If you’re planning to can tuna this year, and you just so happen to at or near the Oregon coast, be sure to use my handy, research-based, certified Master Food Preserver vetted, proofread (etc., etc.) guide to canning tuna. (Or check out more tips if you want to can salmon.) I’m going to amend it with more info about buying tuna, with thanks again to fellow MFP and tuna canning expert Dale Dow, who clarifies:
To order fish, a rough rule of thumb is to order one pound of fish (whole fish, not fillets) per half-pint jar. This is the whole fish and about 50% wastage is expected. But the size of the fish, the skill of the fishmonger, and the skill of filling the jars all determine how many jars can be filled. In other words, I’d say,”I want 24 pounds of tuna for canning, filleted” if I planned to do a canner full. It is cheaper to filet your own if you have the skill and time.
Oregon albacore are in range of our fishing fleets on the coast, so it’s time to get busy! I put together a quick set of links that will help you buy, cook, and can your own. Our albacore are not only an important part of the state’s fishing industry, they’re a fish that’s sustainably caught wild, the only type of albacore tuna and one of very few types of tuna that meet the “Best Choice” distinction in the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They are caught young, so there’s no mercury build-up issues, either.
This video guide from the Oregon Sea Grant will tell you, if you’re feeling shy, how to buy off the boat.
If you’re interested in canning albacore, which will make all other canned tuna seem like cat food, click for my tuna guide. It’s an annotated and illustrated version of the MFP handout on canning tuna, with a load of tips.
And if you just want to grill some albacore, try this recipe, an adaptation of one of my favorite tuna recipes, tuna with ginger sauce. In college, I received my first New York Times cookbook, and would make tuna with ginger sauce when I lost the battle to be economical at the old Berkeley Bowl. It was a gorgeous recipe invented by the chef at Huberts in New York, a man who lived the dream and left teaching English to become a chef. It called for fresh tuna marinated in the surprising combination of ginger, red wine, red wine vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil, paprika, and the surprising ingredient of scallions charred over a stove burner. Then the fish was lightly grilled and served with a sauce that blended light versions of the ingredients in the marinade — white wine, rice vinegar, shallots — and finished with cream and butter.
But because it was just for me, and I couldn’t be bothered with a fancy sauce opening two (two!) bottles of wine, it became Tuna with a Ginger Marinade and Some of the Marinade Boiled Down with Butter to Make a Sauce. I present an only slightly more sophisticated version here, and I apologize about the picture, which features a piece of tuna grilled a bit too long.
Tips: This is a recipe that is made to approximate, really. I just eyeball the amounts, and I’ve even used (egads) pickled ginger instead of the real stuff. You really want to aim for very rare in the middle for the maximum flavor and texture. I like rosé better than the red wine called for in the original recipe, as the red wine does that purple dye thing that always looks unpleasant. I’ve increased the marinade time considerably, which only salutes the strong, bold flesh of the albacore. I have marinated and grilled tuna steaks, a whole loin, and little sashimi-quality medallions. It’s foolproof.
Grilled Tuna with Rosé, Ginger, and Charred Scallions
1.5 to 2-lb. albacore tuna loin
2 cups dry rosé on the darker side of pink (Spanish, cruder So. France are nice)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, best quality
1/4 cup soy sauce, best quality (I use low-salt Japanese soy)
1/4 cup sesame oil
piece of fresh ginger about 2 inches square, grated with ginger grater
salt and pepper
4-6 fresh scallions
Cut the loin into four pieces. Salt and pepper the pieces, and place in a Ziploc bag. Add the wine, vinegar, soy, sesame oil, and grated ginger. Wash and trim the roots off the scallions. Turn on a stove burner on high, and place the whole scallions on the burner. Char the scallions, both green and white parts, all over; about 25% should be black. Add scallions to marinade bag. Place bag in a larger bowl or dish, and refrigerate.
Marinate from 12 to 24 hours, flipping the bag every so often.
When you’re ready to grill, remove the fish from the marinade and cut it carefully into medallions. The size and number will depend on the fish, but aim to serve two medallions a person (the picture above shows that it will fall apart if you don’t cut the fish into medallions before grilling).
Preheat and oil your grill, then sear the tuna pieces over high heat for one or two minutes on each side. Aim to serve very rare in the middle.
Prepare the sauce, if you like. Strain the ginger and scallions from the marinade and bring to a boil on the stove. Reduce the marinade by half. Melt a pat of butter in a hot skillet, then strain the marinade into the butter, whisking gently. The best way to serve it is to slice tuna into strips and arrange on the plate like a little fan, then pour sauce over tuna and serve. I usually just serve the medallions and pour the sauce over, though.
Great with rice and rice pilaf, with a side of steamed spinach.
This is a guide for canning troll-caught albacore tuna using a raw-pack method in a pressure canner. It has been reviewed by a veteran, my fellow Master Food Preserver and an excellent teacher, Dale Dow, who has opened her home and taught annual tuna classes to willing new MFP volunteers for many years. I can’t replace Dale’s careful in-person instruction, but I’ve done tuna with her three years running, and tried to take notes on all the tips she provided this year so I can approximate her procedures. All mistakes and lack of clarity are mine, of course. Thank you for this and everything else I’ve learned from you, Dale!
Is albacore the best tuna? In Oregon, we think so. It’s one of only two tuna varieties that are certified green-light sustainable by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Also, since the tuna are caught very young, they don’t have any issues with mercury buildup.
And they make the best tuna you’ve ever had. You haven’t TASTED tuna until you have a jar of homemade albacore.
Tuna is a low acid food, and must be canned in a pressure canner (the ones with a clamp down lid that has a gauge or a weighted top), not a waterbath canner (the ones that look like a big stockpot). The process takes the better part of a day, and you’re much better off canning tuna outside on a sturdy camp stove, as it smells strongly and the smell lasts on your hands and other surfaces. Trust me, you don’t want this smell in your kitchen.
I’m assuming you know how to use a pressure canner, have chosen top-quality and properly stored albacore tuna, and you have cleaned your canning jars, rings, and new lids.
If you are using a pressure canner for the first time or need a refresher, this publication from the National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia is a good guide.
OSU Extension has a publication, developed by a consortium of three Pacific Northwest universities, called “Canning Seafood.” It covers canning seafood in general, including fish and shellfish. I’m using this document as a base for this annotated guide. You can download a .pdf file (PNW 194) by following the links here. Please refer to this document if you have questions about safety, storage, or spoilage. This link also provides pamphlets on filleting your own tuna and on mercury and radiation in Oregon albacore (quick answer: don’t worry; it’s not an issue).
Your local fish monger is a good place to bulk-order freshly caught Oregon albacore tuna, cleaned, bled, and prepared as long, single-piece loins. We use Newman’s and Fisherman’s Market in Eugene. There are also places along the coast where you can buy tuna off the boat. Best to talk to someone with experience before undertaking this effort.
Edited to clarify: You’ll want to buy 1 lb. whole fish (also called fish on-the-round) per one half-pint jar of filleted tuna. There will be about 50% wastage during the filleting process, less if you have a very skilled knife-handler, more if you’re trying it at home yourself. It will be cheaper to do it yourself, of course, but much more work. If I want to fill my canner, for example, I should buy just under 50 lbs. for 24 half-pint jars. [Edited in 2018: after many years and a lot of leftover tuna, I now recommend 3/4 lb. fish on-the-round for each half-pint jar you wish to can, not 1 lb.]
The Set Up
I strongly advise you not to stray far from these instructions. You’ll be processing tuna for 100 minutes, and if you have to start over or if a jar breaks or otherwise fails to seal, you’ll be unhappy.
1. Check your jars carefully for chips and cracks. I always use new jars for tuna to minimize risk. After washing your jars, screw the rings on and keep them on as you are fitting tuna in the jars. This will make it easier to wash the muck off the jar mouth before canning.
2. Besides the canning set-up, make sure you have for each person in your group:
Wide-mouthed half-pint jars. You can use regular-mouth jelly jars, but a tuna loin is a bit fatter than a regular jar (see disaster above), and it requires more cutting. You may also can in wide-mouthed pints, but half-pints are similar in weight to a standard can of tuna — think of how much tuna you’ll need per use.
A very sharp, non-serrated, chef’s or boning knife.
A non-porous cutting board, preferably one that can go in the dishwasher.
Food-safe disposable gloves (optional — note: your hands will smell afterward).
A large bowl to hold the tuna loins and a smaller bowl for viscera and scraps.
A cat to eat the scraps.
Canning salt (optional – I use 1/8 t. per jar)
Bottled lemon juice (added to canner)
Tuna loins (as pictured above). A fishmonger can clean, scale, and cut the fish for you. Plan on a bit less than one pound of raw tuna per half-pint jar. Keep tuna on ice as you’re preparing it for the jars.
Disposable ice packs which will smell strongly of tuna once you are finished.
A Two-burner or otherwise powerful, sturdy camp stove for every two canners. The turkey fryer one-burner stove units run too hot, and may damage a pressure canner. Single-burner tabletop units are not strong enough.
This is the set-up we used at a recent tuna canning party. We put up 154 half-pints of 129 pounds of tuna. You can see the range of canners — two brand new 23-quart Prestos on the camp stove to the left, and a range of sizes and brands elsewhere. The canner closest to the camera on the right is a screw-down lid All-American, a heavier and more expensive canner that does not need a lid gasket.
3. When you set up your camp stove, check the surface with a level to make sure it does not tilt and provides a stable, flat surface.
Adding Tuna to Jars
4. Wash your jars and rings, and screw the rings on to the jars.
5. Prepare your lids. Older lids (unused boxes from years past, for example) may need to be boiled — read the instruction on the box. New lids are generally not boiled, but again, check on the box. They are usually prepared by bringing them up to 180 degrees in a pot of water. This is less than boiling — you can see tiny bubbles form on the bottom of the pot. Once up to 180, let sit at that temperature or slightly cooler for 5-10 minutes to soften the gum on the underside of the lids. If your brand new box does not provide instructions, follow the 180-degree plan.
You’ll see that we marked the lids with our names and the date. Names are important in a big canning party!
6. I hope you have a garbage disposal and a double sink, which are ideal for this project. [Edited 2018: I’ve now done tuna without a garbage disposal, and even though I thought I was being careful, the muck blocked my drainpipe and it was a pain to clear it out. I now have smaller hole sink drain filters, but strongly recommend a disposal.] Fill your non-disposal sink with hot soapy water. Use your disposal sink to rinse tuna bits off things like knives and cutting boards and hands.
7. Remove the small dark areas, larger veins, and other viscera, which make the product taste more fishy. I remove the stringy white connective tissue as much as possible for aesthetic reasons, but it doesn’t need to be removed.
8. Fill the tuna jars, as below, to no greater than one inch from the top of the jar. You may be able to get one large piece of loin in with only a bit of excess tuna to fill the crevices, or you may use smaller pieces of tuna. It’s better to be slightly under one inch than over.
It’s important to fill all the crevices to the bottom of the jar, so pack the fish in tightly. It will meld together during cooking to create one piece. Try to keep the jars as clean as possible. Our teacher uses only one hand for handling tuna, and keeps the other hand clean for handling the jars.
9. At this point, you may decide to add about 1/8 t. of canning salt. Salt is only a flavoring agent in this particular process, not a safety issue. Consider what you’ll be using the tuna for. If sandwiches, you may want a little salt. If casseroles, you won’t need it. [Edited 2018: I always add salt. I think it infuses the meat with flavor much better than adding it afterward. I also add a tablespoon of olive oil now, which softens and moistens the meat. It’s perfectly safe and adds a bit of a European touch to the tuna.]
10. Once your jars are all filled, remove the rings, rinse them in the disposal side of the sink, and then wash them in the hot, soapy water in the other sink. Rinse them off and set aside.
11. Pour some vinegar into a small bowl, and soak a paper towel in the vinegar. Use the paper towel to carefully wipe off the jar mouth, especially the top that will have contact with the lid. You want to remove any fish bits or oil, which will inhibit proper sealing.
12. Remove your heated lids from the hot water with a magnetic wand, and place them on the clean jars. Screw on the rings finger-tight (i.e., tighten them until they are just closed but not screwed on as hard as possible).
The Canning Process
Once you’ve filled and capped your jars, you’re ready to can.
13. Prepare a sheet with the following information. Identify the canner (see the example below, Anne’s canner), then places to mark the time for Vent Start, Vent End, Pressure Start, and Pressure End. We also marked down the number of jars in the canner so we could figure out the price per jar at the end of the session.
14. Add four or five quarts of hot water (about 140 degrees — either use very hot tap water or heat the water in the canner) to each canner. This is much more than usual, because you want to adjust for the longer processing time. You might also add 1/2 cup of lemon juice to the water — this is supposed to help reduce tuna smell in the canner.
15. Place the jars in the canner in layers, separated by canning racks. If you use wide-mouth AND regular-mouth, be careful that the racks are balanced.
16. Start the pressurizing process! Refer to your canner’s user manual, or the Georgia pressure canner link under “Resources” for instructions. Be sure that you are familiar with your local altitude — you will need a heavier weight if you are higher than 1,000 feet.
If you are at 1,000 feet or lower: Vent 10 minutes, then place 10-lb. weight (or watch the dial until it reaches 11 lbs.) and wait until proper pressure is reached before timing for 100 minutes. Use your little chart to mark down the times for starting and finishing the vent, then starting the timing at pressure (which could take anywhere from 2-10 minutes).
17. These canners are at the venting stage. Once you’ve hit pressure, can the tuna for 100 minutes, again carefully marking down the time.
If you are canning outside on camp stoves, be sure to watch for gusts of wind extinguishing the flame under the stove, or the propane canister running out of fuel. If your pressure drops under the appropriate level, you’ll have to start the entire process over.
Also watch for too much pressure. The jiggle of your weight (if you’re using one) should be an even, slow hula, not a frantic headbanging rock-n-roll.
18. When the 100 minutes are up, remove from the heat and let the pressure drop naturally.
Do not pour cool water over the canner or try to rush the cool-down. The cool-down period is part of the canning time, as determined by the experts.
19. Once you have depressurized and cooled the canner as per the instructions, it is ready to be opened. See your manual or the Georgia guide for tips on opening your canner, because you are at risk for steam burns if you open it too soon or in the wrong position. Remove the tuna jars and let them cool completely. The jars will still be boiling for quite some time after you remove them, so handle carefully.
Some of the lids may not have formed a seal in the canner, and this is normal. If they haven’t formed a seal by the time they are cool, you can either refrigerate the jars, or, for longer storage, freeze the jars. There’s no need to transfer the contents into another container, as canning jars are freezer safe.
Here are two jars of finished tuna. You can see that I didn’t completely pack in the tuna on the right, resulting in a less attractive product. The juice inside the jar is from the tuna — no water was added. You can also see a slightly darker color for parts of the tuna block. This comes from different parts of the loin.
20. After the jars are cool, you will want to remove the rings for storage. Test each lid to make sure it is firmly sealed, and store any jars that have not sealed in the refrigerator for consumption within a few days.
Wash the rings and jars carefully with hot, soapy water with some vinegar added. Often, I end up throwing away the rings because I can’t get the tuna smell out of them [Edited 2018: I can’t stand the waste of that any more, so I save the rings, wash them multiple times, and air them out for months before reusing. The rings often get mottled in the tuna canner, so you can tell which ones are the tuna rings.]
21. Cutting boards should be put in the dishwasher or sterilized with a bleach solution. You might try Febreze on non-washable surfaces. Good luck.
22. Store the jars in a cool, dark place. They will keep at least until next year, maybe longer. Watch for color changes and lids that pop open. If you suspect you’ve got a spoiled jar, don’t taste the contents before discarding. See the “Canning Seafood” link under “Resources” for more information about spoilage.
23. Be sure to clean your canner well after canning tuna. See your instruction manual for the best way to do this. For longer canner storage, fill the cavity with newspapers, which also help absorb smells.
I also wanted to share some more information about local beans and some of the great resources now available if you wanted to take part in the great bean adventure of 2009. Amy at Our Home Works, my friend and fellow Master Gardener trainee, is a Eugene food blogger who is very invested in all matters locavore, and she has a great resource page for beans and grains in Oregon. This page includes links to her excellent posts on the Southern Willamette Bean and Grain Project and Rancho Gordo, plus information about Ayers Creek Farm, all mentioned in the article.
The picture above features samples from the 2008 crop of one of the farms in the Southern Willamette Bean and Grain Project. Stalford Seed Farm grew a handful of different types of beans; these are their delicious pinto and garbanzo beans. I recently served them at our Master Gardener training course in dips for 60 or so hungry gardeners. Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and Spicy Green Jalapeño Bean Dip, mmm….
If you are interested in purchasing Ayers Creek Farm beans, you’ll want to head up to the Sunday Hillsdale farmer’s market as soon as possible (n.b., this weekend the market is closed; see the comment below). Anthony Boutard, the owner of the farm, who was quoted in my article, grows extraordinary beans, grains, vegetables and fruits. He was kind enough to email me a letter about his heirloom beans and other staple crops. I wanted to share one part of it with you:
All of our beans are hand-harvested because it is hard to fully dry beans at the 45th parallel, especially on the west side of the Cascades. Our extra care makes a better bean. About four years ago, a couple approached our stall. The wife was leading, with her husband following reluctantly. She had heard that we sold very good beans, and want try them because they wanted to eat more beans. The husband scowled, and told us he thought it was crazy to pay $5/LB for beans, when he cold buy them for 99¢/LB. I explained that we carefully fertilized and harvested the beans, and, no, we were not getting rich from growing beans. She purchased one package, zolfinos on my advice, and they left. The next market, he was in the lead and loading up on beans. This scene has been repeated, in some form, time and time again.
Eugenia Bob sez check ’em out. They’re worth it, and oh so achingly lovely. You may find two dried fava bean recipes of Anthony’s in the Portland food blog, Good Stuff NW. Here are his borlotto lamons, which I used in my Triestine bean soup:
And last, but not least, I am almost heartbroken I couldn’t add my friend and extraordinary cook Trillium’s bean recipes to the article. I realized immediately that I couldn’t edit down these suggestions; they’re too magnificent as is. Trillium even gives notes on local sources for accompaniments. Enjoy!
White beans (such as cannelloni, zolfino or bianchetto) simmered with a bit of shallot, garlic and sage, spooned hot with their cooking liquid over a rustic arugula dressed in red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper with grilled grass-fed beef from Knee Deep sliced and fanned alongside.
Chestnut-flavored borlotto lamon with my homemade pancetta for the classic pasta e fagioli.
Sturdy and meaty tarbais, oven-braised with duck (from Raven’s Feather Farm), lamb shoulder (from Anderson Ranch) and garlic sausage (from Otto’s in Pdx).
A brothy stew of potatoes, chanterelles, onions and purgatorio (very thin skinned and dainty white beans) served under broiled black cod with crispy skin (I get Newman’s to leave the skin on a fillet of black cod and give me the fish frame to make a simple fumet for the cooking liquid).
Lastly, any sort of red, pinto or soldier bean cooked with a smoked ham hock (Long’s), sauteed onion and plenty of winter savory. Cook them until the beans break down and their starches turn the soup thick and glossy. Cornbread alongside is mandatory.
I hope I’m not embarrassing Trillium, who is shy, but I couldn’t resist posting these ideas. Amazing, no? I feel it almost an ethical obligation to show everyone in Eugene that we can have a stunningly delicious and original food scene here. And as the local food crops diversify because we show there’s a demand, it’s well within our reach.
EDITED TO ADD TEXT OF ARTICLE, SINCE LINKS ARE UNRELIABLE:
Eugene Weekly : Food : 2.12.2009
Article | February 24, 2012 – 12:42am
Why you should be crazy for heirloom shell beans
By Jennifer Burns Levin
Who knew beans would be the reason for the season?
Heirloom shell beans are all the rage, part of the local food movement that will only get bigger in 2009. And it makes sense. Because beans provide a filling, economical source of protein, fiber and B vitamins, they are served in traditional and rustic dishes all over the world. Furthermore, the push for recovering local heirloom seeds has stimulated a resurgence in crops native to the Americas. Farmers — and consumers — are rediscovering how to grow and use myriad beautiful varieties.
In the past few years, Napa-based Rancho Gordo has created an almost cult-like following in dried heirloom shell beans, with a zealous group of followers that storms the weekly San Francisco Ferry Building farmers’ market in search of exotic varieties. Rancho Gordo’s yellow-eye and speckled anasazi beans (pictured) are only some of heirloom varieties they offer, with each bean having its own flavor and texture. Yellow-eyes are traditional in New England baked beans. Simmered with bacon, onions and jalapeños, then lashed with tequila, anasazi beans make a winter staple nothing short of transcendent.
Indeed. Eugene food blogger Amy McCann was recently spotted with her arms full of legumes at the Hillsdale farmer’s market. “Who would have thought people could be so passionate about beans?” she wonders.
The farm that produced those love beans, Ayers Creek Farm, is an Oregon Tilth-certified organic farm located in Gaston, 30 miles west of Portland. They offer their bean bounty in winter at the Hillsdale farmers’ market. On a recent weekend, this included a selection of hand-harvested dried beans with evocative names such as purgatorio, a delicate white bean; black Basque; the chestnut-flavored borlotto lamon; the red-eyed Soldier; and Tarbais, the classic French cassoulet bean.
Owner Anthony Boutard sees his beans as a part of a systemic shift in producing staple crops. The great demand is less of a trend than an unmet need for well-grown, high-quality staples. His farm has offered unusual varieties of staple crops, such as grain corn, barley, sweet potatoes and potatoes, for the past eight seasons. “We are surrounded by wheat fields, and we wanted to find a way to bring debased staples such as wheat back into scale of the market farm in a profitable and interesting way,” says Boutard. “We wanted to scale down a cheap commodity and make it a high-quality food in the same way we manage our other crops.”
Eugene gourmand and longtime Ayers Creek customer Trillium Blackmer uses at least a pound of Boutard’s beans a week, especially in the winter. She stresses that high-quality beans are crucial. “I think part of the problem is that many people experiment with beans that are just not very good, get frustrated, and give up. Most beans, if they are fresh and dried with care, do not require any presoaking before cooking, and don’t get tough with early salting.”
Beans are also an important part of efforts in surrounding counties to recreate a local and sustainable food system. The Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project has been holding field trials with two local farms interested in transitioning their crops from grass seed to food sources. Farmers Harry MacCormack of Sunbow Farm and Harry Stalford and Gian Mercurio of Stalford Seed Farms have had moderate success at growing popular legumes in Linn and Benton Counties in the past few years. Garbanzos, pinto beans and lentils grow well on the valley floor, they report, but the cold weather in 2008 created smaller yields.
But consumer desire for beans will surely motivate more farms to consider legume crops. “We have people calling us to get our product,” says Gian Mercurio, “it’s a farmer’s dream.” If the creamy, plump garbanzo beans I recently sampled are any indicator of the quality of beans that our valley can produce, the phone will start ringing off the hook.
Jennifer Burns Levin writes about local food at culinariaeugenius.wordpress.com, where you can find bean recipes from local cooks and links to the Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project and McCann’s food blog, Our Home Works.