Thursday, August 2nd, 2012 | posted by mike
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. That was the case back in 1984 at the Chaya Brasserie in Beverly Hills where chef Shigefumi Tachibe was hit with a challenge. When a table of 6 told him they didn’t like the idea of eating raw beef tartare and they wanted something different, the chef went back to his kitchen and began scanning his possibilities. He noticed a nice loin of sashimi grade tuna. Being a French trained chef, he knew how to prepare an amazing tartare and being Japanese, he knew the wonders of super fresh sashimi grade tuna. Problem solved! The table of 6 loved it, the dish made its way to the menu and its popularity swept the nation (almost to the point of overkill).
It seemed like everyone was serving a version of tuna tartare, which was a bit scary since the fish is served raw and must be impeccably fresh. Not every restaurant should even be attempting such a dish since there is a good amount of expertise in the buying and grading of these fish. Tuna is graded according to fat content, color and translucency to name a few factors. Price is set on how high a grade the tuna is. Grade 1 plus is the crème de la crème but a strong 2 plus can be suitable if it’s nice and fresh and was properly graded.
In buying tuna for tartare, make sure you’re buying from a market that you trust and can guarantee a fresh high-grade fish. Tell the merchant that you’re serving it raw and make sure the fish is being cut separately from other raw products on its own cutting board and with separate knives. Also, beware of the ever present, inexpensive, CO2 frozen tuna that lots of stores and restaurants sell. Flash frozen with carbon dioxide, it can make a lower grade and even an oxidizing, browning tuna turn bright red. Sometimes sold as “saku blocks” the only good thing about this product is its color. The creamy, “melt in your mouth texture” of fresh tuna is lost. In the samples I’ve tasted, the fats and water seemed to separate leaving a watery texture and an oily aftertaste. Watching food cost and rationalizing that the customer won’t tell the difference (slap enough wasabi in there), this product shows up in even the “finer restaurants” and stores.
If tuna is cheap it probably is. Bottom line, buy cheap and weep! Buy from people that you know to be trustworthy.
This recipe, an adaptation of Chef Eric Ripert’s, is a fantastic summertime dish that makes an easy and elegant appetizer or light supper. We served it last night with an arugula salad and a cold “lazy linguine” pasta dish made by my sister-in-law, Nancy. It made a fine meal. Fresh, light, and elegant. Yum!
Thank you chef Shigefumi.