Translated by Lester Somera
Japanese Encyclopedia: Toro, Chūtoro and Maguro
Japanese sushi might have gone global, but the finer points of fish cuts are still a mystery to visitors from abroad. We explain the varieties of cuts from bluefin tuna, or maguro, which are the basic ingredient for sushi.
Written by ニコ
Japan has a multitude of captivating fish dishes, such as sushi and sashimi, among others.
However, as a consequence of the culture of Japanese seafood cuisine becoming more and more global, foreign visitors have run into a problem: how to distinguish between different kinds of fish dishes. For example, it is not unusual for one type of fish to have different names in different dishes, depending on the cut used and the method of cooking.
This article will provide an in-depth explanation about the popular sushi topping maguro, or bluefin tuna.
Learn The Flavors Of Each Part Of The Tuna!
A bluefin tuna is very large, and not a single part from the head to the tail is wasted. The taste, as well as the price and the name of the cut, varies according to the body part. Let’s introduce those cuts here.
The Head: The parts of the head of the tuna are eaten separately: the flesh of the head, the cheek and jaw flesh, and the eyes.
Kabutoyaki, a dish with serious visual impact, is a bluefin tuna head cooked whole. The flesh from the top of the head is called kashira-niku, a rare cut that comprises just 0.5% of the fish.
The taste of the cheek flesh is simple, but its meaty texture is something to enjoy.
Kama or Kama-Toro: Kama refers to the gill flesh, and there are only two pieces that can be cut from each tuna. The particularly fatty section within the kama is called kama-toro; the flesh’s delicate fat content makes it look almost exactly like a section of marbled beef!
Kama is eaten in many different ways, such as barbecues and stews, while kama-toro is made into sashimi and sushi, as well as an ingredient in shabu-shabu.
Otoro: The fattiest part of the tuna is known as ōtoro. The area on the abdomen near the gills is called hara-kami, and the center of the abdomen is called hara-naka; ōtoro is located within the hara-kami and hara-naka. Otoro has a characteristic elegant taste, and has a firm fattiness without being heavy.
Chutoro: The parts of the tuna known collectively as chūtoro can be found on both the back and stomach. To be more specific, the part of the back close to the head is se-kami; the center of the back is called se-naka; and the part closest to the tail is se-shimo.
A section of the hara-naka close to the tail, called hara-shimo, is also chutoro.
While not as rich as otoro, chutoro has a moderate fattiness and a reasonable price, which makes it a very popular cut.
Akami: The center of the tuna’s body is known as akami. This cut has the least fat out of the whole fish, so the price is affordable. If you don’t really like fatty tuna, we recommend that you try akami.
The Tail: The tail of the tuna is rich with characteristic fat, which gives it a concentrated flavor. Like kama, the tail is usually made into steaks, barbecued, or put into a stew.
How Much Can You Expect To Spend On Each Variety?
Generally five varieties of tuna are sold in Japan, each with their own price range: northern bluefin (hon-maguro), southern bluefin (minami-maguro), bigeye (mebachi-maguro), yellowfin (kihada-maguro) and albacore (binnaga-maguro). The prices can also vary depending on other factors, such as whether it was caught in the wild or bred on a fish farm, or if it has been frozen, and so on.
Northern bluefin tuna from the ocean are expensive, and prices fluctuate because the number of fish caught is more affected by climate conditions, compared to the volume of fish raised on fish farms. Prices also change depending on where the tuna were caught.
For example, a hundred-gram cut of northern bluefin tuna from the famous Oma brand, caught in the ocean, can cost up to 2500 yen, while the same cut from a tuna caught overseas can cost up to 1900 yen.
Farmed tuna are cheaper, and a hundred-gram cut of northern bluefin tuna from a fish farm around Japan will cost up to 1200 yen. Ocean-caught, farmed and frozen tuna can be delivered fresh to your door via online shopping, which is quite convenient!
Of course, when you visit a supermarket or department store, you should also check the color and size of tuna for yourself before you buy. Also, prices for sushi at places like conveyor-belt sushi restaurants or the Tsukiji Fish Market are very reasonable! While prices depend on the cut, you can enjoy one plate of tuna for 100 to 200 yen.
While taking your budget and preferences into consideration, challenge yourself by venturing into different places and trying out all sorts of tuna cuts and dishes!
*These prices are a rough estimate.