Tuna Buying and Cooking Tips
Types of Tuna:
There are a
number of varieties of tuna, with light to dark flesh. Tuna varieties include
albacore, tunny, ahi, bonito, skipjack, bigeye, bluefin and yellowfin.
generally the variety of choice for fresh tuna connoisseurs. It has a bit more
fat, and thus more flavor, than the other varieties. At maturity, the flesh is
dark red, with an appearance very similar to raw beef. This variety is the
largest, growing up to 1,600 pounds. Most of the bluefin harvest is exported to
Japan and sold at a premium price for sushimi.
Also known as ahi. Less expensive than bluefin, this variety is nearly as good
as bluefin and also more common and easy to find in the markets. It is
pale-pink, with flavor a bit stronger than albacore. It is also often canned.
Also known as bonito and aku. This variety is usually canned. It generally has
the strongest flavor and highest fat content. It is also the smallest variety,
seldom growing larger than 25 pounds. Dried bonito is known as katsuobushi and
is used in Japanese cuisine.
This is the variety with the lightest flesh and mildest flavor. It's usually
canned as white tuna and sold at a higher price than light chunk tuna.
The flesh of the
tuna can range from very light pink (nearly white) to deep reddish brown,
depending on the variety. Prime raw tuna steaks look very much like raw beef,
right down to the deep red color of the flesh. The tuna steak may have a darker
brown area, which is edible but has a much stronger flavor. Sometimes this is
already trimmed away by the fishmonger. Fresh tuna is usually sold already
skinned since the skin is extremely tough.
fresh tuna, avoid any with dry or brown spots (other than the natural darker
brown area). There should be no rainbow sheen on the fish and should smell
ocean-fresh. The fishmonger generally keeps the tuna in a large filet which
looks very much like a beef loin and will slice off what you need. Fresh tuna
season runs from late spring to early fall, but frozen steaks are available
If you have the
option, skip the thawed frozen filets and buy the tuna filet frozen. This way,
you know it will be the freshest possible since you control when to thaw it.
Just be sure to store it in the coldest part of your freezer until you're ready
Get that fish
home from the market and into your refrigerator as soon as possible. Keep the
tuna refrigerated until you're ready to use it. It's best to use fresh tuna the
day of purchase. If you need to store it, pat it dry, wrap securely in plastic
wrap or foil and store in the coldest part of your refrigerator (optimum
temperature of 31 degrees F.). If your refrigerator is not that cold, place the
wrapped fish on a bed of ice or in a baggie filled with ice. Use within 24
If you know the
tuna is fresh and not previously frozen, feel free to wrap and freeze it.
However, if you're buying fresh tuna in a grocery store, you can almost bet it's
been previously frozen, in which case it is best to use it immediately. Prepare
a solution of 1 tablespoon ascorbic acid crystals to 1 quart of water OR
1/4 cup salt dissolved in 1 quart of water. Dip the fish into the solution to
firm it up. Seal in plastic wrap and then in a zip-top bag. Better yet, freeze
it in an ice block by putting into a zip-top bag and covering with water. Freeze
up to three months. Thaw it slowly in the refrigerator. If it is in a sealed
zip-top bag, it can be thawed more quickly by placing the sealed package in a
sink or pot of cold water. Microwave thawing is not recommended.
Storing Cooked Tuna:
Cooked fish will
keep three to four days in the refrigerator. Leftover cooked tuna is excellent
as a salad topper. Reheating is not recommended, unless you chop and add gently
at the end of a cream sauce until just warmed through. Serve over rice or pasta.
Whole chunks of
smoked tuna will last up to ten days in the refrigerator. Be sure it is always
kept tightly wrapped. Smoked tuna chunks can be wrapped and frozen up to two
months, but know that there may be some loss of texture when thawed.
You'll have many
varieties and grades of canned tuna to choose from. Your selection will depend
on your tastes and the specific recipe used. Solid or fancy pack will contain
large pieces of tuna and is usually albacore. Only albacore tuna may be labeled
and sold as white tuna. Many will pay the higher price for white tuna because it
has a milder flavor and lighter color. In fact, it looks very much like canned
chunk chicken and can be substituted for canned chicken in many recipes.
Chunk tuna has
smaller pieces. Flaked tuna is fairly broken apart and best used for salads
where the tuna is mashed and mixed anyway. The latest commercial innovation is
tuna packed in vacuum pouches with no added oil or water.
tuna can be stored in a cool cupboard up to one year. Place leftover canned tuna
in a sealed container in the refrigerator and use with four days. Tuna salad
with a dressing can be refrigerated up to three days. Cooked tuna dishes such as
casseroles can be frozen up to two months.
Tuna Nutrition Information:
Fresh tuna has
only one percent fat per body weight, making it a favored choice for those on
low-fat diets. However, the depth of the water and water temperature will affect
the fat content of the fish which can vary not only from catch to catch but also
between different varieties of tuna. For example, two cans of water-packed white
tuna of equal size, even from the same company, can vary from one to five grams
of fat per two-ounce serving. Due to this interesting scientific fat variation,
it is actually possible for tuna packed in water to have more fat than tuna
packed in oil. Amazing, but true, and yet another reason to always check the
label on every canned tuna purchase if you must control your fat intake.
looking to boost your Omega-3 fatty acids (famous for fighting heart disease),
choose canned albacore, which often contains not only more than the chunk light
canned, but also more than even fresh tuna.