Talking about the preparation of large pelagic fish such as this southern bluefin tuna is intimidating for two reasons. First, because Japanese culture and cuisine goes to reverential lengths to honour the beauty of this fish. Second, because bluefin tuna has been subjected to industrial overfishing.
The bluefin tuna pictured above was caught on hand-line – the same type used in recreational fishing – by an angler named Ashley, who launches his small-trailer boat off Eaglehawk Neck in southern Tasmania. He is permitted to fish for a commercial quota of five to six fish per launch when the school fish run as the weather cools. The experience of being among tuna – be it in a boat or directly in the water – is life-changing. They are powerful, voracious feeders that push bait fish to the surface before hitting them from below like a freight train, then returning to the depths as fast they came up. If handled correctly, the fish commands a premium that can be astronomical in international markets.
Well-handled and ethically caught raw wild fish is still to this day my absolute favourite thing to eat. The minefield of navigating the information/misinformation surrounding this industry is endless and tiring. If I can’t catch it myself, I want a paper trail of how and where the fish is caught. If there is lack of transparency in that process, I won’t purchase it. Do justice to this fish in all aspects of preparation. Bluefin tuna’s eating quality is equal to its majesty. No pressure.
– 1kg piece of top-loin tuna (with belly), from a high-quality, ethical fishmonger (I’d use yellowfin if buying commercially)
– 20ml very-high-quality soy sauce
Looking at the tuna from the cut angle there will be skin on one side and bloodline on the other. You will also notice an “eye” from the way the sinew runs in the muscle. The aim is to break the whole piece down into three or four rectangular pieces to be sliced according to the direction of the sinew.
Cut the bloodline out as smoothly as possible. Then remove the skin. There may be a few sinuous pieces left on the outsides of the fillet connecting from the fin; you will need to remove them too. What you are left with should resemble a triangle with the belly flap attached. Remove the belly and set aside. If the piece remaining is from a large fish, you will need to remove the top triangle then cut the bottom section into two lengths. If it is from a small fish, then it is suitable to cut into only two pieces. Clean the sinew line from the top of the belly and feel for the bone shards that run through it. Cut around these and set your three or four pieces aside, ready for the final slicing.
Each piece of tuna here needs a different angle of attack. Look at the sinew line from above. A simplistic way to describe what gives the best result is to cut at 90 degrees to the sinew, or straight across it. The thickness depends on the fish, but I prefer slices about five millimetres thick, so as to get the texture. The more fat in the meat the thinner I slice it and you may notice a gradient of fat from the top of the triangle down to the belly.
Serve the sashimi cold and with the best soy sauce you can find for the purist experience, or feel free to add condiments and wasabi if you wish. If you are really wanting to dive into the deep end, serve with seasoned sushi rice or make your own nigiri.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 16, 2020 as "Call of the wild".
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