Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Going Beyond The Tuna Casserole

My wife grew up eating (and loving) tuna noodle casserole.  It was a staple in her house and to this day she looks upon the dish with a dreamy nostalgia often credited to excellent past dining experiences.  I on the other hand probably ate my weight in tuna salad sandwiches every month from the years of 17 to 23.  I looked at them as the ultimate superfood, protein packed and lean.  Both dishes share one main component: canned albacore tuna.  It's no surprise then that for most of us when we think of albacore tuna we think about canned tuna.  We think of sandwiches, casseroles, spreads, quick meals, utilitarian nutrition and not much else.  Albacore has its place and it's not really considered by many to be worthy of white tablecloth establishments.  I beg to differ.
Not your mom's usual albacore

Going beyond the can, fresh albacore tuna can offer diners a unique and flavorful tuna experience.  Albacore, also known as "the real white tuna", are caught in waters throughout the world and are a highly migratory species.  The best albacore are caught in the waters along our Pacific Coast, the Southern Atlantic Ocean, and Hawaii.  When buying albacore at the local fish market, look for gleaming, moist, pinkish-to-white flesh with no odor.  Avoid fillets with brown discoloring, odor, or dried, hardened flesh around the edges of the fillet.  Albacore flesh, when fresh, offers a citrus-sweetness and a light, subtle creaminess that other tuna species can't match.  Bigger tuna species like big eye and yellowfin can be much more metallic tasting and strong flavored, but albacore does not have these off-putting qualities.  You can purchase sushi quality albacore and prepare it in the same manner as you would other sushi quality tunas.  In fact, I recommend eating albacore raw or slightly seared, leaving the inside rare in order to take advantage of the delicious, delicately rich oils found in the succulent flesh.  It's an easy fish to dry out, so it's in your best interest to buy high quality fish and to use a light touch when preparing.

Albacore dishes have recently been popping up at our Republic, Pearl Dive, Blacks Bar, and BlackSalt locations.  The season picks up in the spring and carries on throughout the fall, usually when the fattiest and most delicious fish are caught.  It's a sustainable species and one that I think is very underutilized, and, frankly, under-appreciated.  When fresh, its flavor rivals any of the more recognized tunas and I believe that it does, in fact, have a place at the table of the finest restaurants.  The next time you are at the market, I highly recommend that you think outside of the can.            

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