How can frozen tuna be thawed to still taste good?

In order to maintain the quality of tuna, when it is caught in the sea, the ikejime technique is used first, then rapid freezing is used as a matter of course. This means that the quality of the thawing technique is also important. Poor thawing conditions means that the drip outflow volume will be too high, shrinking the meat and worsening the texture. Here I will explain a thawing method that doesn’t cause drip, uneven thawing, or loss of color.

What exactly is drip anyway?

I’m sure you’ve seen it before in any type of thawing frozen meat, but there is a red liquid that comes out of the tuna when thawing. This is called ‘drip’. This liquid includes the tuna’s umami, and when the fish loses a lot, it naturally detracts from the flavor.

First of all, we will explain the worst thawing methods. Never thaw naturally at room temperature or in the microwave. These are common methods at home, but they are out of the question.

Next we will explain the general method of thawing.

  1. Mix 30 g of salt with 1000 cc of warm water at 40℃ to create a saltwater mixture.
  2. Place the frozen block of tuna in this 40℃ saltwater, submerge for one to two minutes and then drain the water.
  3. Wash any remaining salt off the surface of the block of fish with freshwater and remove moisture from the surface with paper towels.
  4. Wrap the fish in clean paper towels, wrap with plastic over that and leave it in the refrigerator for about a day to thaw naturally.
  5. Cut from the block directly before consuming.

Now for the thawing method used by professionals, such as sushi chefs.

The first three steps are the same as the general thawing method above.

  1. Place block in an air-tight plastic bag. Push out as much air as possible before sealing the bag.
  2. Prepare ice water in a bowl or container and submerge the plastic bag in the water for one hour. Normally the bag will float, so it must be weighed down with something.
  3. Remove the thawed tuna from the plastic bag and remove moisture with paper towels.
  4. Wrap the fish in clean paper towels, wrap with plastic over that and leave it in the refrigerator for about a day to mature.

After thawing, the meat of the tuna may have shrunk. This is called ‘chijire’. The reason for this is, after the tuna is caught, it is frozen before rigor mortis begins, so the rigor mortis process starts once the fish is thawed. Therefore, this is proof of freshness. The meat of tuna for which ‘chijire’ has begun is tough and isn’t yet matured. However, amateurs can’t tell if ‘chijire’ is happening or not. That’s why it’s better to let the fish mature in the refrigerator for half a day to one day. Please use these explanations for your own reference.


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Revision date: October 2, 2020

What’s the trick to distinguishing which conveyor belt sushi restaurants are better?!

There is only one trick to distinguishing between conveyor belt sushi restaurants (kaiten-zushi), and that is to try eating the tuna as your first dish.

Why is that, you ask?

The most commonly used ingredient at kaiten-zushi is tuna. At kaiten-zushi, the tuna is imported and frozen nearly 100% of the time. The most famous is the Southern blue-fin tun, but you’ll also find Boston bluefin tuna, Canadian tuna farmed in fish preserves, inland sea tuna from Turkey and Spain, New Zealand offshore tuna, Atlantic tuna, etc. Also, the season of each type of tuna and the timing of high-volume catch differ, which makes the prices fluctuate greatly.

Therefore, the biggest task of a kaiten-zushi chain buyer is to decide where to import tuna from. Looking for high cost-performance, they watch fluctuations in the market every single day without fail, check the flavor in detail and constantly change the locality.

In other words, the chain restaurant purchaser’s efforts are concentrated on tuna. Restaurants that serve tuna that has lost its fat, is watery or rubbery, clearly either have a purchaser with a poor eye, or poor thawing skills. Therefore, if you are disappointed with that first tuna plate, then reign in your expectations for other toppings. On the other hand, if you enjoy the tuna then you’ll have a lot of other toppings to look forward to.


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Revision date: August 17, 2020

Why does it taste a little bland when you had tuna at high-class sushi restaurant?

Tuna at top-end restaurants is light in flavor. Its Akami (red meat) has an indescribable acidity with a delicate harmony between the shari vinegar, the nikiri soy sauce, and wasabi. However, on the other side of the coin, it feels almost like a waste to eat it without a sense of luxury. Of course tuna with delicious akami, also has delicious fatty tuna (toro). And you’ll never get tired of it. It would be easy to polish off 10 pieces as a light snack. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the high fat content that makes it so easy to eat. However, it is because of that popular belief that many people feel that the big chain store farmed fish with lots of fat is more delicious than luxury natural fish.

 


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Revision date: April 16, 2019

Do you know that there are rankings for negitoro (minced tuna)?

The original negitoro is made from medium fatty tuna or nakaochi* chopped up finely with a knife and then mixed with chopped green onions on top. But the tuna may be switched out with filler, leading to a variety in quality of the negitoro available.

First of all, the lowest in the ranking are the offcuts of tuna that can’t be made into sashimi (mainly Yellowfin or Albacore tuna) and this is mixed with vegetable oil and minced. The type of onion used is normally green onions. You can pick this type out because it will be whitish in color. This version is normally served at conveyor belt sushi.

The medium quality uses the nakaochi of cheap Albacore tuna or Swordfish.

High quality negitoro uses the nakaochi of Pacific bluefin tuna or Southern bluefin tuna. Sometimes the green onion sprout is then rolled up inside. If you have a chance to try negitoro in Japan, we recommend you try the top quality options without a doubt. One piece will probably cost around $15 USD. But that’s the price for the real thing!

Finally, let me introduce some negitoro trivia. There is a lot of flesh on the middle bone (spine) and the surrounding area for tuna and the like. This is called “nakaochi*”. Scraping the meat from this area surrounding the spine is known as “negitoru”, which is where the word “negitoro” comes from. In other words, the name “negitoro” is not actually from the words onion (negi) and tuna belly (toro).

What is negitoro like at Sushi restaurants?

Originally, the meat from the middle cut or in between the bones of the tuna was used for negitoro. In order to get meat from these parts, the chef would have to purchase an entire tuna, or buy the cut that includes the mid-ribs. However, both of these purchases are difficult for a single sushi restaurant, so now the chef chops the meat from the body with a butcher knife until it forms a paste that is sticky and smooth from the fat in the tuna. This paste is used for negitoro.

TYPES OF SUSHI


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Revision date: July 21, 2020

The migrating route of Inshore Pacific bluefin tuna and fishing place!

Tuna caught in the coastal regions of the Japan Sea is notable as the best bluefin tuna in January. Iki, a small island in Kyushu area is one of the famous ports for tuna.

In February and March, the tuna auction market becomes slack due to rough weather. Just a few tunas from Nachikatsuura where is also the famous port for tuna are on the market.

In March and April, tunas become thin because their eggs need many nutrients.

In May, large tuna is seldom seen in the Tsukiji Fish Market. Even if there is, its body is really thin. “Kinkaimono” which means a shore-fish is generally considered as high-class tuna, but in this season, imported tuna is useful instead.

It is said that Pacific Bluefin tunas spawn around Japanese waters between Taiwan and Okinawa in April and May. And then, they go up to fertile, north sea along the eastern coast of Japan.

In June, “Chubo” which is young and small tuna is taken hugely off the coast of the Sea of Japan. The school of Chubo begin moving northward in this season.

In July and August, tunas can be seen occasionally but their bodies are still thin. Instead, Boston Tuna which is caught in the Atlantic Ocean and nicknamed “Jumbo” is on the market. Its fresh is softer than “Kinkaimono” and it doesn’t have medium-fatty part which “Kinkaimono” has.

In September, Boston Tunas are at their best with plenty of fat on them. The best season of Boston Tuna is limited and ends in October. But fortunately, Japanese tunas come into season.

The school of tunas split up into two groups, the one takes Pacific Ocean route and another takes the Japan Sea route and both of them move northward along the Japanese Islands. Some of them reach the Tsugaru Strait where and the season of Tuna begins from September to next January. Oma town and Toi town is famous nationwide for its catch of tuna from the Tsugaru Strait. The flavor of tuna in September is still weak but it becomes stronger in October. In November, feed of tunas such as Pacific saury or Japanese common squid with plenty of fat increase and flavor of tuna also gets stronger. In December, the peak season comes around.

A catch of tuna falls off in January and it enters the final season. The temperature of sea water gets cold and feed of tuna, squids decrease and the fishing season in this area ends.


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Revision date: August 20, 2018

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Tuna is allowed to rest before it is used.

Once a bluefin tuna is caught, it arrives in Tsukiji fish market within a day or two. However, that fish is not used as a sushi topping that day. No mater how good the tuna is, it starts out very stiff and is not in a state where it should be eaten. The meat is hard and the white muscle lines are left in your mouth. The odor and acidic taste of the red meat is strong and the unique sweetness of the fish is nowhere to be found. After it has rested the muscles soften, bringing out the fat.

Then, when the sushi chef gets the tuna, he first separates the red, lean meat and the fatty toro portion, rewraps them separately and, seals them in plastic and puts them on ice. Next is waiting for the “young” meat, not yet suitable for eating, to mature. The number of days the fish will be rested depends on the size of the fish and the temperature. The smaller the cut and the warmer the temperature, the shorter the rest time. Generally the time is from 3-14 days.

This “young” fish not ready for consumption is a fresh, deep color but as it matures the color darkens, the fat is brought out and becomes a fleshy color. Proper care must be taken because if it’s rested for too long, the color changes too quickly.


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Revision date: August 13, 2018

What are Meji , Chubou and Maguro?

The bluefin tuna goes by different names in Japanese depending on its age. It starts out as “Meji (メジ),” grows into “Chubou (中坊)” and finally is called Tuna (once it’s 50 kg or more).

Meji are less than 1 year old and weigh around 10 kg.

Chubou is an old word for relatively low-class Buddhist priests who were treated as errand boys. I guess it was meant to imply that these boys were even weaker than tuna. At this stage the fish are between 2-5 years old and weigh about 40kg.

Anything larger than that are called Maguro. The biggest is 3m long and 600kg or more. Especially large tuna are called Shibi. “Shibi” comes from the Japanese characters for “4-days”, which is how long the fish takes to mature.

Most meji and chubou are caught from May until the beginning of autumn when the tuna are thin and tasty.

Meji has its own unique scent and taste that sets it apart from full-grown tuna. The color is similar to the skipjack rather than bluefin. On the other hand, chubou has a lighter color and it isn’t as rich, but the flavor is young, refreshing tuna. That is why meji is considered to be a completely separate sushi topping and chubou is presented to be a type of tuna.


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Revision date: September 14, 2018

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What is Uwami and Shitami?

Large fish that are caught are always kept and transported on their side with their heads facing left from the port to the market and to the restaurant where they are served. The part of the fish facing down when in this position is called “Shitami” or the “bottom body” and the part facing up is called “Uwami” or the top body. The Uwami costs more than Shitami. This is because the Shitami takes on the weight of the Uwami, reducing the freshness and possibly causing cracks in the body (cracking occurs on the edges of the muscles).


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Revision date: May 21, 2018

What is “Hagashi”?

There is a part on the tuna belly called “Sunazuri” or “Zuri” (gizzards). Normally “Jabara,” with the diagonal white lines is the king of tuna, but the fatty tuna is spoiled if the white lines are left in your mouth.  Also, on the dorsal side there is a part that produces chutoro called wakaremi. This part is also complex with white lines throughout that we want to avoid eating. Instead, the knife cuts along those lines, gently removing the fish meat from them, making “Hagashi.” If the chef is not skilled, this cut will take time and extra meat is left behind. This is delicate work, making for a delicious and satisfying experience.


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Revision date: July 16, 2020

What is the difference between the taste of marbled and lined fatty tuna?

Marbled tuna (shimofuri) is the part in which it looks like the fat has fallen like a frost and melts like snow on your tongue then leaving only the umami taste.

The lined fatty tuna (jabara) is the part that has white fat lines running through it and distributes a surge of aroma and umami flavor throughout the mouth. After that the potent fatty umami fills your mouth. The way the fat melts in your mouth differs, so everyone has their own preference.


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Revision date: April 9, 2018

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Can’t-miss Tokyo sushi toppings (Meji Maguro)

Meji Maguro (AKA: Meji) caught in fixed net fishing is one type of sushi topping that you really should try. Meji is the larval fish of Pacific bluefin tuna, made and served at expensive restaurants, but not usually available as Edo-style sushi. Its fat is lighter and it doesn’t have the impact that fatty tuna has. Efforts are put into seasoning to avoid this. Using a pinch of ginger, Japanese basil or onion between the topping and rice, along with the wasabi, really brings out the fresh flavor of the young fish as well as the sweetness of this fatty part.


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Revision date: March 26, 2018

Why is sushi with tuna topping so expensive?

A purchase of raw tuna costs at least JPY 30,000 per kilogram. Furthermore, good tuna is judged not only by taste, but appearance is also highly regarded.

The surface is gradually oxidized by letting it sleep (mature) and the sushi chef makes sure that parts are cut of as they change color, when the timing is perfect for both the taste and appearance. In other words, skin is taken from the freshly purchased tuna, the meat of the fish darkened by blood (the blackened area that can’t be used as sushi toppings) is removed, the parts that have changed color are shaved off and then only the remaining, best parts used as toppings are left.

This is why the price is high.


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Revision date: February 5, 2018

Tuna was not a premium fish during the Edo period!

During the Edo period, tuna was not highly valued as a sushi topping and it was referred to as “Gezakana” meaning that it was inferior to normal fish. The reason was the big size of the tuna. At this time there was no ice, so tuna had to be salted. It was cut into blocks, salt was spread all over and in it, and that was it. At Uogashi (the market prior to Tsukiji) it was treated at shops that specialized in salting fish. The dark, discolored, salty chunks of flesh really were nothing but “Gezakana*”.

*Gezakana -Relatively low-cost sushi ingredients, such as gizzard shad and horse mackerel. Bluefin tuna used to be also called gezakana in the Edo period, for losing its freshness easily.


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Revision date: December 30, 2017

You know toro tuna and akami, but have you heard of the more rare parts of the tuna?

A single bite of the same bluefin tuna differs greatly depending on the part of the fish it came from.

The body of the fish is broadly categorized into the dorsal (back) and the ventral (belly) sides, which taste completely different. Of course the meat near the head tastes completely different from the meat near the tail. If you dig even deeper, there are parts that aren’t as well-known as the Otoro (fatty), Chutoro (medium fatty) and Akami (lean) tuna meats. We’d like to explain those now.

Hachinomi (ハチの身) or Tsunotoro Nouten” is the meat from the crown of the head. It is fatty and rich and also called “Head Toro”. Only about 1kg of this precious meat can be taken from even a very large fish, and it is only shared with regular, loyal customers.

 

Kamatoro (カマトロ)” is taken from behind the jaw. It is known as “shimofuri (霜降り)” or marbled meat. There are no veins in this part so the meat is soft and the marbling is more detailed than Otoro, so it is sticky and melts in your mouth. The balance of fat and sweetness in this part is unparalleled.  It can be said that otoro (such as shimofuri and jabara) of tuna is the representative part of toro tuna. This is an image of the shimofuri on the right, and the jabara (蛇腹) on the left.

Chiai (血合い)” is the part with the most veins, so it is a dark red color. It has a strong odor of blood and has multiple times the acidity of the lean meat, so it is not used as a sushi topping.

 

 

Chiai Gishi (血合いぎし)” -Located right next to chiai, this is the meat you can taste umami of the rich red meat and the sweetness of toro fat at the same time.

 

 

Wakaremi (分かれ身)” is a precious part with very little meat found on the next to the dorsal fin. The part especially close to the dorsal fin is popular and called “Setoro (背トロ)” or back toro. The light taste is a combination of the deliciousness of both the lean meat and that won’t fill you up. However, this part is hard to get, even in high-quality tuna and is not available except to regular customers in almost all sushi restaurants.

A sushi chef, Hiroyuki Sato, serves a tossaki hand roll as the first sushi piece of the course. “Tossaki (突先)” is an exclusive cut of tuna that goes well with sushi rice using red vinegar, which is less sour but has more umami and flavor compared with white vinegar. Because tossaki is the base of the tuna’s head and it moves a lot, there are a lot of muscular striations. Therefore it needs to be prepared using the back of a knife carefully as if peeling it off (Hagashi). It is said that tossaki is a high-tuna-flavor cut. A couple of Sato’s apprentices also offer a hand roll to open up the meal in the same way.

The meat of tuna gets leaner and muscular striations are fewer towards the inner center of the body. “Tenpa (天端)”, surrounding the spine, is deeper in color and tastes stronger. It features the tender texture coming from the finest meat quality. This is also called Tenmi (天身).

Hohoniku (ホホ肉)” or cheek meat is taken from below the eye, seasoned, grilled and made into gun-kan rolls. The taste is enhanced in this part by grilling.

 

 

“Hireshita (ひれ下)”-Located right above the first pectoral fin. Characterized with the tender meat which is relatively low in fat content but rich with umami flavor. This truly is the valuable part whether there will be even enough for 10 pieces of sushi from an over 200 kg tuna.

If you are fortunate enough to get an opportunity to taste these , you can take it as proof that you have been accepted as a regular and loyal customer. It is difficult to distinguish these parts by appearance alone, so make sure you try them at a sushi restaurant you can trust. Just for your reference.


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Revision date: June 19, 2020

We will explain fishing methods which could affect the quality of caught tuna.

There are mainly five methods for tuna fishing. “Ipponzuri” (catching fish with fishing poles) in Oma, Aomori prefecture, you see a lot through the media, is well known. However, the fact is that Long line fishing method and Purse seine fishing method are the ones catching the most tuna. The rest is Fixed net fishing method and Hikiami (Seine fishing method).

<Long line fishing method>

To hang a long line (Mikinawa) in the sea, covered with about 3000 fishhooks attached to branch lines (Edanawa), aiming at a path of schooling tuna.

<Purse seine fishing method>

A large-scale method of fishing by encircling a school of tuna with a net. Although it is efficient, there is a demerit of lowering the quality of fish because they struggle while getting caught. In addition, other kinds of fish and immature fish can be caught without distinction and that leads to overfishing.

<Fixed net fishing method>

Tuna have a habit of migrating to the same ocean area at the same time each year. A coastal fishing method called Fixed net fishing consists of placing a net in the sea and wait for a school of tuna. The advantage of this method is to be able to capture the fish alive without causing any injury or damage.

<Ipponzuri (catching fish with fishing poles)>

This method has the longest history and uses a pole of 4 – 6 meters to fish from a boat. Using a machine that winds up lines automatically and also using human hands, pull up tuna that weighs more than 100kg and lastly catch it by piercing gills with a harpoon.

<Hikiami (Seine fishing method)>

To catch fish by towing a bag-shaped net from a boat.


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Revision date: March 20, 2018