A tuna cheat sheet for foodies

Newbies to the sublime realms of sushi and sashimi may be surprised to note that while tuna is among the top-grade options out there, there are actually over a half-dozen varieties of tuna, or maguro, eaten in Japanese cuisine. Before you head down to your next omakase, learn the difference between the main varieties, and a bit about the best cuts.

Types of Maguro

Even if you don’t know much about tuna, the arrival of donburi hot spot Kuro Maguro at Tanjong Pagar Centre has probably taught you that its star fish, the bluefin tunaalso known as kuro maguro and hon maguro, is the most prized of them all. It’s the fish you hear of selling for millions at Tsukiji auctions, thanks in part to its unbeatable combination of umami, acidity and amazing texture.

And while wild hon maguro caught around the seas of Japan, Ireland, Canada and the Mediterranean, the majority of bluefin tuna in Singapore comes from Japan.

Far from a supermarket sushi fish, the intensely red hon maguro is served raw, in sashimi form, never cooked, as that would compromise the meat’s natural meaty firmness. Hon maguro tends to be at its best in the cold months, when it packs plenty of that delicious, melt-in-your-mouth fat.

Bigeye tuna or mebachi maguro is also known as ahi, and is the next best thing. Mebachi lives deep in the ocean and therefore has plenty of fat, too, making it a good option for affordable sashimi. It’s relatively abundant in most tropical and temperate seas, so tends to be cheaper—you’ll probably also encounter it in supermarkets. Much of the mebachi maguro in Singapore comes fresh from Indonesia.

Not to be confused with yellowtail—known as Hamachi in Japanese—yellowfin tuna, or kihada maguro (strangely also known as as ahi in Hawaii), is a tropical fish, less fatty than hon maguro or mebachi maguro. While high-quality kihada maguro is good eaten as sashimi, it’s also common to find it seared and served rare.

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Cuts of Maguro

Kuro Maguro

Types of tuna aside, there is a bunch of Japanese terminology for the various cuts of the tuna fish—which you will want to know as you explore the various breeds and fat contents.

The leanest part of the tuna fish—and usually the reddest—is called akami, and refers to the top part of the fish, just under the dorsal fin. Those simple tuna maki rolls with bright red fish in the middle? That’s akami.

Toro refers to the fatty—and more prized—part of the fish. You’ll want to know the two sub-varieties: chutoro is a medium-fatty cut that comes from the belly, is more pink than red and can have a slight marbling akin to beef. Otoro is the primo stuff, from the fattiest part of the belly, which melts on the tongue. It also happens to be packed with nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids. Naturally, not all otoro is the same—otoro from kihada maguro, for example, is not very fatty at all. The real prize is—you guessed it—otoro from hon maguro.

Where to Get it in Singapore

Sushi Mitsuya

Singapore has plenty of excellent, high-end sushi restaurants that will serve the best cuts of seasonal tuna. There are two, however, that specialize in tuna. The aforementioned donburi specialist Kuro Maguro brings its fish straight from the trawler, bypassing the market auction process, ensuring that the fish is fresh and as affordable as possible. Its sister restaurant at Suntec’s Eat at Seven, Maguro Donya, is also supplied by Misaki Megumi Suisan, and flies in fresh sashimi-grade fish daily.

At Anson Road's Kan Sushi, chef Nishina serves a Hokkaido kaisendon, featuring the freshest catch from Japan's most delicious island, everything from scallops to sea urchin to, you guessed it, maguro. And for something even more indulgent, try the chirashi teishoku at Marina Bay Financial Centre's Misaki, a 10-seafood extravaganza atop fluffy koshihikari rice, including shrimp, tobiko, crab claw, maguro and otoro.

For an ultra-luscious and decadent otoro dish, head to Sushi Mitsuya, where chef Ryosuke Harada lightly drapes a slice of fatty maguro belly around a miso-cured egg yolk for double the umami delight.

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