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Why tuna?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 
In a family discussion, the question came up... we know why we have so many recipes for chicken and its parts, because chicken used to be a luxury that needed every bit of use squeezed out of it. However, we couldn't come up with a similar explanation for our culinary dependence on tuna fish. Why do we can this big booger of a fish and not, say, salmon, or cod, or mahi/dolphin, or another?

I know there's a culinary historian out there somewhere...
post #2 of 8
We can salmon and some other fish in Western cuisine. Anchovies, crab, too. Seems I've seen mackerel? Canned chicken too though it's pretty sad stuff

But Asia cans lots of other fish and bits as well. I was looking at a can of Top King or something the other day at the Asian grocer. Still haven't figured out what that was yet. And have you ever priced canned abalone? Yikes.

Phil
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #3 of 8
Thread Starter 
All true, Phil, but you don't find abalone salad on the menu of every diner from here to Vancouver. I was wondering about the dominance of one particular fish in American cuisine.
post #4 of 8
Maybe tuna is so prominent because it is such a big fish and is more economical by bodyweight in the processing of it.

But also sardines and salmon are widely used. Sardines are much smaller than tuna, obviously, but maybe they are so widely used because the way they are processed the bones are edible, salmon too. Also mackerel, depending on what country you're in.

I'd rather have sashimi tuna than canned, but price is the issue, so tuna mornay is the choice in this household. Or fishcakes.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #5 of 8
Without researching it, I can offer a couple of suppositions:

1. Tuna, in it's various forms, is a very common fish, and many cultures---as far back as the Phonecians---depended on it. To this day, fishing the tuna runs off the coast of Sicily and Sardinia is a major annual event. Salt cod played a bigger role in world affairs, it's true. But salting the fish was no longer required, when canning came about. And the cod fisheries were more tightly controlled than the tuna fisheries.

2. Given its cross-cultural appeal, and the size of the catch, it would therefore have been a logical choice when canning food took off in earnest back in the 19th centuries. And that sort of thing feeds on itself. Canned tuna was purchased because people were familiar with the fish. And, because they were buying it, more of it was canned, which made it more commonly available, so more people bought it, etc.

As others have mentioned, however, other fishes are canned; and not just as a specialty item.

Canned salmon is almost as ubiquitous as tuna, as are sardines. Other common ones include herring and mackeral, and a wide range of shellfish, such as oysters and clams. Canned crab is seen on the shelves more and more as well.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #6 of 8
We can all types of fish as was said. We only can one species of tuna, albacore. Other species like yellowfin and bluefin are prized and better than albacore. We can albacore because it is basically the only outlet for it. You can't eat albacore rare like yellow/blue or other types.
post #7 of 8
Nope. Several species are canned. Albacore is generally considered the best of the species which are widely available in the can.

True dat as to prized, especially as to bluefin. Neither species is necessarily better than albacore, though. Depends what you're doing. By way of example, albacore makes excellent sashimi, is highly prized as "white tuna" (shiro maguro) in Japan, but the belly sections don't carry as much fat so there aren't "toro" preparations. The usual presentation, whether nigiri or sahsimi is sauced with ponzu and garnished with daikon oroshi and/or momiji.

Nope. It's the mildest of the canned tuna, and one of the mildest of any canned fish; in short it's less "fishy." Perhaps the reason Americans like it so much. Also, the fish was relatively abundant and able to be sold cheap -- cheaper than salmon which is the other mild canned fish.

Deeply and tragically wrong. "Get thee to a [sushi-ya]. Go."

BDL
post #8 of 8
Canned tuna is a criminal waste of a wonderful fish :(

Its like turning prime beef into well done hamburger.
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