Say the title of this post aloud three times fast. Anyway. We live in the land of salmon, and there are lots of fish here for the taking, yet this is the time of year when it can be hard to get excited about salmon for dinner. Again. In the South of my youth, fish was fried. Catfish, brim, crappie, anything that could be yarded out of a farm pond was likely headed for a quick roll in cornmeal and a dunking in hot oil. As a kid we spent a lot of time at the beach house, and were fortunate enough to have Calabash, North Carolina just down Highway 17. For those of you unfortunate enough to grow up elsewhere, Calabash is the epicenter of things great and good when it comes to Southern seafood. A few hundred residents, 40 restaurants, and 100 fishing vessels have built a tradition of fresh seafood, generally served right off the boat. Most of it is fried, blessedly so, and in portions that will make you a bit nervous, until you start eating. It’s that good. And yet, as a child it took me years to decide that I would eat and enjoy this kind of food. It makes me sad now, knowing there were meals then I did not get to eat. Now I find myself living in Alaska where produce from the sea is king. I’ve come around. Sea meats are good.
Ironically, having left the warm shores and soft summer nights of the South, bluefin tuna are a fairly recent development in the winter offshore fishery there. These are Northern bluefin, the big ones that get over 1500 pounds (the current IGFA all tackle record is 1,496 pounds). Their Southern cousins top out at around 400 pounds, and these are the ones that the Japanese will pay upwards of $40,000 for – for a single fish. If they can get them – the average catch weight of a Southern bluefin has plummeted to a paltry 20 pounds. Interestingly, the folks catching these fish commercially haven’t yet made the leap in logic needed to equate average catch weight with normal species size = problem. The cans of tuna in the markets are generally albacore or skipjack, little guys compared to their more respected relatives. Thus far the smaller specie’s reproductive rates have kept them from being completely over fished (we hope), as is the case with the other ones. Bluefin tuna are sexually mature at approximately age 8, and can live over 40 years. Yellowfin do a little better, getting it on after about 18 months, but they don’t get as long in the tooth/fin, peaking at the 7-8 year range.
bluefin have been clocked at 50 mph…
Tuna are pelagic, covering unbelievable distances in the open ocean (one tagged fish did three trans-Atlantic crossings in 20 months to cover over 25,000 miles), and can swim faster than your Geo Metro can go uphill. So, let’s cook one. Last week the market had wild caught (kinda a safe bet since no one is farming these things) yellowfin on sale. I decided that we needed to eat an endangered species (nearly so), and brought a few steaks home.
tuna with lime:
2 tuna steaks, 3/4 inch thick
zest of one lime
juice of one lime
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp orange zest
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp dried thyme
Whisk together the lime juice, soy sauce, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a nonreactive bowl and set aside. Mix all of the dry spices together in another bowl with the zest (finely minced). Heat a skillet on the stove to high. Briefly rinse your tuna steaks under cold water, pat dry, and coat lightly with the rest of the olive oil. Press the spices and zest into the surface of the tuna on both sides, and then sear for 2 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other. Tuna cooks fast, and this will give you a rare tuna steak if yours are cut at least 3/4 of an inch thick. Vary your cooking time according to the thickness of your meat. Remove from the heat, plate, and drizzle the lime juice/soy mixture over them. I like to have a little citrus zest left to add extra color.