makes tuna unique among fish is that you needn’t worry about bones – not that tuna does not have bones – it has plenty – but they are positioned so that each fish gives up 4 meaty ‘loins’ with absolutely no bones therein.  These loins can then be cut into steaks and prepared as you wish – I prefer either grilling, or pan searing – but quickly and at high heat in either case.

Should you be fortunate enough to get your hands on some fresh albacore steaks this summer -and I hope you do- let me suggest a few simple ways you can prepare it.  As is often done with Ahi, you can dip your albacore steaks into sesame seeds, and then quickly grill or pan sear them at a high heat – try as best you can not to go past the rare stage with them, but even if you do, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.  Another popular way of preparation is to do exactly as they did in the BBQ Tuna booth in Washington; marinate your albacore steaks in your favorite Italian salad dressing for about one or two hours, and then grill the steaks over charcoal or gas, but again, do so quickly over high heat.

A Typical Loin of Albacore

My current favorite way to cook albacore is -perhaps not surprisingly- a variation of the original way I first experienced albacore, but of course not simply with a bottled dressing, but my own, time tested version.  I would encourage you to do the same by starting with a simple home made vinaigrette, and experiment from there.  As you can see from the following recipe, I have been influenced by my own interest in Asian cooking, and I have added those influences to my albacore marinade.  I would hope you’ll try my version first, but then use your own experiences and ideas to see where it may take you.  If you do, please let me know about them.

Marinated Albacore, Ready For the Grill or Pan

Fresh Albacore Tuna Steaks with Vinaigrette Marinade

This is enough marinade to do 4-6 average sized albacore steaks (my average size albacore steak weighs about 6 ounces or 170 grams)

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup white vinegar, not distilled (I like seasoned rice wine <sushi> vinegar – if you use this, do not add sugar and salt below).
  • 1/4 cup oil (I use grapeseed or one with little flavor of its own – but if you wish to use olive, it’s not the end of the world.)
  • 2 Tbs of regular soy sauce (not low sodium or one of the dark soy sauces)
  • 1 tsp – up to 1 Tbs fish sauce (use this to taste)
  • 3-6 splashes of sesame oil
  • 2-3 crushed but unpeeled cloves of garlic
  • 1 tsp prepared Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 Tbs granulated sugar, or to taste (this is optional, just remember that its good for adding some char during the fast cooking)
  • salt to taste (remember that the soy sauce and fish sauce have salt added, as does sushi vinegar)
  • 4-6 thick albacore steaks

Procedure:

  • Mix above ingredients until well combined.
  • Place tuna steaks into a zip lock plastic bag, and add the marinade.
  • Close the bag and fold it to remove the air inside.
  • When the bag is flattened and all air is out, close the zip top.
  • Allow the tuna steaks to marinate in the bag in fridge for 1-2 hours, move bag sev times during this time (If you can only marinate for 30 minutes, do not refrigerate).
  • Prepare a charcoal or gas grill for a very hot grill temp.
  • When ready to grill, use a wad of paper towels to apply oil to grill grates just before placing tuna steaks on the grill.
  • Grill only for 1 or 2 minutes per side before turning – grill other side for same time.  You may also pan grill your albacore as I’ve done in the picture below.
  • Serve on rolls with sliced red onion and cilantro leaves – or over rice with extra vinaigrette drizzled over and onion and cilantro over top.

###

Pan Grilled Albacore, Ready to Serve

I truly do hope that albacore tuna is available fresh in your part of the world.  If you’re like me, you get frustrated that all the good tasting fish are sky high in price, and that all the reasonably priced fish are either filled with bones, taste like tofu (no, I’m sorry, tofu is better tasting.), or has a texture like pudding.  But if it’s true that albacore tuna is one of the few truly sustainable ocean fish, there seems no reason why it shouldn’t be available nationwide, even worldwide.

Have fun looking.

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About drfugawe

I'm a guy with enough time to do as I please, and that my resources allow. The problem(s) are: I have 100s of interests; I have a short attention span; I have instant expectations; I'm lazy; and I'm broke. But I'm OK with all that, 'cause otherwise I'd be so busy, I'd be dead in a year.
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13 Responses to A Tuna That Makes the Summer More Delicious

  1. Misk Cooks says:

    I can buy tinned albacore at the supermarket now but I’ve yet to see fresh steaks in their fish counter. Maybe some day we’ll be so lucky. I also used to prepare (grill, barbecue or fry) fresh albacore with an Italian dressing marinade. Very tasty with a fresh flavour. Lovely. 😀

    • drfugawe says:

      I was hoping some of my blogging friends would comment an availability in their parts of the world – that’s always interesting. We’re getting a lot of frozen fish from Asia now, that will probably continue until they fish out their resources. Even given its sustainability, perhaps albacore is not a fish that freezes well. I tend not to freeze it raw, since its so much better fresh – some fish are not good freezers.

  2. Doc, you’ve inspired me to try tuna again – in the past I’ve always overcooked it and found it very dry. Raw tuna though is truly amazing stuff!

    • drfugawe says:

      Hi Celia,
      Whenever I overcook it -which is often- I just chill it down and use it for making tuna salad – really wonderful! But like you, I much prefer it briefly seared and raw in the middle – I also love tuna chirashi – last time I had it out, the waitress told me they had Japanese and Korean. I asked what the difference was and she said, “The Japanese bowl is put together artistically, and the Korean is just chopped up fish – but you get more fish with the Korean kind.” I got the Korean.

  3. Joanna says:

    We had tuna for supper! with cous cous and chilli sauce and broccoli. Brian cooked so it was doused in lime juice and black pepper before hitting the griddle. I am going to give him your recipe for next time as it sounds far more sophisticated. He is a huge tuna fan on account of the lack of bones.

    I’ve never seen the albacore sort on the ‘wet fish counter’. There’s a rumour that Morrisons have it in some of their stores. They call it Cornish tuna though if you say there are 50 different sorts, maybe it’s one of those….

    • drfugawe says:

      Yeah, I think the tuna family is known around the world, in one form or another. But I think the Italian tuna is either an exact albacore or a very close relative.

      Is the red fleshed tuna the more commonly seen type?

  4. Very jealous of your abundance of tuna! This looks really delicious going to try it this summer…though with the rain we’ve been having it might have to be cooked indoors. Husband loves tuna one of his favourites.

    • drfugawe says:

      We too have done NO outdoor grilling yet – summer has not yet arrived. Oh well – I have it in my mind to so some smoked tuna this summer, that’s really something special – and not particularly difficult to do. But first summer!

  5. Will says:

    I have a fish company in Hawaii and I have my own boats. Most of the Albacore tuna we catch are Pink to red. Doc you make a valid point but most importantly it’s how the fish is handled, bled and iced. If bled, iced and handled properly your loin should come out pink to red, not white to pinkish. White to pinkish usually means frozen or mishandled or like you said canned. Here’s another tip 90% of all seafood in super markets like Safeway Qfc etc. it’s all frozen. That’s why they say eat your fish that day or the next, because it’s been flash frozen or super frozen or treated with carbin monoxide to retain it’s color and look fresh. Your best bet is to go to a restaurant or a fish market that specialize in seafood, like Pike Place Market in Seattle. Hopefully there is a market near you and support your local fisherman and markets that support fresh seafood.

    Aloha

  6. Amy Alton says:

    Thanks for this recipe! While sailing the North Atlantic (near Nova Scotia), I caught an Albacore tuna. The meat is definitely a white-ish pink. I wish I could share a photo cause it’s an interesting topic. Anyway, I’m trying to recipe tonight.

    • drfugawe says:

      Hi Amy, Hope you enjoy that Albacore – we’re about to move into prime tuna season out here, so I’m sure I’m going to be stuffed with the stuff for the next few months – but I shall love every morsel.

      • Amy Alton says:

        I did enjoy it! I over cooked it a bit, but I have two more loins in the freezer to try again. I also made ceviche and tuna fried rice with this loin. Delicious!

        • drfugawe says:

          Don’t forget it’s delicious as sushi, and I love to cover both sides of a thick slab with sesame seeds and then to sear it very quickly – super good!

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