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Published: Sunday August 10, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday August 10, 2014 MYT 8:19:12 AM

Tuna: How to order the good stuff

Sashimi from the fish's head, which is extra-fatty. - Photos RAYMOND OOI/The Star

Sashimi from the fish's head, which is extra-fatty. - Photos RAYMOND OOI/The Star

YOU don’t have to be Japanese to enjoy top-of-the-line tuna. But a little know-how goes a long way to getting your money’s worth. Here’s an easy-to-follow guide.

Maguro – This word simply means “tuna”. For bluefin tuna, say hon (“real”) maguro. While preferences differ as to which of the three bluefins taste best, most agree that the Pacific bluefin is the blue ribbon of the range. Connoisseurs may argue that wild tuna tastes better, but farmed tuna is clearly the conscientious choice. More support given to sustainable fishery practices may mean the difference between enjoying maguro for years to come as opposed to having none.

Akami – Means “red” and refers to lean red-coloured tuna meat. This is the most common cut and is usually in the medium price range. Akami comes from the top half of the fish, above the spine. There are three different grades of akami, corresponding with the different parts of the fish. Senaka is the middle portion and yields the highest quality akami. Sekami is the front portion and yields medium-quality akami. Meanwhile, the back portion is called seshimo, and yields the lowest quality akami. Be wary of unnaturally bright red akami, because these have probably been treated with carbon monoxide. Though it’s not toxic, meat and fish treated this way looks fresh even after it’s gone off.

'O-toro' (left) from the belly of the fish has a a lighter hue due to the higher fat content. The red and leaner sashimi is called 'akami' and comes from the upper part of the fish. On the right are the rare cuts: Sashimi from the head of the tuna is light pink and extra fatty, and more tender than any other part of the fish.

Toro – Refers to the fatty cuts of the tuna, and are more expensive than akami. Unlike akami, toro is lighter in colour, due to its fat content, and has a more tender and buttery texture. While akami can be sourced from other tuna species like the Yellowfin and Bigeye, only the Bluefin yields the prized toro. Toro can only come from the belly of the tuna, below the spine. Harakami, the belly itself, yields o-toro, the extra-fatty flesh that’s most revered and most expensive. Haranaka, between the belly and the tail section, yields chu-toro, less fatty than o-toro, but still expensive.

Harashimo, the tail-end of the bottom half, yields the lowest quality meat of the fish, and is usually used only as a filling for sushi rolls.

Special cuts – Aside from akami and toro, there are special cuts from the head of the tuna. These are not featured on restaurant menus, for they’re reserved for true connoisseurs. Noten, the top of the fish’s head, yields a sweet light pink cut that’s even fattier than toro. Hoho-niku, the fish’s cheeks, is perhaps the cut to die for. And lastly, kama-toro, from the back cheek.

When eating toro

When indulging in toro, you’re basically paying a lot of money for fish, so try to enjoy and savour the moment it enters your mouth and drops down your gullet. If you can, withhold the urge to drown toro in soy sauce and wasabi. At least, try the first mouthful as is. – JEROME KUGAN

Related story:
Chef versus tuna: Finding the best cut

Tags / Keywords: Food, Tuna, Kuriya

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