Name That Tuna

Another cheap treat gone.
Relatively cheap, relatively gone.
You probably have read that you shouldn’t eat top-of-the-line bluefin sushi and sashimi anymore. Too much mercury. (Yellowfin and albacore are still OK.) Maybe a single, heart-red piece on Valentine’s Day.
Love, even sushi love, always courts death.
New York Times target readers, whose grandparents carried smelts and flukes wrapped in all the news that had been fit to print, are now seriously peeved at their lifestyle read, blaming the messenger for the mercury. (Yes, there’s a Roman pun there.) That’s not altogether nutty, because the Times requested the “how much mercury?” study; the paper again made its own news.
In this country, sushi and sashimi have slowly moved from being the butt of Borscht Belt jokes, to urbane bonbons, to fifth-grade lunchbox fare. And now? The overfished sources of sushi’s luscious signature flesh must serve their other purpose: living thermometers for oceanic warming. Poor tuna fishes, doomed one way or the other.
Do not doubt that the “mad as a hatter” symptoms of mercury poisoning are serious, especially for children. Plus, the debilitating condition is difficult to diagnose. I’ve been told the malady is occasionally reversible, but I’d hardly interpret that as permission to binge and recoup.
So, knowing a little something about the newspaper business (as well as how health standards are set by the unimpeachable Environmental Protection Agency), my new bluefin recipe mixes caution with a pinch of doubt. I did choose wild salmon over tuna just now at the fishmonger, but that’s because…
Fish Stories
Do you remember your first piece of raw fish? No kidding, I’d like to know; the time in which all our foundations and pie crusts are crumbling is an interactive age. Me, I don’t recall the brave event. (When was John Kennedy shot? That’s easy.) My tuna memories are overheated family ones, like the time…
My father and younger brother liked to fish. They bonded over it and one summer morning drove before sunrise on the Sunrise Highway from home in Howard Beach, Queens, to Montauk Point on New York’s Long Island, to go out on the tuna boats. Late that afternoon…
I saw them next door, by the upright freezer in a neighbor’s garage. They were uncharacteristically scruffy, trying to shove thick, dripping, paper-wrapped blocks of something into an already occupied space.
My Kiev-born dad, usually agreeable to the point of being not quite there, was really annoyed. “She doesn’t want this beautiful fish we just caught in her kitchen. I’m gonna hafta give it away.”
My Bordeaux-born mom couldn’t countenance cooking anything that had obviously grown in dirt, breathed fresh air, or swam unhampered in the sea. Only canned. Frozen. In a pinch, polished and chilled.
Those many pounds of throbbing, pristine bluefin (what he said it was) that weren’t good enough for Mrs. Weinstein’s stove might now be worth, say, $100,000. That catch was in the 1960s. No one I knew or could possibly have known had ever tasted tuna, even in a Greenwich Village “Salade Nicoise” with canned black olives, that hadn’t been wrecked by factories and buried in tin. What in the world does the original look like? How would you prepare it? The freezer door was leaned upon by two or three grown men until it shut.
I adore canned tuna because it reminds me of my yoot, and I can make you on short notice a very nice tuna salad.
Tuna Tale Two
This sounds crazy. Anyone who knows me can see that when I was in my twenties, I wasn’t a whit bigger or stronger than now. Maybe slightly more bouncy, the way unused youngsters are, and certainly leaner, with dark, Breck-worthy hippie-hair.
So why was I a signature away from becoming “cookie” on a San Diego tuna boat? Three months, out on the very high seas, with a whole bunch (the proper word is crew) of capital-M men, preparing all their brekkies, lunches and dinners, when my latest mass-feed triumph was 200 stuffed mushrooms, a dozen roasted ducks, and a case of the most profound 1974 Sonoma zin my catering budget would allow?
Details escape me, but simple fear vanquished my lust for income and adventure. And I had never cooked raw tuna before, just the usual gourmet girlie casseroles. I had no idea how to filet — or even to lift — such a thing.
What was that fleet manager thinking? He must have really liked my duck.
But in my week of indecision, I read everything there was to know about tuna fishing: the suicidal solitude, the boozing, the drenching cold, the miniature Moby Dick-ness — and the risk that, if the catch were paltry, you would never see the small fortune you had been promised.
And Just in Case It Slipped By
I also read that two colas a day, regular or diet, increase the chance of kidney failure. It’s the phosphates. So let me tell you about my early, fateful introduction to Patio Diet Cola, “refreshing way to stay thin”…
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  1. says

    What’s funny is that your childhood sounds miraculously urbane and sophisticated compared to the suburban Pittsburgh life I knew; I didn’t try sushi until I went away to college — and this in the 80s — and some of my more knowing NYC friends took me out to a Japanese place (what was fun was that another kid from Montana had also never had sushi, so it was a double indoctrination that could have been homoerotic if I had not been so closeted and he so sadly straight).