[voice over, heart beat heard in the back ground]
    I was getting ready to dive into my third Delmonico of the week when the pain struck. It was just pressure at first and then God made a fist ... with me in it.

Emergency Room

    [voice over continues] Of course, the doctors did all they could but medical science was no match for my neglected vascular system. Game over. Or was it?

Fish Store


AB: [looking around] Hello?
TUNA: Guess you really did it this time, boy.
AB: [looks around at huge turtle on the ceiling]
T: No. Over here, dummy.
AB: [to Tuna] You talking to me?
T: See anybody else here, smart guy?
AB: I guess not. How'd I get here?
T: Your diet. You know how much cow meat you've been puttin' away each week?
AB: Well, no.
T: Four pounds.
AB: Gee is, uh, that a lot? [laughs]
T: Hey! Don't crack wise with me. Or you'll find yourself working the grill station permanently.
AB: [winces at intense red light emanating from below, a la Hades] All right. All right. All right. Sorry ... Charlie.
T: Forget about it. Okay. What do you know about Tuna?
AB: About Tuna? Well ... uh ... you're, you're a very good looking fish and you're very versatile, flavorful and you're packed with nutrition, like omega-three fatty acids. And because of your unique physiognomy you can be cooked to temperature, you know, like red meat. In fact, I'd even say you could be called the other red meat. Well one time, I ...
T: All right. All right. I'll let you go this time.
AB: Thank you. Thank you.
T: But you'd better start walkin' that talk or you'll be back here quicker than you can say ...
AB: [tries to say something but cuts to intro music]

The Road From The Hospital

    [voice over] The worst thing about taking an ambulance to the hospital is they don't take you home.

    You know, before you can understand the real difference between tuna and other fish on the plate, it helps to appreciate the difference between tuna and other fish in the water. You see, like sharks, tuna never stops swimming, ever. But unlike sharks who can only attain real speed in short bursts, tuna are built for speed and distance.
    Take for instance the rare Atlantic Bluefin. Okay, this thing can grow to fifteen hundred pounds, 9 feet in length and still maintain cruising speeds of up to 50 miles an hour. Imagine what that would look like passing you in the water. [a car passes him at high speed while he tries to thumb a ride]
    How do they do it? Well, tuna are a lot like sports cars. Their bodies are bullet-shaped and low drag. They've got specialized drive trains and high performance parts all around. See these fins? At low speeds they stay up for agility in the turns. But then when this guy lays on the speed in the straight-aways, they lay down into recessed grooves along the body. Nice, huh? No wonder the U.S. Navy studies these guys when they build submarines. Oh, and inside? A specialized metabolism allows them to raise and lower his blood temperature as he dives. We really ought to go take a look under the hood, don't you think?

Inland Seafood: Atlanta, GA - 1:42 pm

GUEST: Mr. Cau Phan, Cut Chop Manager

    This is a Yellowfin Tuna, probably the most popular eating tuna in the United States. It's also called ahi in Hawaii.

Yellowfin Tuna

    This is Mr. Cau who's been cutting up fish like this ...

AB: ... for how long?
CAU PHAN: Fifteen Years.
AB: Fifteen years cutting up these fish.

    His hands are fast. His knives are sharp. So I am going to get out of the way.

AB: Maestro, please.
CP: Thank you.

    [voice over while CP cuts up the tuna] From the very first cut you can see something's different here. Instead of removing the whole side of the fish the way he might a salmon, Mr. Cau makes lateral cuts, thus removing 4 separate loins that are shaped a lot more like beef tenderloin than fish fillets.


AB: [clapping] Bravo. Bravo, Mr. Cau. Beautiful work. That would've taken me at least an hour to do. Thank you.
CP: You're welcome. [exits]

    Truth is, I never could have done that. He makes it look easy. It's not.
    Now these 4 huge muscles, or loins, deliver the propulsion for which the tuna is famed. They also deliver the flavor. You no doubt notice that this meat is red. You see, since they never stop moving, the tuna's muscles require a lot of oxygen. But to burn oxygen you've got to have myoglobin in the muscle. Now myoglobin is red.

    Of course, some tuna are redder than others. That's why color along with firmness and fat content are the deciding factors in whether a tuna receives a quality grade of 1, 2 or 3; one, or sushi grade, being the most expensive. I'd say this is a two and a half. It's a nice fish.

Quality grades of tuna
are 1, 2, 3.
1 is sushi grade.

    Now unfortunately for the retail customer, color is a tricky thing. You see, myoglobin turns brown when it's frozen so you used to could tell previously frozen tuna just by the color of it. However, processors have figured out that they can set this color by exposing the meat to carbon monoxide before freezing it, which isn't a bad thing. I mean, the meat comes out looking great. But, it means that unscrupulous fish mongers might be tempted to sell that meat as fresh and you'd never know the difference because it looks the same. Just another in a long line of reasons to know your fish monger.

Harry's / Whole Foods: Alpharetta, GA - 2:45 pm

GUEST: Fishmonger

    Speaking of color, you ever notice the rainbow effect that sometimes appears on the surface of freshly cut tuna? It's not from age and it's not fat. It's birefringence.
    [reading from a book] "*Anisotropism of the refractive index which varies as a function of polarization and fre ... " [gives up]
    Here's the deal. This surface is pretty smooth. But, if you look closely, you'll see it's actually a vast landscape of parallel fibers. When cut, the reduced surface pressure coaxes microscopic beads of moisture to the surface, each one of which acts as an independent prism. When viewed in concert, they look like a rainbow.

    Like any read meat, tuna looks better the longer it's left intact. So, if I'm planning on cooking several steaks, I'm going to buy one block of loin and then cut my own steaks at the very last minute. Now if you're lucky enough to get a thick center-cut loin like that, plan on an inch per diner. For a narrower loin like this, you go an inch and a half per.

Center Cut Loin

AB: Uh, definitely a four inch block of that there.

    Now if you don't see any loins in the case, ask your fish monger to get one from the back. Odds are, if he's got steaks down here [in the case], he's got loins back there and he's not going to mind cutting that for a customer in the know. And of course like all fish, you want to look for moist meat and a fresh aroma.

FISHMONGER: [hands him wrapped tuna]
AB: Thank you my friend.

    To the kitchen.

Major tuna varieties include: yellowfin, bluefin, bigeye, skipjack and albacore.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Thing

    In a perfect world, tuna is consumed the day it is purchased. But hey, this isn't a perfect world, is it? That's why we have this. Now some of you may remember this rig from our Hook, Line & Dinner episode. And if you do, well, review never hurt anybody. The goal: to keep the fish in contact with crushed ice.

THING: [a hand whaps ice on top of the counter]
AB: Thank you, Thing, for that crushed ice demonstration. I appreciate that.

    But we want to keep it away from the water as the ice melts. The answer: two plastic tubs, one prodigiously perforated, okay, so that as the ice melts the water drains away to this base down here. Now the fish is wrapped tightly in plastic wrap. It just goes right down in the ice, okay? Now in the back of your refrigerator, you should be able to stretch your tuna to, maybe, three or four days without any discernable loss of quality. Just make sure you drain the bottom tub every time you replace the ice up top, and that's going to be at least once if not twice a day.

2 Plastic Tubs
(One Is Perforated)

    Now unlike most fish whose muscle fibers are chewy and down right nasty when undercooked, tuna's a lot like beef tenderloin. Its flavor and especially its texture reaches its peak when it's seared on the outside but left rare on the inside. In fact, beyond medium rare even the best tuna tastes kind of like cat food.
    Now what does this mean to the home cook? It means high heat. And unless you've got a fusion reactor in the basement, odds are good there's nothing around the house that'll generate more heat than the carbonous remains of chunk hardwood.

The Back Porch


    All true grill heads love natural chunk charcoal. It's called natural because it is. It's just chunks of wood that have been partially burned: no additives, no fillers, no binders. And that's why this stuff burns very, very hot. It also tends to burn kind of fast which means we're going to need a lot of it. So even though we're not cooking a whole lot of tuna, I am going to fill this all the way to the brim.

Natural Chunk Hardwood

    Now all true grill lovers are also fond of chimney starters. I don't know a better way of lighting a fire. All you have to do is fill it up with charcoal and, of course, wad up some paper and put underneath and light it.

Chimney Starter

    Of course, this can be a problem because if you don't put enough paper down there, you go away, you come back, the paper's burned, the charcoal isn't. You're disappointed. Then you might over-compensate. Wad up a big ole thing of paper, and shove it under there, and light it, come back 10 minutes later and not even the paper's burned. It didn't have enough oxygen so it chocked itself off. What's the answer? I'll show ya.

    Before you wad your paper up, just give it a few spritzs with canola oil. It doesn't take a lot. Any vegetable oil will do. There. Now let that kind of soak in a minute. Then wad it up. And basically what we've made here is a wick, just like an oil lantern. And that oil is going to have to burn off before the paper will actually burn. It'll probably last for 10 minutes. And believe it or not, within 10 minutes we'll have glowing coals aplenty.

Spritz With Canola Oil

    [voice over] Now when it comes to fabricating our hunk of loin for the fire, we could cut this into thick ... oh. Go wash those charcoal-ly hands.

4 lb. Tuna Loin

    So as I was saying, you could cut it into thick steaks, but then we'd end up with a very high proportion of seared exterior to buttery interior which just doesn't sound right. So, we're going to go with blocks. Take your longest knife and just trim up the loin into kind of a rough rectangular shape. Oh, don't waste that. [about the piece he just cut off] That's tuna salad and that's another show.

    Now we've pretty much got a rectangle here. Just roll it over and slice it right down the middle long ways. It's important to use as few knife strokes as possible so you interrupt the fibers as little as possible. Ooo, there's still some blood line there. That's kind of like the dark meat of tuna. Lays up against the skeleton. It's fishy. It's got to go.

Slice Down The Middle

    Now we can split these two into two 4-by-4-by-2 blocks which is perfect for the fire. Time to consider flavor augmentation.

4" x 4" x 2" Blocks

    Despite close family ties to the mackerel, tuna's flavor is actually complex and subtle. In fact, really great tuna's kind of like listening to Debussy with the volume turned way down. What's a cook to do? Well, we need to apply flavors that turn the tuna back up without drowning it out. Now I can't think of anything that supports a melody better than a chord. So I like to back up tuna with three flavors: sweet, pungent and salty. Or, in this case, honey, wasabi power—this is the dried and ground version of a Asian horseradish—and, of course, soy sauce.

CREW: [camera pans 360°] AAAAaaaahhhhh!

    Well, it seems like we've struck on today's secret word. And what would be more deserving than soy sauce. After all, making this stuff is a lot like making wine. It requires patience and fermentation.

Real soy sauce always includes fermented soy beans, wheat, and salt.

Grocery Store

    I say "real" because some soy sauces just aren't. You see, if you take hydrolyzed vegetable proteins and boil them with hydrochloric acid for 12 to 20 hours, treat it with some bicarb, toss in some caramel, salt and corn syrup, you can concoct in just a few days something that's sort-of kind-of almost tastes like soy sauce, but not really. What's so sinister about these synthetics is that the FDA does not control their label content. So they can claim to be "naturally" or "traditionally" brewed even if they're not. Luckily, ingredient lists cannot lie. So, if you pick up a bottle of soy sauce that contains hydrolyzed vegetable proteins just put it back.

Soy beans are named for soy sauce, not the other way around.

The Kitchen

    Tonight's performance will feature two of our 2-by-4-by-2 [I think he meant to say 4 x 4 x 2] blocks of tuna loin. And here are the backup singers. We've got a half cup each of dark soy sauce and honey. Any kind of honey you want to use is fine. And a mere quarter of a cup of our wasabi powder. Could you use more? Sure. But as anyone who's ever been ambushed by a mischievous sushi chef who decided to tuck a wad of wasabi paste in their tuna roll can tell you that in large proportions, this stuff will make you cry harder than the last five minutes of the The Terminator. What? I cried.

1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
1/2 Cup Honey

1/4 Cup Wasabi Powder

    This is going to end up being a fat cup full. And we're going to want to reserve just a little bit of this, say an ounce per serving, for a dipping sauce. So before adding the fish, we'll pour off four ounces. There. Everything else is dedicated to the fish. Notice that we're using a very small container. You want to get a lot of contact between the liquid and the fish. So only use a container big enough to actually hold it, like that.

Reserve 4 oz. For
Dipping Sauce

    Now this could be considered simply a glaze. We could just toss that around for a few seconds and take it straight to the fire. It would be fine. I like to let this have a little bit of a penetration, actually treat it like a marinade. So I'm going to give it an hour in here before going any further. Could you go longer? Well, you might could go overnight, but remember, there's a lot of sodium in here and it could pull out some of the fish's juices. So I'd say 4 hours top. And remember, if it's not completely covered, turn it once.

2 lbs. Tuna Loin

One Hour Later

    The tuna is now ready to face the fire. But as we make that long faithful walk towards the grill, we should stop a moment to consider any last minute additions to flavor and/or texture. For instance, well, say sesame seeds. Now most of us only get a good look at these things when we're getting ready to chomp down on a hamburger and that is unfortunate because the temperatures at which those buns bake are nowhere near hot enough to activate the flavorful oils inside these little jewels. On a grill, that's not a problem.

[places seeds on plate, shakes to scatter, rolls tuna around in seeds to cover only on long ends]

1/4 Cup Sesame Seeds

Roll Tuna To Cover

    Our fish is on deck and we've even brought a clean plate for retrieval. As for the fire, well, it's hot. It's real hot. Just take a look. It's like a jet engine down there. Now the normal thing to do would be to distribute those coals across the bottom of the grill and get to cookin'. But, um, I don't want to dissipate the heat. I don't want to spread it out. I want to keep it concentrated. I want to cook on a jet engine! And ... it's ... my jet engine so I say we'll cook on the jet engine.

    This is just the charcoal grate out of the bottom of this grill. Now, of course, we're going to have to lubricate that with some oil and we don't want to do that until it's hot. [pauses] Okay, it's hot. All we've got to do is take a towel and get a little bit of our canola oil on it, just a little bit, and wipe this guy down. You don't want to do it right over the fire. Flames. Oil. Not good. So just pick it up, give it a quick wipe and put it right back down.

Charcoal Grate

    Something you're going to notice is that there's going to be a lot of popping right away as the sesame seeds start to burn. Now I'm not sure how long it's going to take on this first side. I'm going to time it just to see. Because however long it takes on this side is probably how long it'll take on the other three sides, and we want to be consistent. By doing that we're going to make sure the same layer of doneness is achieved all the way around so when we slice the fish is going to look really, really great.
    So it's been about 15 seconds. You definitely don't want to touch this before, say, 20 seconds. Not even to take a look or a lot of those seeds are going to stick. We want more of them to stay on the fish. Some are going to stick to the grill. That's okay. I'm just going to take a look. Nope. Going to give it all the way to 30 seconds. When 30 seconds is up, flip it to the new side of the grill and start your clock again. Now don't worry about the rest of these seeds. They're just going to burn. And since they've got oil in them, there's going to be some flaming. But it's going to be on the other side so don't worry about it.

    There we go. This time, up on the side like that. And another 30 seconds. You may have to hold on to it ... nah, it'll stay by itself. And whatever flames [rise from the sesame seeds], just knock down. That's fine. If the meats starts to lean over too much, that's okay. Just correct it and hold it with the edge of your tongs. Down cursed flame.

Flip After 30 Seconds

    We're only talking about a total of, what, 2 minutes cooking time all the way around.

30 Seconds On Each Side
2 Minutes Total

    Five, four, three, two, one. Time to remove. And remember that we use the clean plate. Now I'm going to cover this tightly with plastic wrap because it's going to continue to cook for at least another 2 minutes. I'm going to give it three just to be on the safe side. Meanwhile, I'm going to cook the other pieces.

Cover Tightly with plastic
wrap for 3 minutes

Sesame seeds were called "benne" by African slaves. To this
day "benne wafers" are considered a delicacy in the South.

The Kitchen

GUEST: Nicole Kerr, Registered Dietitian

    Three minutes later and whatever cooking was going to happen is definitely done. This has cruised to a thermal stop. Now at this point you could just rewrap this in a new, dry piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate it and cut it in two to three days. It makes a great cold appetizer. Me, I think I'm going to serve it warm.

    Now regardless of whether you intend to serve this as an appetizer or an entree, the key is thin slicing. And just as before you want to use very long strokes. Now look. That's exactly what we wanted on the inside. We've got a nice even sear but a nice red in the middle. Now do keep this thin because it is very, very rare. I'd say that's about three-eighths of an inch.

Slice Thin

    Now if you're not planning to eat this all, don't slice it all, okay? Because those sliced sides will oxidize and we don't want that. So if you're going to leave some over, just leave it as a chunk and wrap it up.
    Now I am not much of a fan of fancy plating. That's why I just like to put the fish on the plate. I think it's great looking stuff. But there are other options. For an entree you might want to serve this with some jasmine rice, a nice little salad. Heck, wasabi mashed potatoes would be fine. But you'll notice here, by using the reserved marinade as a dipping sauce, it's multi-tasking. Nice, huh? Oh, and observe the old restaurant trick. By placing the ramekin on a slice of lemon, we've got stability. Nice, huh?
    Oh. Heh, you remember that heart attack I had about half an hour ago? [a la John Lovitiz] Acting! Thank you.
    In fact, I'm getting ready to turn 40 and my ticker feels just fine, thanks. So, do I have deep-swimming, cold-water, fatty fish-like tuna to thank for this? Hey, only my nutritionist knows for sure.

NICOLE KERR: Yes you do, Alton. Omega-three fatty acids are great for your heart. They act as an arterial lubricant which decrease your risk for a heart attack and stroke. They increase your HDL level of cholesterol, which are the good cholesterol, and they decrease your triglycerides, which is the bad cholesterol. And they also help with your memory, your learning ability and your vision.
AB: Wow. Anything else?
NK: Yeah. In some studies suggest that it may help with depression. So in case you may be a little bit depressed about turning 40, ...
AB: Actually, I wasn't depressed about turning 40 ... but ... well ...

    Well, there you have it, kids. A tuna a day keeps the extremely expensive cardiologist away. It's just another example of how things that are good for you can also be good eats. See you next time.

AB: Forty's not a big deal, right?
NK: No. Do you not want me to say it that way? [laughs]

horizontal rule

Proofreading by Sue Libretti

Main Entry: bi·re·frin·gence
Pronunciation: "bI-ri-'frin-j&n(t)s
Function: noun
Etymology: International Scientific Vocabulary
Date: 1898
1) the refraction of light in an anisotropic material (as calcite) in two slightly different directions to form two rays

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010