$0.15 to $2 for several pounds
June through August
Roast in olive oil and butter at 350°F for 25 minutes until cooked through, in order to break down all sinew and connective tissue.
It's not unusual to see tuna collar served in traditional Japanese restaurants. In sushi bars and izakayas all over the country, the rich meat is roasted on the bone and served as pseudo fish ribs or stewed into soups. It is pretty unusual is to see tuna collar amidst the casual-comfort surroundings of Atlanta's top restaurants. But 2012 Atlanta Rising Star Chef Robert Phalen isn't your typical chef, and he's showing off the product at his One Eared Stag.
When Phalen's fish monger initially brought him the cut—taken from the shoulder where the fin is attached—last summer, he didn't quite know what to do with the meat. After a few days, Phalen resorted to using the collar for staff, roasting it in a combination of olive oil, butter, and herbs. As so often happens, in the humble course of nourishing his cooks, Phalen stumbled upon a chef's meaty dream come true. His tuna collar preparation was silky in texture, but not too fatty. "There are all those different pockets," says Phalen. "You get the cheek, the collar, and a little bit of the belly on it, so there [are] all these different areas that all have these different flavors."
It doesn't hurt that the collar is seriously inexpensive—the cut is typically thrown away by stateside mongers, and Phalen is charged pennies for what's basically butcher's waste. But his local Inland Seafood rep knew he was coming to the right place when he brought Phalen the off-cut; One Eared Stag's menu features a variety of lesser-known meats and fish cuts, including a swordfish chop cut from the collar, trotters, and tongue. "In other people's eyes it's waste, but in my eyes it's not," says Phalen. "I think it's important when you are fishing or farming an animal, that you utilize every bit of that animal. Why say 'I'm only going to use this part' and throw the other part away, when you can do so much with it?"
Because tuna isn't broken down for the collar section, Phalen's rep literally pulls the meat from the scrap bin. That means Phalen works with a variety of sizes, from a variety of tuna. "Sometimes the tunas are really small and not worth doing anything with," says Phalen. "Sometimes they are so big we have to split them.
He now serves tuna collar pretty regularly at One Eared Stag, just the way he prepared it originally for his staff. The key is to roast the meat all the way through—this isn't rare tuna by any means. "If you undercook it, the flavors aren't the same," explains Phalen. "It's tough because it has all that sinew in it; you want to cook all that out. But it's still so juicy and creamy."
Topped with Phalen's arugula gremolata, preserved tomatoes, and an herb salad, it's an impressive presentation. And the meat is rich without being too heavy, a great addition to your summer menu. With an extremely low price point—and the extra perk of using fish scraps that would otherwise go to waste—why not put that collar to good use?