Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Prickly Pear Tunas

You may have caught my earlier post about the 12-course tasting menu where I had "Tuna Tempura." The tuna, much to the surprise of my guests, was the fruit of the prickly pear plant - tuna. The crimson flesh looks enough like tuna meat that the two foods share their name.

Getting to the point of eating one is no easy task however. Here's how I do it - the best way I've found to not have a handful of stickers. Let's go for a hike!

I started on the CDT (Continental Divide Trail) just north of town.

Lexi lead the way

She is the ultimate trail dog with me. With Tyler...not so much.

She led me to the motherload of tuna!

It's been an odd year. I haven't seen as many tuna, even though locals say this is the most moisture we've had since 1974. We had nearly 2 months of daily rain during our monsoon season. Its been wonderful for agriculture and temperature control.

Here are the tools of the black market tuna snatcher

A good set of tongs and a plastic basket or bucket is all you need. Don't even mess with the idea of gloves or short grabbers, you'll end up with a handful or stickers that won't come out! Look at my booty:

I grabbed 40 of the biggest, darkest ones I could find. And that's enough of that...we headed back down the trail to the car, back to the store kitchen and got to work.

Here's my processing method - I'm sure your neighbor's grandma will tell you its the wrong way, but I'll tell you what - I didn't get a single sticker in my fingers with this method. Grab your trusted tongs and a good knife.

Next, cut the top and the bottom off, just removing the least amount possible, but enough to allow for your fingers to grab the two ends, or to set the tuna on its end on a cutting board.

Just a quick note that this tuna is a bit under-ripended. Still tasty, but it could have used a few more weeks. The problem is that I'm not the only one looking for good tunas. So are the deer, javalinas and bears. So the early bird gets the tuna, and in this case, that would be me.

Now, you have two options. First would be to hold the tuna in your fingers, and using a peeler (preferably a soft-skin peeler), peel the sides away.

Second (my preferred method), set the tuna on a cutting board. Hold the tuna with your tongs, and use the peeler to remove the skin as far as the peeler will allow. Then remove the remaining skin with a sharp knife.

Wanna see the guts?

What you see above is the nemesis to any tuna lovin' American! Them thar is seeds! Lot's of seeds. Seeds that seem to never go away. This time of year the trails are covered in purple animal poop full of seeds. Also notice that it has an inney. The inney is the top of the tuna. See how meat separates the inney from the seeds? That will become important in a second because that meat is not there at the other end - the bottom.

I then take my knife tip and open the bottom with a hole smaller than a pencil eraser. That's about enough to get the seeds to spew forth upon the land. Coax, plead, suck, shake...do whatever it takes to get them out - every last one of them! It's not easy, and after the first tuna or two, you will be asking if its worth the effort. I normally start with my knife, then go to a stainless steel slurpee straw that I have, then my pinky. The pinky is great because you can use your nail to scrap all around the sides and bottom (really the top) to get every seed. You can't feel the seeds as well with any other tool. Just get them out.

Again realize that this tuna is very young. It will be bitter. But for my purposes (top secret), that's okay.

Finally, after all that effort, here is what you have:

And a view from the bottom:

You can see how thin that last layer is. If you're just going to eat it, then you don't need to be as careful as I was. But I want to fill them with stuff. At this point you can pop it in your mouth.

In my next post I'll talk about preserving and storing. This is important because I want these for late October, but I have them now.

2 comments:

Foodycat said...

How interesting! Prickly pears are a noxious weed in Australia; I've seen the fruit in the shops but I've never tried to prepare (or eat) it.

Gfron1 said...

Really they are more work than they're worth unless you can get the large ones that are the size of a grenade. These little ones just don't give the bang for the buck.