Lessons from the Japanese Master Chef #3: Blue Fin Tuna

We all know that body types and shapes can vary among different races even though we are all categorized as human. So would you be surprised if I told you that the body structure of blue fin tuna found in the oceans surrounding Japan differs from those found in other parts of the world?  I was very surprised when I read this fact in Jiro’s book.

I also read a blog by the owner of a tuna wholesaler in Tsukiji who says Japanese tuna are like Japanese people and imported tuna look like “gaijin”, foreigners, with much bigger bodies and heavier bone structure. The tuna not only differ in size but also in taste.

Blue fin tuna that are caught around Japan are naturally “wafu/和風” suitable for Japanese taste, and less fatty compared to others.  However, as Japanese tastes have been influenced by western food culture, more Japanese are favoring fattier tuna and therefore imported tunas are also popular.

Have you heard of ChuToro being served at a sushi restaurant before? It’s the middle part between the fatty tuna and tuna.  I like the color of ChuToro, where the red tuna color transitions to the fatty pink flesh.  However I’ve never seen any ChuToro served in US sushi restaurants as far as I remember.

The reason is quite astonishing.  It’s because there are no ChuToro parts in blue fin tuna other than the ones caught in the ocean surrounding Japan.   If we compared the section of the belly area between the Japanese ocean’s blue fin tuna and the Atlantic Ocean’s tuna, the abdominal cavity is different.  The one from the Atlantic Ocean’s blue fin tuna is divided into two parts, the fatty belly part and the back side reddish tuna meat part whereas the Japanese blue fin tuna’s abdominal cavity doesn’t have bones that breaks into two parts. That’s why there is a transitional piece of flesh called “Chutoro” in Japan.

This made me adore Japanese blue fin tuna and I especially craved beautiful ChuToro.  Knowing this, it is still hard to justify the overfishing of blue fin tuna. Nothing could provide enough of an explanation why the Japanese buy and consume most of the blue fin tuna in the world.
But I just found one of the reasons why the Japanese are so crazy about Japanese blue fin tuna.

11 Responses to “Lessons from the Japanese Master Chef #3: Blue Fin Tuna”

  1. eduardo

    I believe Ono Jiro san uses the word “otoro” instead of “toro” to describe that fattiest section of the belly. He also names the top part as being “akami”. Thank you very much for your nice and very informative site. Congratulations!

    Reply
    • Yoko

      Hi Eduardo,
      You’re right. In Japan, we differentiate the fatty part of Tuna into 3 parts such as O-Toro, Chu-Toro and Toro. “Akami” literally means red flesh in Japanese, which had been originally served as nigiri sushi since Edo period.

      Reply
  2. Hoze

    Hi ! I buy my tuna from Spain, and our mediterrenian tuna also has “chutoro” the transcendent part where red meat gets pinkish almost.. its one of my favorite parts beside the akami part. In Sweden we work a lot with salmon, and if you would to investigate a salmon, you could see similiarities to that of a tuna. But not in the same matter, the back piece of tuna is lean, though the salmons back piece is fatty, the middle part I would call “akami” as its lean, and the belly differs from head to tail in fattiness. Interesting fact. This said, maybe not only Japanese Tuna has this “Chutoro”.. ?

    Reply
    • Yoko

      Thanks for sharing your insight! I honestly didn’t think about salmon or any other fishes. But you’re right, any relatively big fish has a lean meat and fatty part. So there must be a middle fatty part like Chutoro somewhere. I remember one time I had two part of Kanpachi, amber jack sushi one was lean and the other was fatty. Both are so different but yummy. I’ll ask for sushi chefs if there is any fish widely recognized for its middle fatty part other than tuna.

      Reply
  3. Hoze

    Hi again ! Yesterday I got the chance to fillet a 23,8 kg Minami Maguro ! The structure was definitely different, even the toro was different ! Taste was incredible and subtle, I´ve had a lot of tuna and this is the best I´ve had. I usually dont even like toro, but the minamis toro was so good, it was buttery and even soft in texture compared to hon-maguro ! Wow.

    Reply
    • yoko

      Hi Hoze, thanks for your report! Did you get wild minami magurao? In my fish book, it says it’s rare to get wild minami and most of them are farmed. May I ask where you learned how to make sushi? I just went to the sushi school’s opening party in Los Angeles. This school has quite a few international students learning about the Japanese cooking and sushi making.

      Reply
  4. Hoze

    I started as an apprentice in Spain with 2 chefs, one kaiseki chef and one sushi chef. I´ve studied sushi over the years from books, documentaries and blogs, I always try to improve my sushi, in terms of technique, ingredients and recipes. My mission is to make sushi like in the beginning of the 1920s Ginza style. Jiro is a perfect example of this kind of sushi perfection. But I try to make my own unique style like Jiro. The Tuna was wild but unfortunately later farmed :/ Wild tuna you have to catch yourself. Soon there will be sustainable tuna farmed from embryo. So wild tuna can grow in numbers once again :) maybe in 5-10 years this is possible I think. Yoko chan, I must ask if you know Jiro style sushi vinegar mix.. I have a hard time to find an old recipe of this.

    Reply
    • Yoko

      I like how you can specify your ideal sushi in one time of the history. I think some people use the term ‘authentic sushi’ without knowing constant transformation of sushi. I adore 1920s Ginza style! Someday in the futeure, I’ll look forward to eating at your restaurant!

      He is very particular about rice as you know. I don’t remember if I write it somewhere. He tries to find the naturally dried rice as opposed to commercially air dried rice which most of us are eating nowadays. So his rice is naturally sweeter because it’s sun dried. I talked about this topic about a month ago with my sushi chef friend. Edo-mae style sushi naturally won’t put sugar much in seasoning. However, the rice and vinegar they used to use were naturally sweeter than what we are using.

      So I just want to point out you can’t just rely on his recipe.

      I don’t know his recipe but found it in his book that he puts sugar, salt, sake and rice vinegar for his vinegar mix.

      Reply
  5. Hoze

    So for me to achieve this I need a sweeter vinegar. I was thinking of taking aged sherry vinegar opposed to Japanese aged “Aka-zu”, and mix it with rice vinegar, then I may not need that much sugar, Its all about that smooth tangy feeling to the rice, Right now my standard recipe, I use applecider vinegar from China that is a bit sweet and a bit of yuzu for the tangyness. (also some mirin, kombu, sugar and salt). The recipe goes well with the rice. It gives it a subtle sweet and tangy taste to the rice that works well, but I want a more sour and tangy taste instead of the sweet and tangy taste.

    Reply
    • yoko

      I once tried the recipe using fresh yuzu juice to season rice. No use of vinegar at all. It was very subtle yet nice sourness from citrus juice.

      Adding sherry vinegar sounds good. In terms of versatility to combine with different kinds of sashimi, I don’t know. I love maguro zuke with red wine soy sauce. So I’m sure you can eventually invent your own style inspired by 1920s Ginza. Good luck!

      Reply
  6. Hoze

    For sashimi I dont know either, but for rhe awase zu its perfect :) Thank you for your help !

    Reply

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