The seas around Japan are changing and this year the propagation of sea urchin (uni) has been such that quality bafun is scarce. There hasn’t been any in the market for months and most of the uni is coming from Russia, which is a real surprise but not talked about.
The tuna living around the seas of Japan are undoubtedly the prize of any sushi chef and this is o-toro, a section cut from the center of the belly. The belly starts after the gills where the belly cut begins. Nearly all the toro is found in the belly which is fattier nearer the head. Toward the head starts the o-toro the most expensive bite of fish in the world.
Right behind the gills is the kama considered by some the choicest cut on bluefin, although Mr. T prefers the middle area, and I agree given the fatty quality is sometimes overwhelming.
But judging bluefin quality from the tail cut, or via a sampling takes years of mastering the practice by experts working at the Tsukiji. They carry a sashibo, a long thin, hollow metal rod that can be plunged under the gills and right through the fish to extract a sample of its meat. It travels into the fish layer by layer and samples a coring.
Respect is the word that comes to mind when I think about any bluefin as it goes into my mouth. Those Blue fin are the panthers of the sea and from birth until death they can never stop moving. If they did, they would die of suffocation which rarely happens. They are credulous predators, readily caught by fishermen who specialize in hunting bluefin tuna, and end up at the best counters in Japan. Of course I am speaking about domestically caught tuna, and not imported fish.
Blue fin consume 25 percent of their weight each day, enjoying the tastes of squid, sardines and herring and their diet shows off in the unctuous taste of the tuna. To understand the anatomy of bluefin you can glance the chart.
The upper half of a bluefin’s body consists of intense flavored red meat called akami. The middle section is called the naka and a quality cut. Between the upper body and the belly is a dark muscle called chiai that is inedible in Japan. The tail sections of the belly are medium grade toro and chu-toro, both desirable as the selection sold is scrutinized based on the chef’s clients, and willingness to pay.
This cut is from the center and not at the first section of the belly. It is oily yet not overly oily and has a smoothness and balance that makes it world-class!