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