Tuna, Surprise! Transcript

The Kitchen

GUEST: Alvin the Albacore

    You know, I'm a firm believer in The Pantry Principle, which states that when armed with a well-stocked cupboard, the cook never runs dry on edible options. But I have to admit, sometimes even a packed cupboard such as this looks oddly barren. I mean, it's not the pantry's fault, of course. It's mine. Like so many other cooks, I've become too set in my ways.

ALVIN: [man dressed in a tuna suit (much like Charlie from the Starkist commercials) descends on a hook] Trying to pump out another one of those Pantry Raid shows, huh?
AB: [overjoyed] It's Alvin the Albacore!
AA: [sarcastically] Oh, how nice. You remember.
AB: He was, his picture was on every can of tuna that I ate when I was a kid. And I ate a lot of canned tuna.
AA: Yeah, I haven't seen much of you since.
AB: Well, I grew up.
AA: Yeah, I know. You became this big shot TV cook. Don't need Alvin anymore. Don't need my flaky goodness.
AB: It's just, as, as the taste matures ...
AA: Oh, oh, what is it now? Hand massaged, sake-fed bluefin tuna at a Benjamin [$100] a bite?
AB: It's not like that. It's just ...
AA: Don't worry about it. I've come to accept the fact that all I'm good for is old lady casseroles and lunch box sandwiches. There's not much future in being Alvin the Albacore, that's for sure. You know, I doubt there's anyone in the world brave enough, clever enough, skilled enough in the ways of the kitchen to ever turn old can-bound Alvin into ...

[Good Eats Theme]

Harry's Farmer's Market
Marietta, GA - 10:19am

    Okay, maybe Alvin the Albacore is right. After all, the patron saint of American gastronomes, James Beard [choir sings in the background, a light shines from above, AB raises his hands in praise], was heard to say that tuna was the only ingredient that was better canned than fresh.

    But what can you do with a product that is so limited? After all, what are your choices? Stuff that looks like cat food in oil, and stuff that looks like cat food in... [finds a very varied array of tuna choices on the shelf] Oh, my. Well, this certainly is not my mother's canned tuna. I've got some investigating to do.

Crown Prince
Solid Light
Yellowfin Tuna
Packed in Olive Oil

Del Norte


Packed in Spring Water
Whole Foods Market 365

The Kitchen

GUESTS: Nicholas Appert
              Pierre Durand
              Stage Manager

AB: [stuffed cat dolls are meowing outside the door, AB is sampling many of the tuna products that he purchased.] Hey, hey, get away from there! Get. Beat it, you cats! Oh!

    Now here's what I've learned. Although other varieties sneak in from time to time, if the words "light" and "chunk" are on the can, the pieces interred therein are probably skipjack tuna, which looks a little like this. It should be noted, this fish only has a three-year life span and an average catch weight of three to seven pounds. It's a small fish.
    Now many different types of tuna can be referred to as "fancy" or "solid" tunas. But by law, only albacore can be sold as white tuna.

AA: [descends on the hook] Did somebody order the albacore?
AB: Yeah. But you know, actually, I was hoping for not a showbiz fish. Something, you know, a little bit more scientifically correct.
AA: No, you can't do that. It's in my contract. I have albacore exclusivity.
AB: Okay, fine. [clears throat] As you can see, the albacore is much larger than a skipjack with an average market weight between 20 and 40 pounds and a life span of up to five years. Although obviously, some can grow much fatter. Albacore solid tuna is just that. The fish is steamed to ease deboning, and then a can-sized section of loin muscle is just punched out of the carcass in a tube. The result, a solid piece of meat. Almost all fancy white tuna, by the way, is packed in saltwater these days.
AA: Yeah, I'm the crème de la crème. Yes, Sir.
AB: Yes, crème de la crème. Hey, you know, those cats sound hungry. I think I'll let them in. Hah hah.
AA: Hey, hey, no, no, no, no. Hey, hey. Up tuna! Up, up!
AB: [opening the front door] There he is, guys.
AB: Go ahead. Lunch is up. Go get 'em. Hah hah hah hah.

    Of course, if there's one thing that canned tuna lovers wonder, it's why doesn't canned tuna taste anything like tuna? The answer? Well, why not ask the man himself, the inventor of canning, ladies and gentlemen, Nicholas Appert!

NICHOLAS APPERT: [enters to cheers and applause]
AB: Nick, it is so good to finally have you on the show. The can, a huge success, right, huh? How did it happen?
NA: [In a faux French accent] I did not invent ze can! I invented canning, which is better!
AB: Well, well, okay. Okay. Tell us about that.
NA: Well, in 1800, Bonny had many ...
AB: Whoa, wait a second. Bonny? You mean Napoleon Bonaparte?
NA: Oui, Bonny to his friends. Anyway, he had armies stretched all over creation. But he had no way to feed them. So he posted a 12,000-franc reward to anyone who could come up with a preserved and stable food source. After many years of experimentation, I discovered that if I sealed the food airtight in a heavy bottle, and then boiled the bottle for many hours, the air was forced out, and the food preserved!
AB: That explains the texture and flavor of canned tuna. It's overcooked! And by the way, it, it wasn't the air.
NA: Pardon?
AB: That preserved the food. It's not pushing the air out. It's the fact that the long cooking process kills all the bacteria. Canned food is essentially pasteurized.
NA: Oh, Pasteur! He always gets all the credit! I came 100 years ...
AB: Well, let's change the subject. We'll do that. We'll change the subject. Let's talk about the can, the development of the can itself. Tell us about that.
NA: That was not me! That was Pierre Durand. The thief!
AB: Who also happens to be the next guest on our show. That's right.
NA: [very anrgy] Arrgggh.
AB: Give it up, ladies and gentlemen, for the inventor of "tin cans", Peter Durand!
PIERRE DURAND: [comes out, to cheers and applause]
: [moves NA to 2nd chair to make room next for PD]
NA: Mon Dieu! You have some nerve showing up here with your face, you thief!
PD: [hands NA a set of keys to his car and speaks in another faux French accent] Eeet's a Jag. Keep it up front, will you? [to AB] Monsieur Brown, I bring you a tin of fine tuna from Genoa.
AB: Wow, it's, uh, it's rusty.
PD: Well, it is iron. We coat it with tin to prevent corrosion.
AB: Okay.
PD: It is old, but it's fine. You eat!
NA: It is not old, it is decrepit! Look at it dripping all its badness!
PD: Thank you for warming up the room for me, Nick. You may go.
NA: Why are you talking like this? You are not French. You are English!
PD: I am a citizen of the world.
NA: You are a thief and an imposter!
PD: No!
NA: Put up your dukes!
PD & NA: start to fight]
AB: Gentlemen, I'm, I'm, I'm not, I'm not sure ...
NA: Come on, bring it!
AB: ... that this is really the place for ...
NA: I will pound you into the dirt! [they go off camera]

    I wonder if Mike Douglas had days like this.

The first commercial canning factory opened in England in 1813.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    [AB is reading the fictious book "Tuna Through the Ages"] For those of you who think that Americans invented canned tuna, check this out. Aristotle wrote of salted tuna preserved in terra cotta jars being sold by the ancient Greeks to the Carthaginians. So there.
    Of course, if we've learned anything here today through the unfortunate Appert-Durand incident, it is that when tuna goes into a can ...

THING: [hands AB a can of tuna]

... it has to be cooked and then sealed in the can and then cooked again, in a process called "retort", to kill any lurking microorganisms. The results are massively overcooked and, frankly, not very satisfactory.
    Now, tuna sealed in airtight pouches ...

T: [hands AB a tuna pouch]

... is different because pouches offer more surface area, so that second cooking can be done very, very quickly, because the heat doesn't have to penetrate a four-inch hockey puck. The result: a pleasing texture and flavor that's almost like fresh. And of course, pouches have the added benefit of not perforating the handler with ...

T: [appears this time with the lid from a tuna can that appears embedded in his forefinger, but really it's an illusion]
AB: Oh, Thing. I'm surprised at you.

    The fresher flavor of pouched tuna certainly comes through in hot applications, such as my childhood favorite, tuna croquettes.

T: [appears handing AB a croquet mallet]
AB: Croquettes, oh ...

    We begin with a standard seven-ounce package/pouch of albacore tuna, drained and shredded, please, like this. [camera pans down to show that another sample already prepared] Hah hah hah hah. Now, we'll need some protein to hold things together and that is where two large eggs, lightly beaten, come in. We'll also need to hold some moisture in, so a quarter cup of Japanese-style breadcrumbs will be very handy. As for flavor, we'll brighten things up with one teaspoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add some tang with just a couple of teaspoons of Dijon. You can eyeball that, about there. We will have one half teaspoon of kosher salt. The fish will need it. Two green onions, chopped nice and fine. And last but not least, a good grind of black pepper. There, now use a spatula and bring together, but don't mash it into a paste. 7 Ounce Package Albacore
    Tuna, Drained
2 Large Eggs, Beaten
½ Cup Panko
1 tsp. Lemon Juice, Freshly
2 tsp. Dijon Mustard
½ tsp. Kosher Salt
2 Green Onions, Finely
¼ tsp. Black Pepper, Freshly

    Now to dose that out, we will use a two-tablespoon ... [looking for it] ah, there it is ... or a one-ounce disher. This one's my favorite. We're also going to need one sheet pan and some parchment paper. There, that's good. Now, just start dishing them out. And I like to kind of use the spatula and disher at the same time. There. Don't pack it in. That's important.
    [has now dished them out into 8 portions] Now, if there is a secret to manufacturing croquettes, it is this: these little guys must sit and rest for 15 minutes before moving off to the breading station. That will allow time for the breadcrumbs to absorb whatever internal moisture they can hold. And whatever they can't hold will migrate out onto the paper. This is critical if these guys are going to hold their shape in the pan.

Japanese style breadcrumbs are created by sieving dry,
crustless, loaves through special screens.

    Rest time is over. It is time to bread our croquettes. I have half a cup of additional Japanese breadcrumbs. Here's how it goes. [takes one tuna portion and places it in the breadcrumbs, flattens it slightly, turns and sprinkles with more bread crumbs, reshapes into a disk] ½ Cup Panko

    With all of your croquettes assembled, time to fetch down a big old 12-inch skillet, slope sides, or sauté pan, straight sides. You could do this in a smaller vessel, but you would have to work in batches. And I just don't see any reason to do that. So this will go over medium heat.
    Now as far as lubrication goes, I prefer olive oil. Plain old olive oil. Not extra virgin, nothing fruity and special, no fancy containers, no expensive flavors lost to high heat. Now we're going to use just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. About a tablespoon. There. We don't want any more than that, because it'll start to splatter, and it'll get nasty on us. There.

    Once we've got just a bit of a shimmer, move these guys over. And you want to use as thin a spatula as you have so they won't fall apart. Keep them separated, and I'm going to work in kind of a circle here. There shouldn't be a lot of sizzling yet. We want the cooking to be relatively slow. And we don't want them to touch.
    Now ordinarily I would say to cook this until golden brown and delicious and then flip and repeat. But we really need to make sure that the inside is thoroughly cooked. So we're going to go for a 3-minute cook time [per side]. If during that time, the underside starts to look too golden brown and delicious, turn down the heat. Three minutes, that's our target.
    As long as you're not too rough, flipping should be pretty easy because the breadcrumb on the bottom has now thoroughly set. [sets timer for another 3 minutes]
    [timer goes off, he moves them to a cooling grate over a sheet pan]

    [eating] Mmmm, delicious! And if some of the rants coming out of the popular press are correct, terribly dangerous to boot. The possible problem, mercury.



   T: [places an empty jar on the newspaper]

    Ah, cool stuff, mercury. I remember my grandparents had a big jar of it and I would pour it out and play with it for hours. Unfortunately, now we know that it is easily absorbed into the body, even by the skin, and that can cause serious problems. Which is why we couldn't actually get a hold of any. So how is it that mercury gets into our fish?


    Well, I'll tell you. Mercury naturally occurs in many rocks, like coal. Burn the coal in, say, a power plant, and the mercury goes skyward from the plant's smokestacks. Precipitation carries it back to the ground where streams and rivers then move it into the sea. There it is set upon by bacteria which turn it into the far more dangerous methyl mercury. Microscopic amounts end up in small fish, which are consumed by medium fish, which are then consumed by large predators, including big tuna. Which, due to their long life spans, tend to store up more mercury in their bodies than other fish. We eat them. Some small portion of the mercury becomes ours for a long time.

Vacuum packed tuna in pouches hit the market in 2000.

The Kitchen

              EPA Agent
              Zoey Brown
              Pregnant Woman
              Mother and Young Child

    So here we have this powerful pantry pal chock full of culinary possibilities and nutritional goodness, which most of us grew up munching, that could possibly, maybe, be dangerous to, who?

FDA & EPA AGENTS: [enter and sit across from AB]
High levels of mercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system.
EPA: With this in mind, the FDA ...
FDA: ... and the EPA ...
EPA: ... have designed an advisory for children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and women considering becoming pregnant in the near future.
WOMEN & CHILDREN: [are now all seated with AB]
FDA: One, avoid consuming sharks, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, which can contain high levels of mercury.
EPA: Two, consume up to 12 ounces a week ...
FDA: ... approximately two meals ...
EPA: ... of a variety of fish and shellfish that are lower in mercury, such as canned light tuna.
AB: Oh, you know. Remember, canned light tuna, more often than not, means skipjack, a relatively small variety that doesn't grow big enough or live long enough to accumulate much mercury.
FDA: Albacore or white tuna can contain more mercury than canned light tuna. So when choosing your two meals of fish and shellfish ...
EPA: ... we recommend you consume up to six ounces of albacore tuna per week.
AB: Yellowfin and bluefin tuna can harbor even higher levels of the stuff.
EPA: But keep in mind that tuna is a treasure trove of nutrition, including vitamin D ...
FDA: ... selenium ...
EPA: ... protein ...
FDA: ... and omega-3 fatty acids ...
EPA: ... which are critical to the development of sound minds and strong bodies. So be a good tyke, and eat your tuna.
AB: Well, hey, how about me?
FDA: Given your age and weight, you can eat all you want.
EPA: Looks like he's doing that already.

A Cafe in Nice, France / The Kitchen

    For decades, American dieters have turned to high-protein low-fat canned tuna to shed the pounds.

AA: That never really worked for me.
AB: You eat canned tuna? I want you to think about it, because that's creepy.

    The problem is, most Americans mix in gobs of mayonnaise, not exactly a reductive ingredient. Now down Riviera way, the French dine upon a fussy tuna salad called salad Nicoise, which features canned tuna along with raw green beans, olives, potatoes, and hard-cooked eggs.

AA: Now what do raw green beans have to do with salad?
AB: I don't know. I mean, these are the people that think Jerry Lewis is a genius.
AA: And what's wrong with that? Have you ever seen "The Geisha Boy"?
AB: [dumbfounded]

    You know, that said, I'm not a big fan of salad Nicoise. But I am a fan of the tuna that often goes into it. It's a special canned tuna called ventresca, which comes from the Italian word for 'belly'. And you can tell by looking at the grain structure, that it is definitely a different beast. Now, the best examples of this come from Spain. To be honest, I would rather eat this tuna than any other kind.

AA: Even more than massaged sake-fed bluefin?
AB: Even more than that.

    What's especially nice to find is that, although it's pricey, it is becoming easier to find in the U.S. thanks to the good old Internet.

[backdrop separates to reveal the kitchen]

    Now I say that we take this tuna back to America and we make ourselves a tuna salad that will not only be nutritionally sound, but will also be sophisticated. The kind of thing you might use to impress your friends or scare your enemies.
    Now the first step is, we need to drain this tuna, while keeping it as intact as possible. That's part of the charm of this stuff. So we'll just kind of work it out of the can. And reserve the oil because it is mighty tasty stuff.
    [at the refrigerator] Stash this in the chill chest while you assemble the rest of the parts list. Now you might want to eat this dish as a salad. But then you might want to eat it as a little wrap. And that will necessitate a flexible base layer. Like, for instance, butter lettuce leaves which you will wish to rinse and pat dry. It will also require one red or orange bell pepper, a chopped hard-cooked egg, some capers, and, if you have them, some microgreens.
    [at the pantry] Also, luscious black lava sea salt, which gets its distinct color and subtle earthy flavor from the addition of purified black lava and activated charcoal. I keep this stuff around because I think it looks cool. You can get it online or at gourmet stores, or you can skip it and just use coarse sea salt. Oh, you're also going to need one shallot, which is a lot easier to find.

[assembles the salad by laying out 4 leaves, placing the tuna on top, then the chopped eggs, bell pepper, shallot, capers, greens, juice, salt and oil are spread around the entire plate] 4 Leaves Butter Lettuce
6-8 Ounces Ventresca Tuna,
    Packed in Olive Oil
2 Tbs. Hard Boiled Egg,
2 Tbs. Red Bell Pepper,
    Finely Chopped
2 Tbs. Shallot, Finely
1 Tbs. Non-Pareil Capers
Micro Greens
Juice from ½ Lemon
Reserved Olive Oil
¼ tsp. Black Lava Sea Salt

    Although it is certainly sophisticated, this salad is not in any way, fashion, or form, fussy. And of course, since it's a [takes a bite] ... tuna salad, the pounds are going to drop right off. [stands at a scale, weighing himself] Pounds are melting, dropping right off. [it is obvious that weight loss is not happening this dramatically] Oh, bother.

Americans eat about 1.7 million pounds of canned
tuna daily - enough to make 15.7 million tuna salad sandwiches.

The Kitchen

    If you're into classical Italian cuisine, you may have heard of the peculiar yet delicious vitello tonnato, or cold veal and tuna sauce. Now I'm not a big veal fan, but I am a big fan of tuna sauce, which, with the proper acidic additives, can become one of the healthiest and creamiest dip/salad dressing/breakfast spread/car waxes around.

    Now once again, I'm going to reach for the pouched product, which has become my everyday tuna. To that we will add a quarter of a cup of mayonnaise—homemade would be besta couple of tablespoons of red wine vinegar, a tablespoon of freshly squeezed lemon juice, one tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of capers along with their juice, and a couple of grinds of black pepper.

7 Ounce Pouch Packaged
¼ Cup Mayonnaise
2 Tbs. Red Wine Vinegar
1 Tbs. Freshly Squeezed
    Lemon Juice
1 Tbs. Olive Oil
1 Tbs. Capers, With Juice
Pinch Freshly Ground Black

    Everything goes into the work bowl of your food processor. Of course, that's a little too big, so if your food processor has that cute little work bowl insert, you'll want to use it.
    Now the obvious choice for this sauce is to dress your favorite salad greens with it. But I say, why stop there? Why not invite it to your next crudités, or spread it on your morning toast. Toss it with pasta and vegetables for pasta salad. Heck, it's even a great dunk for Girl Scout cookies. Okay, it's not great at everything. But say, if you have any left over, you can store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to four days.

AB: Alvin, you were right. As long as we've got a pantry full of canned and pouched tuna, we will never run out of culinary possibilities. Thanks, man.
AA: Don't mention it, kid. Listen, I've got to catch a current.
AB: Where you headed?
AA: Spain. See, I'm thinking if I can't make it in the pouch market, I'm going to turn some of this paunch into that fancy ventresca stuff.
AB: Hah hah hah hah, sure, sure. Hey, Alvin, why is it you anthropomorphized food mascots always want somebody to eat you?
AA: It's just the way we're wired. Besides, who wouldn't want to end up as good eats? [rises out of view]
AB: Hey, yeah!
AA: See you later, man!
AB: Bye!

    Well I don't know about you, but I'm more than happy to stay on the handle end of the fork, if you know what I mean. Well, I hope that we've inspired you to ... Yeah, you know. See you next time.

Not that Wikipedia is always right, but it states that Durrand was French.

Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger

Hit Counter

Last Edited on 08/27/2010