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Visit the fishing town of Carloforte on Saint Peter's Island, just off the coast of Sardinia in Italy, anytime near the end of May and into June and you'll almost instantly grasp the historical importance fishing has to play on the 19-square-mile island. After all, it was originally founded in 1738, an uninhabited island given to around 30 fishing families by Charles Emmanuel III - a fresh area of ocean for them to fish.
The strong cultural links to fishing on the island remain to this day. You smell it in the air, taste it in the numerous fish restaurants and read it in the faces of many weathered workers. This is because, although tourism remains the biggest revenue driver on the small island, many of it's 6,000 or so inhabitants make their daily living from the ocean.
Carloforte annually hosts the Girotonno culinary competition in which a panel of culinary journalists pass their judgement on dishes of tuna prepared by chefs from all over the world. Argentina, France, Japan, Mauritius, Spain and Italy faced off in the 2013 finals.
FDL were on the panel to witness the Japanese chef Haruo Ichikawa from the IYO restaurant in Milan receive the judges number one spot for his three way take on tuna - To.Ka.Mi. A homage to Tokyo, Cagliari and Milan - the first dish sushi, the second a tuna tartar and the third a perfectly cooked piece of tuna belly with crispy eel placed on top.
Ichikawa was closely followed by Jose Luis Marin and Roberto Pena Medina from the Ramses restaurant in Spain. Their smoky tuna belly was served with a cream of hot peppers, rocket pesto, a dried mushroom flake and black garlic - a juicy square of tuna that won the people's choice award and came second in the judges ranking.
The Spanish dish on the left and on the right Haruo Ichikawa presents his plate to the judges.
While on the island FDL were also lucky enough to attend a special visit to a family of fishermen who have been fishing Tuna in Carloforte for generations. The Grecco family work at the Carloforte Tonnara which was built in 1880 and they allowed us in to sample some of their fish straight from the grill while Guilano Grecco, who nows runs the family business, sat down to give us his expert tips on how to buy the perfect tuna. We've already reported before at FDL about some of the astronomical prices paid for the fish in places like Japan but what exactly is it that the chefs are looking for when they buy their tuna? Guilano offered us his opinion:
"The signs of great quality tuna are many - the principle thing to look for is smell - or more accurately zero smell. You should have very little smell when tuna is very fresh, just a faint smell of the ocean. If you smell lots of strong fishy smell then it means that blood has been left inside the tuna, this is not good."
"The color should be red but not intensive red, not like strawberry. For yellow fin you want a pinkish red for blue fin you're looking for a brownish red. Don't worry when blue fin tuna is brownish red, this is not bad, this is the color it should be. I've been working 20-years with Japanese people and they've been teaching me a lot about how they cook and prepare the fish - the best tuna for sushi is used maybe 7 to 8 days after being frozen."
"Touch must be soft but not too soft - close your thumb and your forefinger and the fatty piece of flesh made at the base between your thumb and finger is the perfect softness to look for."
"The most important way to tell is to ask for the certification, you must ask restaurants and fishmongers to show you these documents to say this is Blue Fin tuna and it's a certain level of quality. This is a great way to ensure you get good tuna but you must remember to ask for it."
"The best is tuna from the west Atlantic because the water is the best temperature for tuna to maintain fat. Fat makes the meat very tender when it's cooked."
"For sushi and to cook rare I prefer the fillet, Japanese people prefer more fat, so if it's prepared well the belly meat because it's fat can be very good for sushi."