Chicken of the Sea

Being that we live in the smack dab middle of America, and through the blessing of, for now at least, a somewhat free market economy, we dined on tuna for lunch. Most of you that grew up in the 60’s and 70’s may be curling your lip at the thought. Charlie the canned Tuna was probably in your lunch and maybe even a bizarre version of hamburger helper ala tuna. The old timers said white albacore tuna was mild flavored and likened it to chicken. And cheap. So moms foisted this stuff on us with great regularity. Which I didn’t mind. I was born with a constitution that wasn’t concerned with the boring hamburger hotdish and tuna melt sandwich of my youth. Growing up in the frozen North, you were just glad that the meal didn’t include a Lutheran Jello salad; tuna was quite often hidden in said salad. Hard times.

Even still, when I got out on my own, for the last time, I included canned tuna as a regular in my shopping cart. Then came a fateful day, when living in Phoenix AZ, our crew had finished a big job, under budget and 2 days before deadline. We, the unwashed working schlubs, were promised a seafood extravaganza as a bonus, and Arizona is not that far from the sea. I was first of all, incredulous that A: We were going to be treated to anything more than 1 hotdog and a can of Coke, B: It would be real seafood, not the mock fish crap that was popping up at happy hour in the local bars. My estimation of humanity was raised for a brief moment, when we arrived at a known good sea food place and we could order anything we wanted. I am a simple man, with simple tastes. I couldn’t even pronounce half the stuff on the menu, but saw tuna and figured what the heck. Hopefully it would not be encased in jello. Shortly after the very attractive waitress dropped off my plate, my socks were blown off. This tuna thing came in a thick slab that was charred, with black pepper and olive oil on the outside and just barely warm and pink on the inside. After the first bite, I dug in like I meant it.

My boss at the time, always considered me the slow one. I was on a crew of guys, and I think that I was the oldest at 25 or 26. The boys I worked with called me the Professor cause I kicked their skinny butts at knowing stuff. These little cherubs of energy and spunk, fresh out of high school and/or jail, didn’t seem to know a thing, but they were damn good at the very lucrative trade of keeping most of the local business men and government workers higher than a kite. This was the 80’s and flooring contractors were the guys that knew a guy that could get you what you thought you wanted. Having done a previous tour of duty as peace officer, or pig as the endearingly quaint locals used to call us in Lake Havasu City, AZ, I repeatedly warned the boys that this was bad ju ju, and they kept on not listening to me. Buy ‘em books and they just end up chewing the covers.

As I said, my boss thought I was slow, because I didn’t play those foolish reindeer games, but when, at the restaurant, he saw me order and eat tuna like I did it every day, I suddenly became stupid like a fox, cause everybody knows tuna is what you eat when you know stuff. Apparently, it’s not who you know, it’s what you order, that gets you ahead in the world. Who knew?

Anyway, that tuna surpassed all my expectations and left a very stark memory, and when I finally hooked up with my hippie chick, turns out she digs new food and far out experiences. Never a mention of long walks on the beach and anything to do with rain. A sensible hippie chick. I mentioned that I liked tuna, not the Star Kissed Charlie kind, and next thing you know, we’ve got a thick chunk of yellow fin on the counter and ready for the grill. I think Alton Brown was pushing something like this on one of his Good Eats shows. Basically, you use your chimney charcoal starter as a grill. Fill your chimney about a quarter full of charcoal and light it Tuna-Tempand let it do its thing. When it gets rocket hot, put on any type of grate you have that will work, we’re talking cookie cooling racks, anything that will hold up to the heat. Oil the grate and slap the tuna, that’s been rubbed with some olive oil, on the grate and start timing. Now, tuna gets flash frozen on the boat that catches it, and frozen to such a degree that parasites are not a problem. This is a good thing because you want to char the outside and have the center pink and about 100 to 110 degrees. On the grill, this is about 2 minutes per side. From there, if you are used to telling when things are done by touch, start giving it a poke or 2. This is how I do beef steaks, pork steaks, hamburgers, what have you. I discovered tuna acts the same way. The wife uses a probe thermometer. Different strokes for different folks.

So our yellow fin is done to perfection. What I like to do is use a brilliant idea that the Mrs Tuna-Platecame up with. She, for some strange reason, put horseradish and mayonnaise together and I love the stuff. I put a dollop of that and a drizzle of Sriracha sauce over that. Of course you have some beans and rice to fill out the rest of the plate, or if you’re a weirdo, some salad contrivance, whatever.

If you don’t have a grill or it’s just too dang hot to grill in the heat, do what we did yesterday and have no fear. Tuna does not smell like fish. It smells like the ocean. You can fry up a couple of chunks and never worry about it stinking up the place. Also, the advantage of frying in a pan is you can put a bunch of fresh cracked black pepper on it and it won’t burn as easily. You really have to keep an eye on the temperature through, so pay attention. It is a crime to over-do tuna or salmon or cod and anything, really. This is a big responsibility, so don’t muff it. You hear me?? Good. Get out there and eat some of this stuff and keep the jello mix in the back of the cupboard, where it belongs.