World of Mouth: Tunarama!

The column that brings you festivals from around the world; this week how do the people of Port Lincoln celebrate their favorite underwater friend.

Johanna Bailey is a blogger, freelance writer and student at the Hofmann Culinary School in Barcelona, Spain.
Chances are that it has never occurred to you to pick up a giant tuna fish and hurl it as far as you possibly can. Nevertheless, that is exactly what dozens of people will be doing this week in Port Lincoln, South Australia. The infamous “tuna toss” is an integral part of the Tunarama Festival which has been taking place in Port Lincoln for the past 50 years.
From January 21-26, the town will be full of all manner of fun events including theme park rides, races, parades, boat building competitions, roving circus performers, sand sculpting and (somewhat inexplicably), camel rides on the beach. In addition to the tuna toss, there is a one-handed prawn peeling competition (although the official instructions say that participants may use “other parts of their bodies to assist them”), a king fish toss for adolescents and a prawn toss for children. One really does not envy the people whose job it is to clean up the “Tuna Toss Arena” (and yes, it really is called that) after the festivities.
It’s actually unsurprising that Port Lincoln should be the focus of so much fishy festivity considering that it is the home of Australia’s largest commercial fishing fleet with more than 90% of the country’s tuna catch coming from the surrounding waters. Port Lincoln tuna is of the Atlantic Bluefin variety, highly prized by sushi and sashimi lovers around the globe. Unfortunately the seemingly insatiable demand for this delectable tuna species has led to overfishing and now there is serious worry regarding the future of this fish whose population has dropped by more than 80% since 1970.  Perhaps this is one reason that instead of the traditional frozen tuna, competitors in the Tuna Toss are now throwing polyurethane tunas. According to various reports, most of the competitors have no problem with the phony fish, saying that this way, they don’t have to worry about the fish “melting and breaking.”
In 2009, the US backed a plan to completely prohibit international trade of the Atlantic bluefin. The plan didn’t go through but Australian tuna fishers are still facing increasing restrictions on how much they are allowed to catch, with the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna voting to reduce Australia's tuna quota by 24.7 per cent in 2010, and again in 2011. Nevertheless, bluefin tuna continues to sell for increasingly inflated prices and just this month, Hong Kong restaurateur Ricky Cheng, set a world record for the highest price ever paid for a bluefin tuna when he paid US$396,700 for a 754 pound tuna at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market.
At this point you may not be feeling like rushing out to your nearest sushi joint and ordering some bluefin tuna. Luckily, today’s recipe for Tuna Tataki is also excellent when made with other varieties of tuna (such as yellowfin), salmon or even beef. No matter what kind of fish or meat you choose, the preparation is the same and the results are delicious! Tataki is a Japanese dish where the fish or meat is marinated in a vinegar-based preparation and then briefly seared over a hot flame. This cooks the outside while leaving the interior raw.
-1/2 pound very fresh, sushi-grade tuna (bluefin or yelllowfin) OR salmon OR beef (sirloin strip or filet mignon)
-1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
-one minced garlic clove
-1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
-one teaspoon whole black peppercorns
-one small piece of laurel (not the whole leaf)
-one teaspoon soy sauce
-one teaspoon chardonnay vinegar (if you cannot find chardonnay vinegar, substitute with a relatively sweet white, or cider vinegar).
-one teaspoon sugar
-2 tablespoons sesame oil
-Make a marinade by mixing by all the ingredients in a bowl except for the fish/meat.
-Place the fish/meat in the bowl, covering it as much as possible with the marinade. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes (and up to four hours).
-Remove the meat/fish from the marinade and carefully dry it off.
-Sear the fish/meat on each side  in a very hot pan with no oil. Remember that you just want to cook the outside, leaving the inside raw.
-Remove the fish/meat from the pan and cut into thin slices.
-Serve with soy sauce for dipping.
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