cucina bene; mangia bene (fresh albacore tuna)
Albacore tuna season here on the Oregon Coast starts around mid-July and runs through early to mid-October. Tuna are very sensitive to water temperature as they are warm-blooded fish, so they only stick around while the water is relatively warm and their food plentiful.
Albacore tuna can be purchased directly from the fishermen right off their boats. The fisherman usually leave on Monday morning and return on Thursday evening with their catch. They dock their boats, put out signs (some very colorful), and sell their catch Friday-Sunday or until they sell out. The fish are sold whole and once you’ve paid, you can choose to have your fish filleted for a small fee. Many people can their own tuna, so you will often see someone walking away from a boat with literally hundreds of pounds of fillets to take home and can.
Canned albacore is delicious and tastes nothing like the commercially processed tuna you can buy at the grocery store. Many of the fisherman can their tuna and sell it locally. I enjoy canned albacore when fresh is unavailable. I love it when it’s fresh, grilled, and finished rare to medium rare. There are so many ways to enjoy fresh albacore: marinated in wasabi and soy sauce, coated in sesame seeds and grilled, in tacos with tomatillo sauce, pan-seared with panko and fennel seeds, or coated in black pepper and grilled. We usually buy 1-2 whole tunas every year. I cut the loins in half, vacuum bag them, and put them in the freezer. We usually eat a loin each week until we run out. I don’t like to keep tuna in the freezer for too long, because it tends to get fishy quickly.
Another great way to enjoy albacore tuna is to make tonnato sauce. Tonnato is Italian and is a sort of tuna mayonnaise that is typically made with canned tuna, and is traditionally served over cold sliced veal. I’ll take leftover grilled tuna, make tonnato with it, and serve it with pasta. My recipe is below:
7 oz. fresh cooked albacore tuna or canned
2 tbs capers
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup olive oil
2-3 tbs. lemon juice
1 tsp. brandy or cognac
4 anchovy fillets
fresh ground pepper
Pulse all ingredients except oil in food processor. Add oil a little at a time and pulse to get a mayonnaise like consistency. Keep at room temperature and toss with hot linguine and a little pasta water.