By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook
My food appreciation classes are still in Spain making tapas. Maybe we'll never leave, as there's so much great food to explore in this particular corner of the world. This week were were making an extremely easy salad of tuna, tomatoes and roasted red peppers that relies entirely on the quality of the individual ingredients. I also used this as a chance to talk to the kids about sustainable seafood and some particular environmental and health concerns around tuna.
Some varieties of tuna, such as the bluefin, have been fished nearly to extinction in the waters of the Mediterranean. According to Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, there are numerous different varieties of tuna on the market. It lists some as "best choice," others as "good alternative" and some as "avoid," depending on where and how they are caught. The best bets are U.S.-caught tuna as opposed to those fished elsewhere in the world.
For instance, albacore tuna, caught by trolling or with pole and line in the Pacific waters of the U.S. and Canada, is listed as "best choice." But canned yellowfin tuna caught worldwide--except the U.S.--by longline or purse seine is listed as "avoid." Unfortunately for us consumers, making a conscientious choice of tuna can be tedious, requiring some research and careful reading of labels at the market. Sometimes the labels are not very informative.
One reason to be concerned about tuna is they are a large, carnivorous fish the require some time before growing to a size where they can reproduce. Unlike much smaller fish, such as anchovies, which reproduce quickly, tuna are are more easily over-fished. Another concern is the pollutants tuna often accumulate in their flesh. Being at the top of the ocean food chain, they become depositories for heavy metals such as mercury, which falls into the sea from the smoke blown out of coal-burning power plants.
Mercury is a particular hazard for small children and pregnant women. The Environmental Defense Fund recommends that adults eat canned white or albacore tuna no more than three times per month; children aged six to 12 no more than twice per month; and kids up to age six no more than once per month. Yellowfin tun contains similar levels of mercury. But skipjack tuna, a smaller fish--found in canned "light" tuna--contains less mercury and can be eaten more frequently.
For our classes, I chose a yellowfin tuna packed in a glass jar in olive oil. This is premium stuff--not cheap, and not at all like the stinky tuna you sometimes find in a can. Since we were not going to pulverize our tuna and disguise it with a ton of mayonnaise, I wanted the kids to experience a version of canned tuna that looked something like real fish. Ours was packed as batons of meat that had to be carefully extracted from the jar, then cut into flakes.
To make our salad, we used a 6.7-ounce jar of tuna, flaked and placed in a mixing bowl. To this we added two medium ripe tomatoes, cored and cut into bit-size pieces; a couple ounces pimientos, or roasted red peppers cut into small pieces; 1/4 white onion, diced, 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced; a small handful cured and pitted black olives. Toss everything together, then season with 2 or 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, a generous splash or two of white wine vinegar, salt, freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sugar.
This will easily make a small serving for six to eight people, or display it on a decorative platter on your next tapas bar. You might be shocked how good canned tuna can taste without the mayo.