"I have something for you," said Frankie. He must have picked up something interesting at the pier that morning. Something that wasn't salmon, trout, sword, halibut, cod, tuna, or sole. "Maybe it's mahi," I thought. "Or if I am really lucky, sable." "I have," Frankie paused gravely, "Bluefin tuna." It took me a few seconds to regain my speech. "No way!" I replied. "Bluefin! Real bluefin?"
How do I explain this miracle? It was like bumping into Mario Batali at your local supermarket. Frankie disappeared in the back and came back with a 20 Lb tuna loin. He wasn't kidding. I could tell by the color that it wasn't the yellowfin he usually carries. The yellowfin (also known as ahi) is burgundy red throughout and never has any fat. The loin Frankie brought out was paler and pinkist-brown in parts. The less intensely red the tuna looks, the more fat it has. That's right. That bright red tuna people get so excited about in the sushi restaurants is the cheap lean stuff. Of course, one shouldn't confuse white tunas like Albacore with a fatty bluefin or big-eye. You have to look very closely to see if they flakes themselves are light in color if if they are streaked with little lines of marbling.
"I'll take it! Wait, how much is it?" I asked. Since we never see our wonderful local bluefins in the North East, I was prepared to pay through the nose. After all, the reason they all get shipped to Japan is that people are willing to pay serious money for them there. I've never shopped for fish in Japan myself, but I hear that North Atlantic bluefin can retail for some astronomical prices. "$20/Lb," said Frankie. "That's all?" I asked. Hmm, I guess it's not a good idea to tell someone they are giving you too good of a price. But what is Frankie to do? Most of his clientele is traditional New England. Halibut is as exotic as it gets with these folks, and I am willing to bet you can count raw fish eaters who shop at Frankie's on one hand. Unless you are willing to try this fish raw, you'd never know what's so amazing about it and why $20/Lb is more than a reasonable price.
I spent the rest of the day thinking about what to do with my precious new possesion. Since I didn't have time to buy any extra ingredients, I decided to go the simple route. I sliced the fatty half of the tuna (the radish-brown part streaked with lines of marbling) and served it over a bowl of sushi rice, and I seared the leaner (bright red) part and served it with a mango salsa and balsamic-soy-ginger sauce.
The lean seared tuna was delicious, but the raw fatty one was to die for. You couldn't feel connective tissue at all. It felt like velvet that dissolved in the mouth, like getting a tuna French kiss.
How come this beauty was left to us Bostonians and not whisked off to Japan? Frankie and I are betting on high oil prices. I guess it took 30 years, an invention of styrofoam transportation boxes, millions of trips around the globe, and finally a recent spike in oil prices to bring what Japanese call a "Boston Bluefin" to a Boston table.
More information on tuna types and how to eat them raw.
For more information on globalization of the tuna trade, read Sasha Issenberg's The Sushi Economy.
Frankie's Catch of the Day
19 Leonard St
Belmont, MA 02478
Phone: (617) 484-6460