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Goin’ Japanesque!

The Secrets of Japanese Cuisine’s Delicious Tuna

Japan consumes more tuna than any other country in the world. Be it in sushi or in onigiri (rice balls), tuna is used extensively in traditional Japanese food. Tuna is most delicious when eaten raw, so the Japanese have come up with a variety of tricks for tuna. Today, we’re going to look at the history of these tricks and the secrets of delicious tuna.
Related: Sushi vs Onigiri: Similarities and Differences


A History of Tuna

Long ago, tuna was called gezakana (“low fish”) and, being ranked quite poorly, was not eaten very often at all. The reason is that tuna starts to go off very quickly, losing its deliciousness. However, something came along and changed this: the power of soy sauce. Soy sauce both eliminates tuna’s “fishy” odor and also preserves it for a set period of time. As a result, the gospel of tuna’s delicious flavor spread throughout the nation, turning it into a remarkably popular dish. Even now, there is a sushi topping called zuke, which is tuna marinated in nikiri (a marinade based in soy sauce).  This ingredient traces back to a historical technique for the preservation of tuna.


Types and Cuts of Tuna

There are a variety of species of tuna, including bluefin tuna (the basic kind of tuna), bigeye tuna (called daruma at the Tsukiji fish market), and yellowfin tuna, with the fish itself divided into 11 different portions. Surely everyone knows about the well-fatted section of tuna called toro. In reality, however, people have only begun to eat toro in recent years. Until the beginning of the Showa era (the 1920s), this cut was often thrown away owing to the fat in it. What a waste!


The Secret of Delicious Tuna Across Japan


Japanese tuna preservation techniques set the bar globally for standards. Each vessel fishing for tuna has equipment to freeze the fish in an instant using a special kind of nitrogen. Tuna must continue to swim throughout their whole lives, so their body temperature is kept 5 to 10 °C warmer than the water around them. Because of this, they tend to spoil and bruise more readily than other fish. Without technology for instantaneous freezing, it’d be impossible to get tasty tuna out to the markets. Generally, what’s needed is a drop of temperature down to -50 to -60 °C. Thanks to this technique, we can enjoy the best of tuna even in our tuna mayonnaise rice balls at the convenience store.


If you want to eat delicious sashimi at home…

this marvelous freezing technique will be for nothing if you don’t know how to thaw it out properly. The best way to thaw it out is to first of all lightly wash the surface of the frozen tuna with salt water. This will help seal in the tuna’s red juices, where much of its flavor lies. Next, seal the sashimi in a plastic bag and slowly thaw it out in ice water. With this, your thawed tuna with reach its maximum flavor potential. For anyone living in Japan, why not give it a shot and see what tuna sashimi is like for dinner at home?

Related: 3 Places You Can See Tuna-Cutting Shows Outside of Tsukiji

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