Sunday, November 15, 2009

Pushing and shoving for giant bluefin tuna

A sashimi dinner setImage via Wikipedia

Hundreds of Mitsuwa Marketplace customers watched in awe today as more than a dozen workers reduced a giant bluefin tuna caught off the coast of Spain to sushi and small blocks of sashimi.

The narrator, a Long Island commercial fisherman named Michael, said the dressed fish -- minus head, tail and innards -- weighed 680 pounds, the largest ever at the Edgewater Japanese supermarket's annual "cutting performances." The total weight was around 1,000 pounds.

Michael is clearly fascinated with this magnificent creature and he pointed out how the giant tuna can retract its fins into "pockets" for further streamlining. This tuna was caught by rod and reel as it was gorging itself  in preparation for migration to warmer waters, so it was near its maximum weight. It was then bled and immersed in icy water before being flown to the U.S.

They grow so large, the Japanese refer to them as "swimming buffalo," he said.

Michael said giant bluefin tuna -- the biggest tuna species --  contain beneficial Omega-7 fatty acids and that pieces of oh-toro, well-marbled belly meat, are sold in Manhattan sushi restaurants for $12 to $16 a piece. At last year's performance, the oh-toro cost about $60 a pound and I bought a quarter pound  for about $15. The price this year was $62.99 a pound, and I had to take more than a half pound for about $33.

As the fish was being cut into smaller pieces, weighed, labeled and wrapped, people in the crowd started pressing forward and reaching over others for packages from individual workers, signaling a breakdown of the system where people lined up to make purchases. I even saw one worker give free, unwrapped fish to people he seemed to know. Michael said that on Saturday, when two giant bluefin tunas were cut up, he witnessed a shoving match between two men.

Also this year, one section of the tuna's large collar was offered for sale, and I grabbed it for $30. They gave it to me in a large garbage bag with a price label affixed. The piece was about 21 inches long and weighed close to 9 pounds, but when I got it home, it didn't fit into my pan. I roasted it for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees and I've never seen fish give up so much oil, which dripped onto the bottom of the oven and started smoking.

I ate some of the medium- to dark-red flesh raw before putting the collar into the oven. When cooked, it was a little easier to remove the meat and I harvested about two pounds. The kitchen was a mess, with oil and bits of fish, cartilage and skin all over the place. Buying the collar turned out to be a mistake. Luckily, the harried cashier rang it up for 30 cents, instead of $30.

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