SAO PAULO – A 1,036-lb giant bluefin tuna, caught off Brazil’s Northeast Coast near Recife, caused pandemonium at São Paulo’s central market Tuesday afternoon. As news of the catch spread around the metropolis, owners and chefs from Japanese restaurants and sushi bars descended on the Mercadão, anticipating the arrival of the wondrous fish.
The Scene at the Market
It was already dark, it was drizzling and cold when they began arriving in the late afternoon. Most were unable to disguise their anxiety, for the giant bluefin tuna, the rarest and most coveted in the world, which was on its way.
Never had any of the chefs present – many coming to this market for 30 years and more – seen a fish that size, sturdy, silver, bright, 470 kg and nearly 3-meters (10-feet) long.
Not since the 1970s, they said, had a fish that size been caught in Brazil.
When fishermen do catch giant bluefin tuna, it’s usually in deeper, colder waters (where they accumulate more fat, which serves energy and thermal insulation), and go straight for the biggest fish market in the world, in Tokyo, which has been the scene of multimillion dollar auctions.
The Japanese are tuna fishing fanatics, they use satellite images, reviewing them until exhaustion, observing the migratory patterns of these swift animals that feed on sardines, squid and herring.
They send boats around the oceans, with high technology, which allows them to “hook” the fish at great depths.
Back at the Mercadão, the competition was fierce. All were ready to share that animal’s tender meat, reddish near the muscles and in the belly area, pink and white filaments of fat. In the mouth, unctuous meat would dissolve itself without effort.
After preparation, with the frantic sushi chefs watching, cameras in hand, 380 kg (830 lbs) were
used, sold for $83,000 dollars ($100 a pound) – the price set at the end of the journey.
The Giant Bluefin Tuna
The catch arrived in São Paulo by plane from Recife, in Northeastern Brazil. The fish cared for properly: cooled – not frozen, odorless, firm texture, moist and slippery, with meat well adhered to the spine.
Some leaned over the fish, hooking a piece of meat with their hand to prove it.
The fingers were left shiny with fat, concentrated mainly in the belly area, from the most noble fatty tuna and the region near the head – both of which can have up to ten times more fat than the back muscles.
The Japanese restauranteurs
Restaurants like Aya, Aizomê, Koji, Nagayama, and Sushi Kosushi Lika took the most valuable part of the meat. They will serve it until the inventory is gone at prices that reach $100 for a couple of pieces of sushi.
The almost unanimous choice among sushi chefs is to prepare it in the form of sushi: a
slice of fish on rice, which breaks down fat from meat. Shin Koike, the Aizomê says he had never seen anything like it, not even in Tokyo.
“In the best restaurants in Japan, they serve tuna matured, it is more palatable,” says
“The fish is cut into fillets with skin and wrapped in wax paper, before resting in the
cold. I’ll wait three days to see how the meat is.”
It was like everyone’s reaction: unbridled emotion of having at hand a fish of that size and rarity. “In this life I will not get another one like this – I have absolute certainty,” says Koji Yomizo, the restaurant that bears his name, in Morumbi, told Folha de São Paulo.