I’m terribly sorry I had to do this through a blog post. This note will be the last memory you’ll ever have of me. I’m done with you because I have found someone else whom I think the world of. I think the only way is for us to go our separate ways. Don’t blame yourself, or your hipster glasses, fisherman’s hat and 2.8oz can.
It’s only fair that I should let you know how it all transpired.
The date was Wednesday, July 18th and it was on that muggy night that I found true tuna enlightenment. As I walked through Rittenhouse Square towards COOK, what I saw from the distance struck me. There it was sitting on that cart with its stunning silver skin and beautiful yellowfin tail, making its way through COOK’s doors. I ran after it, and when I reached COOK, I met Jon Cichon the Executive Chef of Lacroix at the Rittenhouse Hotel.
What I experienced that night was life-changing and unfortunately you no longer make the cut.
Jon Cichon is a regular on the COOK schedule. He has hosted a series of whole beast classes which has included pig, goat, and lamb that sold out quickly. The popularity of his classes is no surprise — Jon is an amazing chef who enjoys incorporating seasonal ingredients with progressive flavor combinations into his contemporary dishes. For his most recent beast, he left dry land and dived in to tackle the chicken of the sea with his whole tuna class.
Guests were asked a two-part icebreaker question that night. What would you name the tuna, and what is your favorite preparation of tuna?
A few of the names suggested were Toro, Tuna, Charlie and Dinner. For preparation most in attendance would enjoy the tuna raw as sashimi with a splash of soy and wasabi or as spicy tuna hand rolls.
Maybe I should have looked into becoming a butcher. I did ace my 7th grade biology dissection project. For me, whole animal butchery classes are exciting because it’s a great way to see where our cuts of meats come from. When you’re looking at the plastic wrapped mystery meats in your supermarket, don’t you just wonder? We don’t have to worry about pink slime here. Hopefully butchery won’t turn into a lost art, and there are others like me who find it interesting. Maybe it’s just my inner Dexter that experiences such pleasure watching this stuff.
The tuna weighed in at approximately 70 pounds and was caught in the Atlantic Ocean about a 5 hour boat ride out to the area known as the Canyons. When tuna is bought wholesale they are graded #1 or #2 for quality. This is done by cutting a notch off of the tuna tail where experts look for color, clarity, fat content and other determining factors.
This beauty was a grade 1 tuna that Jon got from the fine folks of Samuels and Son Seafood. Since most of us can’t get tuna wholesale, I asked Jon what we should look for when buying tuna at the market?
“look for a busy place, where there’s a lot of turnover. That’s the best way to know that you’ll be receiving fresh fish.”
While Jon was cutting into the tuna the question of its gender was asked. We weren’t sure of the gender of this particular tuna but we did reach out to Madison Alpern of Samuels and Son on how to tell the difference.
“There is no way you can tell once they have been gutted. Females have roe while Males have milt. Milt is a sack that holds male reproductive parts. Tunas do go back and forth changing genders as they age.”
Unfortunately the tuna was already gutted so we couldn’t tell. Jokingly Madison added:
“If it’s Jersey Shore tuna the female is probably more colorful and wider thru the midsection. The males will be more muscular, gregarious and feature a spiky outcropping of fins about the head.”
Thankfully for us there wasn’t any techno playing at COOK and we didn’t run into a Situation.
I grabbed a seat in front of the tuna. Actually I ran to a front seat like a kid running to the splash zone at Seaworld. I wanted to be up close and personal.
Jon started breaking down the fish. First cutting off the tail then from the top of the head, cutting down along the spine to one side towards the tail.
If you ever had a bad tasting tuna, chances are you received a section closer to the tail. The reason, Jon explains, is that the meat closer to the tail contain white connective tissue or tendons known as sinew which is not good eats.
On the side of the tuna there is a line between the loin and the belly that you would cut along from front to back to remove the loin section.
Loin section removed.
After removing the loin he began on the belly section.
We only needed to use half the tuna for the night’s dinner for 16 people, (96 plates) and there was still leftover tuna.
The loin and belly. The deep red section on the top cut is the blood line.
Jon begins trimming the loin.
Jon is removing the blood line, this is a part of the fish that is unusable.
Jon holding the blood line.
Sectioning off the trimmed tuna.
Removing the cut from the skin.
Preparing the tuna for tonight’s menu.
Tuna Chunks in a marinade of cherries, soy, coca cola, and sugar for 40 minutes which will be cooked on the grill.
Now that the tuna has been butchered, broken down, trimmed and prepared, time to eat!
Celery, Fresh Wasabi, White Chocolate
The tuna tartare was the meat that Jon scraped along the bones after cutting off the loin.
Foie Gras, White Fig, Grains of Paradise
The Carpaccio is wrapped over a torchon of foie gras, topped with sea sapphire and sea beans. The carpaccio is accompanied by white asparagus and white figs and finished off with frains of paradise, a spice similar to pepper with a hint of citrus that is most commonly used in beer.
Smoked Chicken, Turnip, Eggplants
The Tuna Sashimi was wrapped around a piece of turnip, on a puree of eggplant with snap peas. The smoked chicken is provided by a flavorful consommé that was poured into the dish.
The following pictures show how the belly dish was prepared.
Jon grilling the shishito peppers
COOK’s new overhead view
Preparing the corn espuma
Corn, Cherry, Shishito Pepper
This course was made with the Coca Cola-marinated tuna belly, with uni (sea urchin), grilled Shishito pepper, corn espuma, and a pitted cherry.
The following pictures show how the Collar dish was prepared.
Jon mixing in his hand rolled pasta
Grating in the Gouda
Zucchini, Chanterelle, Truffle
I began this post with an apology to Charlie the Tuna. Now I need to apologize to my mother, because Jon’s interpretation of Tuna Noodle Casserole was the best I’ve ever had. The collar is a fattier and denser part of the tuna that was roasted on the bone. The noodle was hand-rolled by Jon and is combined with zucchini, chanterelle cream, gouda and black truffles.
The following pictures show how the Confit dish was prepared.
The tail meat of the tuna was confit in olive oil
Blending the tuna with capers, garlic, anchovies, oil and a splash of water and sherry vinegar to emulsify
Plating the veal breast which was poached, braised and roasted
Veal Breast, Tomato, Artichoke
This is Jon’s take on an Italian dish Vitello Tonnato (veal with tuna-caper sauce). The veal breast was very tender, which reminded me of braised pork belly. The veal is accompanied by beautiful cherry tomatoes, artichoke, preserved lemons and the tuna-caper sauce.
At this point most of us were tuna’d out, but of course we saved room for dessert.
removing peach semifreddo from the molds
tossing tuna chips in rice flour
plating the shiso ice cream
The tuna chip was made by pounding the loin meat and frying. It was tossed in a mixture of rice flour, salt, Schezuan peppercorns, powdered sugar and paired with a peach semifreddo and shiso ice cream. The dish was finished off with a green tea and yuzu broth.
Was breaking up with Charlie worth it? Yes. It will be hard to look at canned tuna again after having the real deal. I’m very thankful for the wonderful experience of watching Jon cook and breaking down the tuna. The day after the class Lacroix launched their new menu which includes a tasting. Maybe we’ll see a tuna dish or two similar to what we experienced that night. Jon’s very dedicated to his craft, and, like most chefs, is short on sleep. He only gets about 4 hours of it. Which is especially crazy being that Jon will be getting married on September 1st! So congratulations are in order to the happy couple and stop in to Lacroix before he’s off to his honeymoon!
Next up for Jon at COOK: Tues 8/28, 7pm, You Say Tomato. I Say Delicious: A Celebration of the Tomato with Jon Cichon of Lacroix *this class is not vegetarian.
Hurry…one ticket left at time of writing the post!
As we were cleaning up from the class, Jon took a photo with what remained of our tuna. We were all startled to hear a loud screech outside. When we went out to investigate, there was a person crouching down terrified at the sight of the tuna and later commented that they were a vegetarian.
Here are the videos of Jon breaking down the tuna and the rest of the photos from that night