Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Operation Kona Blue, Part 1

If I had to give an award for the best blog comment, it would have to go to Cathy McCallister.

Here is what Cathy wrote to me over the weekend:
My fish monger has recently began carrying Kampachi and I was excited to try it. You described a delicate fish with skin similar to salmon. What I purchased had thick rubbery skin that felt like sandpaper, much like shark. It tasted very much like shark as well. I was not really impressed especially with the $22/lb price tag. I am thinking that my fish was actually shark or swordfish and not Kampachi. What do you think?
I love the comments that inspire me to do some culinary detective work. But Cathy's comment wins the distinction of making me spend the most money and go the furthest distance to find the answer to life's persistent question: is kampachi really that good?

But first, a little history.

On July 10, 2006, I wrote about kampachi. It was a tragic story of girl meets fish, falls madly in love, and then never sees him again. When I googled for this fish to get more information, I found Kona Blue's website. It's a company that farms kampachi in Hawaii. Kona's site told me what I suspected all along -- this fish would be great raw. If only I knew it before I cooked it. Unfortunately, my dear kampachi ended up grilled. It knocked my socks of with its crispy skin and luscious flesh. But if this fish was that good cooked, can you imagine how good it would be raw! I was determined to try it again, but to my chagrin couldn't find it anywhere. Captain Marden's in Wellesley, MA, where I bought kampachi the first time, stopped carrying it because it was too expensive. Even venerable Carl from New Deal couldn't get it. I considered ordering directly from Kona Blue's site, but $36 shipping charge for 2 Lb of fish seemed excessive.

Last year, just when I parted with the idea of ever seeing kampachi again, Carl, at the New Deal, got it for me. Closing my eyes to the $28/Lb price tag, I bought as much as we could possibly eat in one day. Finally, nothing was going to stand between me and the raw kampachi. I popped the first slice into my mouth, and... Hmm. It wasn't how I imagined it. It was dense. Too dense and chewy. Where was that supple, fatty creaminess? Could it be that my instincts were so wrong? Is this fish really best cooked? I seared the remainder like tuna, keeping it rare inside. It was better, but not transcendent. Maybe some things are just not meant to be. Imagine that Romeo and Juliette got reunited successfully. They'd probably quarrel and find out that they were completely incompatible. But since they only spent one night together before their unfortunate demise, their union went down in history as the greatest love story of all time.

I haven't seen kampachi since. None of the fishmongers I knew in the Boston area carried it again, and my unhappy love affair was finally forgotten. The only reminder I got about that miracle fish was from Terry's raving post over at Blue Kitchen. Terry's description seemed to chime in with my first kampachi experience, but Cathy's with my second. Was that really the same fish? As much as I tried to put this annoying and terribly expensive sea creature out of my head, I couldn't. I had to know. Thus began Operation Kona Blue.

Sunday, July 27, 2008
Little did I know that the same day I was reading Cathy's e-mail a fish was harvested in Hawaii that was going to be the answer to our question. I decided that price was not going to be an issue, and if it took $100 to try kampachi again, so be it.

Monday, July 28, 2008
I went to Kona Blue's site and learned that for $80, I could become a proud owner of 2 Lb of Kampachi fillets (that's roughly $45 for fish and $35 for shipping). When you think about it, that's cheaper than an average Sushi meal in a restaurant. I called Kona to get a bit more information about the fish and to place my order. Sylvia, the east coast sales rep, became my kampachi guide.

Q: How long is kampachi edible raw after arrival assuming proper storage (on ice)?
A: 3-4 days

Q: Is the skin edible when seared?
A: Yes, it should be crispy and thin.

Q: Do the fillets come skin-on or off?
A: Fillets come without skin, but if you place an order through her, she'll try to get it for you with the skin.

Q: Was the Kamapchi I had before indeed from Kona Blue?
A: Marden's was, but the one I had from New Deal was not. It might have been from Japan and does taste different.

Q: Is there any distributor in the Boston area that carries kampachi?
A: Yes, there is one! It's a wholesaler called Specialty Foods. Ordering through them should be much cheaper that directly from Kona Blue.

"Call Thomas," said Sylvia. "Tell him I sent you. He'll take good care of you."

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
I called Thomas. He was nice enough to let me buy only one fish and said that a shipment is coming in on Thursday. "That's the fish that were harvested on Sunday," I thought. As always, I had more questions.

Q: Is the fish already filled? Skin on or off?
A: It's whole.

Q: Can you fillet it for me, but keep the skin on?
A: We don't have a facility to do that. We just sell it the way it comes in.

Q: How much is it?
A: $10/Lb for whole fish. They are 4-5 Lb each.

I quickly did the math in my head. That's around $50 for 2 Lb of fillet. Not bad.

"See you on thursday," I said.

To be continued...

Operation Kona Blue, Part 2


Anonymous said...

But... but... I'm dying to hear the rest of the story! :-)

Tantra Flower said...

I've never given kampachi so much as a second of thought, but darn if I'm not waiting on pins and needles for the results.

Good luck! I'll be rooting for you.

Anonymous said...

nice blog

marissa said...

love ur blog :)

Anonymous said...

What's in a name?
Depending on where you are in Japan, kampachi can refer to different fish. Different areas in Japan will use kampachi and kanpachi interchangeably.

The soft fatty version is called buri on the west side of the island, where it is caught. Best months are Nov through Jan, when you can get fatty belly cuts.

In Tokyo area, ordering kampachi will normally get you hamachi (yellowtail).

What's the difference between kanpachi and hamachi? Kanpachi is larger.
What's the difference between kanpachi and kampachi? The latter is from hawaii.

If you want it soft and buttery fat, see if they can get you fat belly cut from the fish. If you're speaking to someone japanese, tell them you're trying to get buri toro.

While I love kampachi...buri toro is so wonderful that I try to manipulate my Japan travel schedule to guarantee being over there at least once during winter.

Anonymous said...

I was happy to find your blog! My grandson (future Iron Chef) and I are bored to tears with the Food Network and it's default fish, Salmon. Neither of us really care for Salmon OR butternut squash OR asparagus, which seem to be what is handy for every aspiring network star. In fact, there ought to be a blog titled: Vegetables Beyond Butternut Squash and Asparagus! We are looking forward to trying some of your (wonderfully photographed) recipes!

Helen said...

Welcome to Beyond Salmon, Rodeo Princess!

Anonymous -- you rock! Thank you so much for all the useful kampachi info.

Anonymous said...

As an avid responsible consumer of any stainable seafood raised ethically I have to wonder about the producers of this fish called kampachi. Regardless of the taste a quick search of Kona Blue Water Farms at will show the company is involved in several employee injury cases. Hmmm something does smell fishy.