Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Operation Kona Blue, Part 3

Operation Kona Blue, Part 1
Operation Kona Blue, Part 2

In case some readers are joining us in the middle of this fishy investigation, let me reprint Cathy's question that got this saga started.
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?
So, is kampachi worth the hype?

First of all, let me clarify that the kampachi I'll be talking about in this post is farm-raised by Kona Blue in Hawaii. It's not the kampachi that Cathy got. I've tried that one a year ago and was very underwhelmed for the same exact reasons that Cathy described.

The kampachi from Kona Blue does indeed have some outstanding qualities. It's skin is one of the most delicious I've ever eaten. Seared, it turns beautifully crisp. When cooked, the flesh itself is soft, succulent, sweet, and just like I remembered it from my first encounter. To my surprise, the more rare I left the fish inside, the less I liked it. Normally, it's just the opposite. I love salmon and tuna very undercooked, and ideally, completely raw. But even Kona Blue's kampachi is very firm and doesn't soften to that delicious tenderness until it's almost opaque. When I say "cooked through" I mean removed from the heat when it's still translucent in the center allowing the residual heat to finish cooking the inside. Don't get me wrong. I don't mean you should be overcooking this fish (God forbid!), but I personally prefer it just done.

In it's raw state, it had an interesting texture, reminicent of squid -- a bit crunchy, but not chewy. In other words, there was no connective tissue that got stuck in your teeth, but the fish had a certain snappiness to it (somewhere between the creaminess of salmon and the crunchiness of squid). When the fish was cut relatively thin, it didn't bother me and was even somewhat pleasant. Jason enjoyed kampachi sashimi more than I did, and thought it was one of the better fish he'd eaten raw. But since I prefer melt on the tongue fish, I doubt I'd want to eat a whole bowl of raw kampachi. I haven't tried mincing it into a tartar. This idea occurred to me only after I ran out of fish. My guess is that tartar might show off it's raw texture in the best light.

Would I get it again? If I saw a fishmonger carrying it, I'd be willing to pay up to $30/Lb for fillets (assuming it's a Kona Blue's fish). If I order it from Kona Blue, it's $40/Lb (once you take shipping into account). That's a bit much. If I go to downtown to pick up a whole fish from Specialty Foods, that's roughly $24/Lb, plus 2 hours of work (driving, scaling, gutting, and filleting). That's a bit much too. Hmm, so this leaves kampachi and me at an impasse. I don't think it will be gracing my table with its presence just yet. Hopefully, this lovely fish will eventually become affordable enough for the high-end Boston fishmongers to start carrying it. Till then, adieu dear Kampachi!


jo said...

That dark line under the skinline looks interesting. did it taste different? it almost looks fatty.

Helen said...

Hi Jo,

Not sure what you mean by the "dark line under the skin". It might be the shadows of the picture. The fish flesh was cream colored throughout except for the blood line, which I cut out along with the pin bones. This fish is outrageously fatty. Kona told me 30% fat content, so it's not just some part of the fish that's fatty -- it's all of it.


tantra flower said...

Thank you for the vicarious Kampachi tasting. I'd like to try it personally some time, if I can even find it and it's affordable. Should all the planets align, I'll be sure and mince some and give you a full report.


Ann said...

This has been SUCH a fun read!

Kat said...

I would have to agree, very well written. Thanks so much! Inspired me to get on the wait list for the sushi class.

matt wright said...

I have had similar impressions of the Kona Blue Kampachi. It is a fantastic fish, but the price is somewhat extreme I have to say.

Personally, I prefer this fish raw to just cooked. But that could be just me. I completely agree with you though, the skin is just magical. It crispens up just perfectly.. Great job on the skin sear BTW, it looks fantastic.

I am saving this fish for special occasions. Here in Seattle a fillet is about $20/lb, or it was a few months ago.

Anonymous said...

What a great saga. I loved reading this. It was like a mystery only no one dies (well, the fish) and there is a great meal at the end!

Hmmmm....I live in Huron Village *and* work near Newmarket Square. Maybe there is Kona in my future?


Helen said...

Hi Matt,

You can get Kampachi in Seattle for $20/Lb retail? Wow! That's it -- I am moving ;) In Boston, most fish are $20/Lb (halibut, striped bass, tuna, swordfish, etc). Kampachi is over $20/Lb wholesale.


matt wright said...

Right now Halibut is about 14/lb - striped bass depends on whether it is farmed or wild I think.

Ling and True cod is under 10bucks/lb.

Tuna varies a lot, depending on species. A yellowfin is at about 18/lb.

Glenn said...

Hi Helen. How did you get that great crispiness (sp?) on the skin in the picture? When I order certain fish dishes (like salmon) in restaurants it comes with that great crispy skin side that I love but I've never been able to recreate it at home. What's the secret? Thanks!

Helen said...

Hi Glenn,

Your question is a great inspiration for a new post, but here the quick answer:

1) very hot non-stick (or well seasoned cast iron skillet) with just a little oil
2) very dry fish
3) season fish with salt and pepper and place it in the skillet skin side down. Do not move! Cook without disturbing for 2-3 minutes or until the skin is nicely browned.
4) Flip and finish in the 400F oven (unless the fish is less than 3/4 inch thick, in which case, just cook on the stove top on medium heat for about a minute).
5) check for doneness the usual way.