The last time I bought tuna steaks, I ended up with too much and froze half of it. The only reason it has been in the freezer for this long is because it is a yellowfin tuna tail cut, and I was afraid of ruining it. My only experience with a tail cut was over 20 years ago when a friend gave me one from a fresh caught bluefin tuna. It was so fresh I prepared it raw for a friend visiting from Japan. I had the luxury of my grandfather’s knife skills on that occasion, but now it’s time to see what I can do.
What are Tail Cuts?
Tail cuts are usually less desired on most fish due to the natural tapering of the meat closer to the tail fin. There is a significant difference in the thickness of the fillet as you approach the tail, which can cause problems with cooking. On smaller fish like salmon or haddock, it is easy to tuck the thinner portion under the fillet so it does not overcook.
Tuna is more like dealing with red meat due to their high energy and physiology. The parts of the fish that do a lot of the “swimming” are similar to beef cuts like brisket or chuck. The tail cut of a large tuna is a very tasty part of the fish. However, this is a hard-working part of the tuna can also be hard to work with.
If you have only prepared steaks cut from the tuna loin, a tail cut might be a little intimidating. You will see much more connective tissue that look like thick white bands of fat. This is also known as fascia or “silver skin” and will need to be removed.
My Yellowfin Tail Cut
One of the traits I didn’t inherit was filleting skills. It’s a source of embarrassment but I am practicing. The photo above shows the thick streak of connective tissue on the piece of tuna. This is the pretty side; the other side was streaked with thick white bands. I used these strips as my guide as I slowly and lightly cut through the tuna. The hardest part was starting, once you make that first cut you can see where the good meat is. Just do yourself a favor and you a good quality, very sharp filleting knife, they really do most of the work.
It was a little disappointing seeing how much of this tuna I had to cut away. About a quarter, maybe more, of the cut was trimmed and by the end I had pretty clean pieces of tuna meat. The two larger pieces I was especially proud of, the small piece was just an attempt at scavenging as much as possible.
I should have done this trimming when I originally got the tuna. That way I could have frozen both the steak and the trimmings to be used later. Those tough, stringy and fatty pieces might have been good as part of a seafood stock. Another option would have been to attempt to slow cook or braise the entire piece and see if that connective tissue breaks down like a beef roast. Has anyone tried that before?
Now it is time to cook these nicely trimmed pieces of yellowfin. The original idea was to make a version of the classic Tuscan dish of tuna and white beans. That plan ended when I noticed my last can of cannellini beans was nearly as old as my son. I felt a dimple of air when pressing the lid, so I had to adjust on the fly. The essence of Italian cooking is to use the best ingredients available, not following a recipe to a T. So here is a fun and easy variant using canned chickpeas and fresh kale.
Yellowfin Tuna with Chickpeas and KaleCuisine: SeafoodDifficulty: Easy
1lb Yellowfin Tuna Steaks (or trimmed tail cuts)
1 bunch Kale destemmed and chopped.
1 can Chickpeas drained and rinsed.
1 large Tomato, chopped.
1 stalk Celery, diced.
2 Lemons, zested, 1 juiced.
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (garlic infused)
Salt and Pepper
- Prepare vegetables first by sautéing celery, kale and tomato.
- Add lemon juice to deglaze before adding chickpeas.
- Add salt, pepper and lemon zest, mix, keep warm and set aside.
- In a separate pan heat up oil and season tuna with salt and pepper.
- Sear the tuna about 5 minutes per side, depending upon thickness, for medium.
- Top the vegetables with the tuna and serve tableside, or plate individually. Serve with lemon wedges.
- A variety of beans will work. You can also make this more brothy by using the aquafaba from canned beans.
- You can add butter to the oil to increase the smoke point, or a high heat oil like grapeseed.
This came out pretty good and would work with tuna, swordfish or any kind of “meaty” fish. The lightly seasoned tuna combined with the lemon-flavored vegetables and chickpeas was less Tuscany and more Eastern Mediterranean. Less lemon, more herbs and cannellini beans would have brought it back to Tuscany. Using canned white beans, along with the aquafaba form the can will make a saucier presentation. I’m just glad that I was able to utilize the tail cut in a delicious way.