Saturday, March 12, 2016

Thon: Tuna, the Fish. Tuna in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
The Northern Bluefin Tuna.
French chefs have been preparing tuna for hundreds of years, but they were mostly a bycatch and never a part of Haute Cuisine.  Until the end of the 19th-century, tuna was only available along France’s coasts and in Paris, where they could be brought up the Seine River by boat.  The end of commercial whaling coupled with the new popularity of tuna in Japanese cuisine in the 1950’s established French tuna fishing ports both for the French canning industry and for export of whole fish to Japan. The fishing village of St-Jean-de-Luz was a whaling village; now it is a town and the tuna center of France with a population of over 14,000. St-Jean-de-Luz is in France’s South-West; more about the fishing port of St-Jean-de-Luz later.
Some thirty years ago began the influence of fusion cuisine and that served to popularize tuna; tuna was not on many menus in France until then. Even in Japan tuna was not a sushi and sashimi star until about forty or fifty years ago.
There are many members of the tuna family with some presenting excellent opportunities for innovative chefs whether served raw, marinated or cooked. Other tuna family members are only considered good enough for the canning industry; in France only three members of the tuna family consistently make themselves part of French menus.
The three members of the tuna family on menus in mainland France:
Germon –  The Albacore tuna.
Thonine -  The Little Tunny or Little Tuna.
Thon Rouge  - The Northern Bluefin Tuna.
This post covers some of the tuna dishes that I have enjoyed or seen on French menus, these are just a few of the many dishes France has created especially for tuna. Occasionally one or two other tuna family members that are usually headed to the French canning industry may be on the menu as a fresh tuna special. These tuna will be prepared with just a few recipes such as a carpaccio or a tuna salad or barbecued. Canning tuna do not make great tuna dishes.
Not all members of the tuna family are caught off France’s coasts and I have noted these other tuna family members at the end of this post; some of these tuna will be on the menus in France’s Caribbean and Indian Ocean departments.   N.B. All France’s overseas departments are as much part of France as Paris and you will pay the restaurant bill in Euros.
Tuna stars on French menus and as well on French-Japanese restaurant menus. I have dined in a number of Japanese restaurants in France and from my experience some were as good as their cousins in Japan. Nevertheless, while I have enjoyed Japanese cuisine in Japan, I cannot claim that my experience and knowledge is close to that that to which I have been exposed to with French cuisine.  In consequence apart from the names used by France’s neighbors I have also included their Japanese names. I collected most of the Japanese names when traveling in Japan and since then I have checked them; the Japanese names often aid in solving some confusion that can appear with French and English tuna names.
My thanks for help with the names of the tuna family members in many languages go to: Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2016. FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication., version (01/2016). Any mistakes are mine alone.
The general name for all the species of tuna in the languages of France’s neighbors plus Japanese:

(Catalan  -tonyina ), (Dutch – tonijn), ( German –thune), (Italian – tonno), (Spanish - thon), (Japanese  - magura).
The three popular tuna on French menus.
Germon - Albacore
Thon Germon, Germon, Thon Blanc, Thon à Nageoires Jaune –  Albacore Tuna, Albacore. In the USA this is the only tuna permitted to be called white tuna and “Chicken of the Sea.” 

A cut from Albacore tuna.
Fresh Albacore tuna turns nearly white when cooked, and in France may be offered as a tuna steak grilled or fried or lightly braised with vegetables. This tuna has a sweeter taste than most other tuna.  Tuna steaks may be cooked through though I passionately believe the best tuna steaks have only one or two centimeters on the outside seared with the rest of the steak raw.  The two tastes and textures make an unbeatable combination; however, for some French chefs that would be fusion cuisine and they choose other recipes. The Albacore tuna family is found in every ocean of the world and while they are considered a small tuna many reach over 10 kilos.

Cubed cuts of Albacore Tuna.

N.B. Albacore Tuna is not the first choice of Japanese chefs for sushi or sashimi, but they will use if it is available.  The raw albacore tuna’s meat is a translucent pink and the Japanese call it shiro maguro.
Tuna Germon  - Albacore on French Menus:
Ratatouille Provençale et Son Mi-Cuit de Thon Germon – Provence’s famous Ratatouille served with an Albacore steak just singed on the outside.
Steaks de Thon Germon à La Provençale – Albacore steaks prepared in the manner of Provence.  Here the tuna will be flavored with thyme and rosemary and a touch of garlic and then served with lightly fried with tomatoes, and white wine.

Chicken of the sea. Albacore Tuna.
Tartare de Germon aux Piments d'Espelette – Fresh,marinated, tuna prepared as a tartar and spiced with the red peppers of Espelette in France’s Basque country.
Trio de Poisson, Germon Mi Cuit, Dorade et Espadon en Brochette -Three different fish served together on skewers.  The Albacore tuna is served very very lightly grilled and served together with gilthead seabream and swordfish.
Niçoise aux Piquillos, Anchois, Thon Germon et Olives LucqueSalad Nicoise served with Piquilos, Anchovies, Albacore Tuna and Lucque olives. Piquillos are marinated sweet red peppers with a Spanish and Spanish Basque history. This pepper is cooked over charcoal and the skin is then removed by hand; the peppers are preserved in their own juices and bottled. The Lucque olives are a green member of the prized Nice olive family.

Piquillos stuffed with tuna, capers and
Thon Germon, Germon, Thon Blanc, the Albacore Tuna in the languages of France’s neighbors and Japanese:
(Catalan – bacora), (Dutch -  witte tonijn), (German – weisser thun),  (Italy - tonnobianco),  (Spanish -  atún blanco), (Japanese –binchô and binnaga)
Thonine - Little Tunny, Little Tuna
Thonine -  Little Tunny, Little Tuna, Atlantic Little Tunny, Bonito. This tuna will be on many menus in France and are caught both along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. They are a small tuna that rarely reaches seven or eight kilos.
Little Tunny, Thonine on French Menus:
Pavé de Thonine, Aubergines Rôties, Fromage Frais, Copeaux de Jambon Séché, Roquette et Sauce Vierge. A thick cut of Little Tunny served with roast aubergines, eggplants in the USA, fresh cheese, shavings of dried cured ham, rocket salad greens and Sauce Vierge.  As its name suggests Sauce Vierge includes virgin olive oil (vierge is virgin in French). With the oil will be fresh tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, basil, red wine vinegar, salt and black pepper. The sauce will be served slightly warm, but not cooked; heating destroys the special taste that is that particular delight of virgin olive oil.
Tartare de Thonine-  A Tartar made with fresh Little Tunny Tuna.
Tuna Tartar
Steak Provencal Thonine -  A Little Tunny steak prepared in the manner of Provence. Here the tuna steak will be cooked with tomatoes, bell peppers and a light addition of garlic and other herbs.
Tournedos de Thon Thonine Servi Saignant, Sésame, Réduction Balsamique – A thick cut of tuna served with only the outer two millimeters of the fish cooked, the inside will be raw. The two tastes and textures match each other perfectly. It was in France, where I first trued tuna cooked in this manner and truly this is one of the best ways to enjoy fresh tuna.  Here the steak offered will have been rolled in sesame seeds before cooking and then served with a sauce of thickened balsamic vinegar.
Seared tuna steaks rolled in sesame seeds before cooking.
Thonine – Little Tunny in languages of France’s neighbors plus Japanese:
(Catalan – Bacoreta), (Dutch - dwergtonijn),  (Germany - falscher bonito, thonine), (Italian - alletterato), (Spanish – bacoreta),  (Japanese - Taiwan yaito, taiseiyou-yaito). 
Thon Rouge  -Northern Bluefin Tuna.
Thon Rouge  - Northern Bluefin Tuna. These are the largest and fattest tuna in the world, raw it is red and nearly as firm as beef, cooked it is off-white. French fishermen and women catch these fish in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.  The largest of these tuna, when caught, was a real monster of 684 kilos!  Unfortunately, extreme over fishing has already brought down their average weight when caught to just over 200 kgs. Stronger fishing limitations for all members of the tuna family need to be imposed.
Most of France’s catch of Bluefin Tuna will be frozen and sold to Japan as they pay the highest prices. This is the tuna most valued by the Japanese for sushi and sashimi where it is called honmaguro.  The most expensive cut is honmaguro otoro, that is fattest part of the fish from the belly.  It is the smaller fish caught when they weigh under 100 kilos that will be on the menu in France.

Thon Rouge –Norther Bluefin Tuna:

Salade de Thon Rouge Marine - A salad with marinated bluefin tuna.
Tuna Carpaccio
Darne de Thon Rouge à la Provençale -  A thick cut of a steak from the Northern Bluefin Tuna cooked in the  Provencal manner. That will include red wine, tomatoes, a little garlic and vegetables and herbs.
Pavé de Thon Rouge en Croûte de Sésame, Réduction de Balsamique à l'Érable. A thick cut of the Norther Bluefin Tuna cooked in a sesame covering and served with a balsamic vinegar and maple syrup sauce.

Tuna on sale in a French market.
Thon Rouge Mariné au Citron - Northern Bluefin tuna marinated in lemon juice.
Thon Rouge Fumé, Mariné à L'huile de Sésame Grillé - Smoked Bluefin Tuna marinated in sesame oil and then grilled.
Marinated Tuna.
Darne de Thon Rouge Grillée Minute et sa Sauce Hollandaise - A thick cut from the Northern Bluefin Tuna very lightly grilled and served with a Sauce Hollandaise.
Northern Bluefin Tuna in the language of France's neighbors and Japanese:
(Catalan – golfàs), (Dutch - tonijn), (German – Atlantischer thunfisch, roter thun, thunfisch),  (Italian -  tonno rosso ), (Spanish - atún, atún rojo, tonyina), (Japanese – kuromaguro).  

To taste really fresh tuna, straight from the sea less than 12 hours ago,  go to the fishing towns and villages where tuna is the main catch.  You will have many opportunities along France’s Atlantic coast and some more along the Mediterranean coast.  In the south-west of France, along its Atlantic coast, visit the lovely coastal fishing port of St-Jean-de-Luz, the most celebrated of all the tuna fishing ports.  St-Jean-de-Luz has French, Basque and Spanish influences on its restaurant's menus and after lunch you may relax on the magnificent beaches just one kilometer away.
The port of St-Jean-de-Luz
St-Jean-de-Luz is in the department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in Aquitaine; just down the road, about 10 kms (6 miles) from the French Basque city and inland port of Bayonne. St-Jean-de-Luz is also just 19 km (12 miles) from Biarritz.
I was on my way to Bayonne from Bordeaux 205 km (128 miles) when I decided to spend the weekend in St-Jean-de-Luz.  St-Jean-de-Luz is crazy about food and nearly every month apart from music, dance and surfing or water skiing competitions there are fetes celebrating one or another of the locally caught sea foods and fish. I spent nearly two days looking at and tasting some of the freshest sea fish, including tuna, and seafood, where oysters and mussels were always offered as an introduction to the other specialties on the menu.  St-Jean-de-Luz was once a whaling port, but today is the most important tuna fishing port in France. The second Saturday in July is when they have their Fêtes du Thon, their tuna fete. On the days around the fete the all the restaurants around the old port and in town will be offering special tuna based menus. When you have had too much tuna, visit their Jaialai stadium for the incredibly fast ball Basque ball game of Cesta Punta. You can bet on the outcome of the game and you may enter the stadium or leave whenever you wish.  I spent two hours with a French acquaintance who explained the finer points of the game while I managed to lose every bet I made.  Luckily I was making the smallest bets I could and came out with my losses reaching 15 Euros.

Cesta Punta, possibly the fastest ball game in the world.
Photograph courtesy of SIGMA PROJECT

The French language website from St-Jean-de-Luz
The Google and Bing translate apps work very well.
Other tuna not usually on French mainland menus:
Bonitou - Skipjack tuna.
Bonitou, Bonite à Ventre Rayé, Bounicou   - Skipjack, Skipjack tuna.  Rarely on menus in France; but when it is available its rich texture makes it an excellent candidate for Carpaccio or other dishes where it can be served raw or cured and very thinly sliced; if it is cooked that will be only  for only a second or two.  Skipjack is a very important species for canneries and apart from the small catches sold as fresh fish most will be canned, dried, salted or smoked.

In the Japanese restaurants, Skipjack is welcomed. Both for sushi and for making dashi the essential Japanese fish stock.

Skipjack tuna ready for a barbecue.
 Bonitou  - Skipjack tuna in the languages of France’s neighbors plus Japanese:
(Dutch -gestreepte tonijn), (German – bonito, bauchstreifiger bonito), (Italian  - tonnetto striato), (Spain – atún de altura), (Japanese – katsuo).
Melva Bonitou – Bullet Tuna
Melva Bonitou - Bullet Tuna, Frigate Tuna or Frigate Mackerel; despite one of its English names this fish has no relationship with a mackerel.   In France, its name is often confused with that of the other bonitou, the Skipjack or Artic bonito. This tuna is headed for the canning plants.
 Melva Bonitou – Bullet Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors and Japanese:
(Catalan - mèlvera, la melva ), (German – fregattmakrele), (Italian – tombarello),  (Spanish – melva, melvera),  (Japanese – kubarai).  
Thon Blanc Faux --Thresher, Fox Shark, Sea Fox.
Thon Blanc Faux, Renard Requin-Renard – Thresher, Fox Shark, Sea Fox. Despite one of its French names this is a shark, not a tuna; nevertheless, when it is caught, usually in error, the fishermen will not throw it back as it makes good steaks and can be sold as a daily special.
Thon Blanc Faux, Renard, the Thresher or fox shark in the languages of France’s neighbors:
Thon Blanc, Requin-Renard Commun – Thresher, Fox Shark: (Catalan - guilla), (Dutch - voshaai), (German – drescher, fuchshai),  (Italian - pesce volpe), (Spanish – guiílla, zortro, chichi espada).
Albacore Thon à Nageoires Jaunes –
 The Yellow Fin Tuna, Ahi

Albacore Thon à Nageoires Jaunes, Z'ailes Jaunes (in Martinique), Grand Foue  and Thon Jaunet (in Reunion) – The Yellow Fin Tuna, Ahi (in Hawaii) -   This tuna is found in most of the world's oceans, but not usually in the Mediterranean. With its French name being Albacore there is often confusion with the real Albacore, which in French is correctly called the Thon Germon.
A yellowfin, Ahi, Tuna steak.
Yellowfin tuna is a big fish that can grow to over 2 meters and weigh over 100 kilos.  Most of the commercial catch is canned, but fresh fish will reach French-Japanese restaurants for sushi and sashimi where it will be called Hamachi. Another Japanese cut is Saku du Thon; this is a particular cut of yellowfin tuna I saw on the menu in a French-Japanese menu. In that restaurant, I was told that  Saku Tuna, is the best cut of the Yellow Fin Tuna and also warned that this cut is also sold as a cut from the Albacore tuna; just another case of name confusion.
Amateurs also catch Yellowfin Tuna.
Raw Yellow Fin Tuna has the darkest skin and a tougher texture than other tuna and consequently is mostly seen in the cans on the supermarket shelves marked as Tuna.

The Yellowfin tuna in the languages of France's neighbors and Japanese:

(Catalan - onyina d'aleta groga), (Dutch - geelvintonijn),  (German – gelbflossenthun, gelbflossen-thunfisch),  (Italian – tonno albacore),  (Spanish – atún aleta amarilla), (Japanese – kihada). 
Thon à Nageoires Noires - Blackfin Tuna
Thon à Nageoires Noires, Bonite Noire, Thon Noir - Blackfin Tuna. Another  small tuna; most are under 10 kgs and rarely  seen on a menu in mainland France.
Thon à Nageoires Noires, Blackfin Tuna in the languages of France’s neighbors and Japanese:
(Catalan - llenguado d'aleta negra ),(Dutch -zwartvintonijn ), (German - schwarzflossen-thun, petit thon), (Spanish - atún des aletas negras), (Japanese - mini maguro). 
Thon Aux Grands Yeux - Bigeye Tuna
Thon Aux Grands Yeux, Thon Obèse, Patudo -  Bigeye tuna or Bigeye tunny.  These are big fish that can reach over 100 kilos and not seen on mainland French menus.  Bigeye tuna is much loved in Japan for sushi as it is a fatty fish.
Thon Aux Grands Yeux - Bigeye Tuna in the languages of France’s neighbors and Japanese:
(Catalan - tonyina d'ulls grossos), (Dutch -   grootoogtonijn ), (German –  grossaugenthun, grossaugen-Thunfisch), (Italian - tonno obeso), (Spanish – patudo), (Japanese -  mebachi).  
Bonite d'Inde  - Kawakawa.

Bonite d'Inde,  Thonine Orientale, and Bonite la Côte  (in Reunion)  -  Kawakawa, Black skipjack, Eastern little tuna, Mackerel Tuna.   This is a small tuna that rarely reaches ten kilos.  This tuna will not be on the menus in mainland France, but will certainly be on the menu in France's overseas departments in the Indian Ocean; you will be paying your bill in Euros there too.
The Kawaka Tuna in the languages of France’s neighbors and Japanese:
(Dutch - dwergtonijn ), (German – falscher bonito, gefleckter thunfisch), (Hawaiian - kawa kawa kina'u,), Italian – tonnetto orientale), (Spanish –bacareto, bacoreta oriental), (Japanese - hiragatsuo and obosogatsuo).  
Thon Rouge du Sud  - The Southern Bluefin Tuna
Thon Rouge du Sud – The Southern Bluefin Tuna; often on the menu in France's overseas departments.  The Southern Bluefin may be prepared in a manner similar to its larger Northern cousin.  This tuna reaches over 200 kilos and is the favorite of all sushi masters, but it is also in serious danger from overfishing.  The Southern Bluefin Tuna can reach up to 2 meters and most weigh over 150 kilos when caught. 

The Southern Bluefin Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors and Japanese.
(Catalan - tonyina del sud ), (Dutch - zuidelijke blauwvintonijn), (German -  Südlicher Blauflossen-thunfisch), (Italian -  tonno del Sud), (Spanish - atún del Sur), (Japanese - bachi maguro, Indo (Goshu) maguro and minami maguro).

Sériole Chicard - Yellowtail, Amberjack
Sériole Chicard,  Amoureuse Grosse (in Reunion) - Yellowtail,  Yellowtail amberjack – The amberjack,  This fish is not a  tuna though it is often confused with tuna; it is a great tasting fish and so will be on the best sushi and sashimi menus.
There are a number of fish called yellowtail, none are tuna,  and the one that may make your menu as sushi is the amberjack. When it comes to sushi, the yellowtail on the menu is called Hamachi. (The same name is used in Japanese for Yellow Fin Tuna) and it is likely to be the Japanese farmed fish. Since the Amberjack is not a tuna it will require a separate post.
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Bryan G. Newman

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