Last week I experienced a red tuna-feast. Or call it a fest, as it entailed a tasting menu of six little dishes, each one a metamorphosis of that old piscine stalwart – tuna. The degustacion took place at Hispania, a firm favourite of mine on the London tapas-bar scene (see my earlier blog), and in this case was courtesy of guest chef Mauro Barreiro backed up by Cadiz Tourism.
There’s something reassuring about Barreiro’s stature, framed above as he introduced his concoctions. And I bet you a sackful of pesetas that you’ll be hearing more about him, as he hails from the same marine outpost as that genius chef Angel Leon (mentioned in this post here): Cadiz, on the western flank of Andalucia. While chef at Malaga’s Skina, aged 27, Barreiro snapped up a Michelin star but since 2011 he’s been back on home turf at Puerto Real, across the bay from Cadiz, in his own restaurant, La Curiosidad de Mauro.
This is where the ethically questionable fun begins as, being right beside the Atlantic, Barreiro has access to the freshest of fish which of course features tuna. Now bluefin tuna (the same as red tuna) has long been a speciality of these parts, famously air-dried at Barbate further down the coast to become mojama (eaten only sliced wafer-thin, so intense is the flavour). Every May, migrating bluefin tuna is caught using the Almadraba method that goes back 3,000 years to the Phoenicians. It’s claimed to be ecologically sound as only the largest and strongest are caught in a complex system of nets, plus the modern addition of cranes – leaving younger ones to thrive.
We’ve heard a lot about overfishing and the demise of bluefin, the largest of tuna, which reaches 4m in length, followed by “smaller” ones, yellowfin and albacore, which still grow up to 2m. Now these big boys certainly know how to swim, up to 150km a day, but the debate is out there on exactly how healthy they are as, en route, these predators accumulate high levels of toxic mercury through their diet. Incidentally, tuna is the most consumed fish in Spain – there’s plenty available in tins and at the markets, as seen below in Malaga.
Red or bluefin tuna (thunnus thynnus) is endangered much thanks to the popularity and spread of the sushi and sashimi habit. And we all know that the Japanese are not know for their ethical attitudes when it pertains to the stomach. Sadly I have to say the same for the Spaniards, the king consumers of seafood and shellfish in Europe, and I myself plead guilty to indulging in a long list of endangered sea-creatures – percebes (goose barnacles), being number one. Red / bluefin tuna is considered endangered in the Mediterranean, and even more seriously so in the Atlantic.
Bearing that in mind, on to the variations that Barreiro conjured up. I have to say one of the best was the red tuna tartar with seaweed guacamole – textural heaven.
Then came house style tuna belly salad, enveloped in gelatine and with a veil of tomato vinaigrette – delicate, beautifully textured and with a whisper of a Japanese sauce.
The most visually dramatic was this matt black plate in which nestled a tuna confit with ajoblanco, mint and grapes – fresh yet complex, with contrasting flavours.
More classic was the smoked tuna morrillo (the much sought after back of the neck) with roasted vegetable sauce. Crowning the savoury dishes came the tuna parpatana with a yellow potato emulsion and marsh samphire – the latter I can eat again and again, in fact it’s time I went to Norfolk where in summer it grows like weeds along the coast.
Then – curiouser and curiouser (yes, his restaurant is called La Curiosidad after all), came a dessert of white chocolate cream and dried salt tuna with passion fruit granizado. Bizarrely it worked, though there was little sense of tuna.
And yay! I didn’t feel full! Hats off to Mauro for such a varied symphony of dishes on one theme – just a shame it has to be bluefin tuna.
For your information, you can indulge in a menu degustacion (3 snacks, 2 tapas, 5 dishes, 2 desserts) for 45€ at La Curiosidad. First though, work out whether your mind (ethics) beats your stomach (gourmet appetite).