It’s so closely associated with cans that some shoppers never think to buy fresh albacore tuna. Even fewer consider albacore a fish to eat raw.
“Do you ever get any sushi-grade tuna?” I heard a man ask the fishmonger at my favorite coastal seafood market.
I did a double take. The customer had just purchased fresh albacore for $8.95 per pound, along with a whole, smoked tuna loin. Clearly he was in the know about albacore’s sustainability, reliability and affordability during late summer and early fall on the West Coast. So why ask about the availability of imported yellowfin tuna in the store’s freezer case?
Curiously, the fishmonger made no attempt to correct or inform him. Perhaps she, herself, didn’t know albacore is one of the finest fish to eat, not just poached, seared, grilled or sautéed, but as sushi, ceviche and carpaccio. You heard it right: When albacore season is in full swing, it can be incorporated in your favorite sushi rolls or served as poke atop a rice bowl.
So why isn’t albacore typically labeled “sushi-grade tuna”? Likely two factors are at work: The terms “sushi-grade” or “sashimi-grade” have very little meaning and customers are more acquainted with the deep pink and red flesh of other tuna species — bigeye, bluefin and yellowfin — commonly prepared by sushi restaurants.
Albacore, in fact, is prepared by some discerning sushi chefs who are confident the tuna’s color won’t put off patrons. Albacore is the only species allowed to be labeled “white meat tuna” in the U.S. When served as sushi, it is known as “shiro maguro,” which renders irrelevant any notion of it being “sushi-grade,” merely a marketing term.
It’s misleading to imply that fish has a “grade,” when there is no national governing body that grades fish like the U.S. Department of Agriculture grades beef, according to a 2017 article in Serious Eats. The FDA does outline how to handle fish for raw consumption, but the guidelines are not indicators of the fish’s quality in the way marbling determines the quality of beef.
The most important piece of information for consumers is whether fish intended for raw consumption was frozen for the required period of time at a specified temperature to kill parasites. Using “super freezers,” sushi restaurants and fish markets are compelled to follow FDA regulations for every wild fish species except tuna, albacore included, given the lack of scientific evidence in tuna species for parasitic infection.
Indeed, a number of seafood purveyors, including Global Seafoods North America and Lummi Island Wild, tout their albacore as a perfect fish for raw consumption. Buttery and mild, albacore is higher than other tuna in omega-3 fatty acids. Also packed with protein, essential vitamins and minerals, including B-12 and selenium, albacore arguably is the most affordable and sustainable tuna. The sushi industry could improve its image by offering more albacore on restaurant menus.
I took a cue from sushi chefs and prepared albacore tuna with Asian-style condiments, including pickled ginger, for an unconventional burger. My mom confirmed the combination of flavors was like eating tekka maki inside a bun. I cooked the tuna with just a thin strip of rare flesh in the center to appease my mom’s preference for more well-done meats and to ensure a firm texture more like a burger patty. But tuna loin can be cooked to diners’ preferred degree of doneness.
Here’s how I did it:
Cut 1-1/2-inch steaks crosswise from a fresh albacore tuna loin. The number needed will depend on loin’s thickness and how many burgers you plan to make. The ends of a tuna loin narrow, so you may need two or three slices from that area to cover the surface of your bun.
In a bowl, whisk 1 part chile-garlic sauce with 2 parts mayonnaise; set aside. Kewpie brand mayonnaise yields the most authentic sushi-restaurant flavor. Alternatively, substitute wasabi paste for chile-garlic sauce. Lightly butter brioche buns and preheat oven broiler.
Season tuna steaks with a light sprinkle of salt, pepper and ground ginger. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in 1 tablespoon neutral-flavored oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When butter just starts to darken, add tuna steaks and sear for 2 minutes.
While tuna is cooking, place buttered buns under oven broiler. Flip tuna to sear on second side and brush each steak with a little bottled hoisin sauce. Sprinkle a little furikake rice seasoning, if available, over hoisin. Remove buns from oven broiler and tuna to a plate.
Spread chile or wasabi mayonnaise onto bun bottom. Top with a tuna steak. Slice an avocado in half, pit it, slice through avocado flesh at 1/8-inch intervals and, using a spoon, scoop slices onto tuna steak. Top avocado with slices of jarred, pickled ginger and bun top.
Also incorporating ginger is this recipe for tuna ceviche, adapted from “Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life,” by Jamie Oliver. And using peak-season peppers is classic piperade with raw tuna, adapted from “French Feasts: 200 Traditional Recipes for Family Meals and Gatherings,” by Stephane Reynaud.
Tuna Ceviche with Salad Shoots and Citrus Dressing
Zest and juice of 1 lime
Juice of 1/4 grapefruit
Zest and juice of 1-1/2 tangerines or clementines
Sea salt, to taste
Vegetable oil, as needed
6 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely sliced
1 thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, peeled and very thinly sliced
1 pound albacore tuna loin
2 big handfuls mixed microgreens and sprouts, including bean sprouts, pea shoots, sunflower greens and radish sprouts
Soy sauce, to taste
Sesame oil, to taste
To make dressing, mix the citrus juices and zest together; add a pinch of the salt and set aside.
Heat an inch of oil in a small, deep saucepan. As a temperature gauge, put a small piece of peeled potato in oil; when potato turns golden and floats to oil’s surface, oil is hot enough. Remove potato and add the garlic to oil; move slices around and keep a close eye on them. When garlic turns golden, quickly and carefully use a slotted spoon to remove them and drain on paper towels. Repeat frying process with the ginger and remove to paper towels to drain.
Using a very sharp knife, cut the tuna in half lengthwise, lay flat and slice into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange slices on a platter or 4 individual serving plates and sprinkle with some salt. Distribute slices of fried ginger and garlic over tuna.
In a bowl, mix the sprouts, shoots and microgreens, scrunching them together and arranging over tuna. Drizzle citrus dressing over sprouts and tuna, followed by some of the soy sauce and sesame oil, to taste.
Makes 4 servings.
Piperade with Raw Tuna
1 each: green, red and yellow bell pepper
1 red onion
1-1/2 pounds albacore tuna loin
1 teaspoon capers
Good-quality olive oil, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
In a 400-degree oven, roast the peppers for 30 minutes. Remove peppers from oven, fold them into a paper bag and allow to cool. Using paper bag to rub off pepper skins, peel roasted peppers, pull out cores and seeds and slice flesh into thin strips. Peel and slice the onion.
Using a sharp knife, slice the tuna carpaccio-style into very thin slices. Arrange slices on a plate and dress with the olive oil. Top with pepper strips, onion slices and the capers. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.
Makes 6 servings.
Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at email@example.com.