Finally, Albacore tuna is available again in one stall at the Queen Victoria market. This tuna is sustainable, it is a lean fish and it can be quite dry if served without a sauce.
You can buy albacore tuna cut as a fillet or as slices from the centre of the fish – this cut will include the spinal bones and if you are braising the fish the bones will contribute to the taste. In Sicily this cut of tuna is called a ruota (wheel); the bones can then be easily removed at the time of serving. The wheel of tuna will have the skin still on make sure that the scales have been removed and make splits into the skin to stop it curling. Or you can remove the skin altogether.
Tuna and peas is a very common combination for Italians. I remember so vividly my maternal grandmother cooking wheels of tuna in very crowded saucepans, bubbling away on her stove in Catania, Sicily. Sometimes she also added tomatoes to the braise and studded the tuna with cloves of garlic.
Peas are sweet, hence the cinnamon stick. Sometimes I add nutmeg instead (for the same reason). Both the cinnamon and the nutmeg are optional; if using nutmeg, add it at the final stages of cooking.
Once cooked, you can also remove the centre bone, break up the tuna and serve it as a pasta sauce.
For 4 people
1 slice of albacore tuna (about 700g)
400g of shelled peas
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil,
salt and pepper
2-3 fresh bay leaves
1tbs tomato paste for colour (optional)
1 cup of white dry wine
1-2 cinnamon sticks or some grated nutmeg (optional)
Sauté the chopped onion lightly in the oil – use low heat.
Add the tuna and seal on both sides.
Add seasoning, bay leaves, wine and cinnamon stick.
Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add the peas 10 minutes into the cooking and If adding nutmeg add it at this time. Do not let the braise get dry and add a little more liquid (water and or wine) if necessary.
If using it as a pasta sauce:
Use 400 g pasta, short shapes.
Leave the fish in the pan while you cook the pasta.
Remove the central bones from the tuna (if there are any) and return them to the pan.
Dress the pasta and serve.
Unlike the rest of Italy, Sicilians include grated cheese with fish.
In Greek mythology, Thalassa is a primordial sea goddess, and in Greek thalassa means ‘sea’.
I found a link to a very interesting documentary set in Syracuse in an online publication called Times of Sicily.
The documentary is called Thalassa: Men of the sea.
The fishermen and fishmongers in the documentary speak mainly in Sicilian ( complete with hand movements and wonderful to see and hear), the marine historians speak in Italian, but there are also English subtitles. Right at the very end there is a message from Oliver Knowles, Greenpeace – this is in English. The documentary strongly supports sustainable fishing practices, the use of marine reserves and expresses concern for the plight of the tuna in the Mediterranean. Although it is fairly long, it is worth watching.
THALASSA — “Uomini e Mare” Men and the Sea (directed & produced by Gianluca Agati, ITA, 26′, 2012) is a documentary offering a glimpse into Siracusa’s history, where the fumes from chemical and petrochemical industries and the relics of ancient tuna fisheries form the background to the stories of fishermen, fishmongers and marine historians.
The work shines a light on the profound economic, social and environmental transformation which Siracusa has experienced since the 1950s, and promotes a return to the consumption of less exploited marine species, which although out of favour with modern consumers, are cheap, nutritious and were a common sight on the tables of older generations.
The project has reinforced its environmental and social message by rejecting all forms of merchandising, making the film available free and accessible to everybody via the website (in Italian) : uominiemare.com.
This documentary has been dedicated to Fernando Pereira (1950 – 1985), Greenpeace activist and photographer drowned after sinking of the Rainbow Warrior.
This post is well overdue – I travelled in Vietnam for most of February and enjoyed Vietnamese food from both the simple street stalls and the more sophisticated “fusion” food served in many restaurants.
This post is a tribute to the kindness of strangers. It concerns a proprietor and Chef called Son Tran. His restaurant is called Lantern Town and it is in Hoi An on the central Vietnamese coast.
Fresh spring rolls, pomelo salad with prawns, seared tuna (long tail).
Just like the rest of the world, simple traditional Vietnamese recipes have responded to trends and outside influences. With easier access to books and the internet, more opportunities to travel and engage with travellers, Vietnamese chefs are adapting and elaborating on age-old staples.
Long tail tuna.
These are some photos of what Son cooked for us. The entire Lantern Town experience – the cooking and the eating – is one of the most enduring memories I will keep of Vietnam.
Before cooking – fresh pieces of mango, wrapper in lattice rice paper.
Son’s specialises in adaptations of traditional Vietnamese dishes, applying modern twists to conventional ingredients.
Mango rolls dipped into batter made with coconut milk, rice flour, sugar, chocolate powder and then deep fried.
I met Son Tran in his restaurant over a lunchtime dish of his version of stuffed squid. My passion for food was evident and I told him about my Sicilian version of stuffed squid. Mine is stuffed with the principal ingredients of ricotta and almonds and is cooked in marsala, his was stuffed with cellophane noodles and prawns. He responded to my enthusiasm by offering to take me on a tour of the local Hoi An market and to personally cook a special dinner for me and my partner.
Buying prawns at the Hoi An market
Buying the fish, Son chose a piece of long fin tuna saying he prefers it to blue-fin or yellow-fin tunas because of its clear flesh and its flavour. He explained that long-fin (or Pacific albacore) is much paler than either of the other tunas. More importantly for me, it is sustainable, not threatened by over-fishing. It was a small fish and Son selected a section of fish towards the tail, weighing about 1kg, which he carefully carved off the bone, creating four individual fillets; he also removed the skin.
The pomelo salad was made with segmented pomelo, carrots and prawns and had a dressing made with passion fruit pulp. The fresh spring rolls had prawns, carrot, cucumber mint, noodles and passionfruit pulp; they were accompanied by a pineapple, sugar and vinegar dipping sauce. The tuna was marinaded in lemongrass, shallots, basil, ginger, soy, oyster sauce; it was then seared over high heat; it was presented with a celery sauce. What I particularly like about Vietnamese food is the use of fresh herbs.
The sustainable albacore tuna (better choice category in the Marine Conservation Seafood Guide).
As you might expect many Sicilian fish recipes are for the aristocrats of Sicilian fish – the blue-fin tuna and swordfish – but these species have been overfished and are no longer sustainable, not just in Sicily, but worldwide.
A century ago in Sicily, during tuna fishing season, it was easy to catch thousands of tuna, each weighing approximately 300 kilograms, but their numbers have fallen drastically.
Unfortunately, the situation with swordfish (pesce spada) is much the same as with blue-fin tuna. Once it would not have been unusual for fishers to haul into their fishing boats, swordfish measuring more than five metres long. Now, especially in the Mediterranean, stocks have rapidly reduced due to overfishing.
For all the Sicilian recipes intended for tuna and swordfish I use the sustainable albacore tuna. My vendor stocks it when he can get it, but not all fishers are interested in catching it because it does not fetch high prices – it is not in demand as an export to Japan (where tuna is preferred eaten raw and red) and therefore it is the cheaper alternative. I have sometimes seen albacore tuna for sale at only one other stall at the Queen Victoria Melbourne Market – it has never looked appealing; it has been cut roughly and with high proportion of red flesh. When I am able to purchase it from my vendor (Happy Tuna Seafood), he has either cut it into quality thick steaks, or as a larger fillet left whole, or in a vertical slice from the centre of the tuna (see photo).
This cut is called a rota (in Sicilian). In Italian the word is ruota – a round or a wheel. I have stuffed the slices of tuna with garlic and rosemary. The rota is cooked in one piece and is separated into portions when it is ready to serve. I have found the slices of tuna I purchase in Australia to be smaller than those I remember in my childhood and will only feed 2–4 people. I remember my grandmother Maria in Catania cooking a very large rota of tuna during one of our visits to Sicily. It must have weighed about 2 kilos and it fitted very tightly in a shallow fry pan (an indication of how large the fish once were).
The pale flesh and versatility of Australian albacore tuna is very under rated. It is known as the chicken of the sea – the flesh turns white when cooked.
Cooking albacore tuna and RECIPE
I generally braise albacore tuna, usually with tomatoes, capers and herbs. I always insert flavours into the flesh (slivers of garlic, herbs or cloves). Sometimes I use white wine, but on this occasion I softened some onion in some extra virgin olive oil, sealed the slices of tuna and then added some dry marsala , orange slices and bay leaves. When I am braising food, I always cover the pan with a lid and cook it slowly.
Yellow-fin tuna and Big-eye
Both of these species of tuna are wild-caught, but catch rates are declining so they are in the think twice category (Marine Conservation Seafood Guide).
Big-eye is the second most popular tuna for sashimi and unfortunately numbers are declining very fast.
Southern Blue-fin tuna
Southern blue-fin tuna always seems to be available for purchase. This is because much of it is farmed, but some is wild-caught.
We need to say no (Marine Conservation Seafood Guide) to the most popular species of tuna because it has been severely over-fished in and outside the Australian fishing zone. Most are caught wild and then fattened in sea-cage aquaculture farms, especially around Port Lincoln in South Australia.
For a long time I had thought that fish produced by, such as tuna, ocean trout and salmon was sustainable and was surprised to find that the Marine Conservation Seafood Guide totally apposes sea-cage aquaculture – penned, dense schools of fish in large floating cages moored in bays and estuaries.
Although sea-cage aquaculture may sound preferable to the wild-caught fish, there are problems associated with sea-cage aquaculture. Views expressed by a variety of environmentalists are:
• Tuna farming is a large and profitable industry and it involves herding juvenile tuna from the wild into pens to fatten in cages – it is called fish ranching.
• Fish farms are established in bays and estuaries to avoid damage from storms and currents and they need clean and frequent water exchange. Unfortunately other wild fish and marine life also favour these and their habitat is affected.
• Significant amounts of waste can be discharged from fish farms back into the ocean – the nutrients in unused fish feed, fish faeces and the chemicals and pharmaceuticals used to keep the fish healthy and the pens clean. These can be toxic to many aquatic species and impact on the surrounding environment.
• There is also the potential for some farmed fish to escape. These could spread diseases and can threaten local, wild species by competing for food and habitat and interfering with their breeding.
• Farmed tuna are fed large quantities of wild, whole fish (pilchards, sardines, herrings and anchovies, chosen for their high oil content and mostly imported). Penned tuna are fed three times a day, whereas in the wild, they may eat once a week.
In the hands of an able cook, fish can become an inexhaustible source of perpetual delight.
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)