Tuna canning workshop

Putting Up Fish

|| By Ellen Lodine  ||

On August 24, a group gathered at Portland’s Culinary Workshop  to learn the skills of knife, whole tuna and pressure canning. The day before, I washed and sterilized twelve dozen wide mouth half pint Mason jars, lids and rings; and today I carted them into the kitchen space along with pastries from Tula Bakery, and fruit for breakfast treats for our seventeen students.

Kevin Scribner, fish guru and entrepreneur, presented a gigantic cooler filled with fresh whole Pacific, ‘troll-caught’ Albacore tuna from Local Ocean in Newport. Cheryl Brock, Portland’s Slow Food Chair, arrived with treats from Grand Central Bakery. JoAnn, a long-time tuna canner, was guest instructor for our workshop.

Once everyone had coffee and food, we gathered to begin the second event of our “School of Fish” series. Our first event at Kennedy School was an overview of fish: sourcing, sustainably, forage fish and fishing practices led to our work today, and we tackled the precision of fileting and working with pressure canners to produce jars of tuna for the winter months.

Details are important, so our first task was to listen to an overview: the delicate nature of the tuna itself, the process of filling the jars, and the constant monitoring of canners to exactly 10 pounds of pressure for one hour and forty minutes. If you think this is beginning to sound like a complex story problem for a seventh grade math class, you are right!

cleaning tuna jars

Russell wipes the rim of newly filled jars, ensuring a good seal during the canning process.

Melinda (pictured at top) expertly fileted the first tuna, showing us the physical differences of tuna which make it such a fast swimmer. Tuna literally never stop moving. The four loin sections of the fish seemed to ease themselves off the bones when Melinda had the knife—not so much when the rest of us took our turns. The filet was then lined up with ink marks at the top of each cutting board, indicating how much tuna will fit in each jar. The room quieted as everyone concentrated; measuring, adding just a pinch of salt, filling each jar with tuna and placing warm lids and rings on top. Filled jars went into the canners and onto the stove, where a team of students carefully watched the pressure gauges while the rest of us cleaned tables and talked tuna.

The three hours went quickly—the learning curve was steep but not impossible, and the takeaway of six jars of beautiful tuna gave a great sense of accomplishment and a new appreciation for the fish and the whole process of preservation. It definitely met a Slow Food goal of knowing where your food comes from—I think each of us will think more of the sleek, shiny fish on the wooden table than the Bumblebee can on the grocery shelf as we enjoy our bounty.

If you’re interested in more fish events, check out our Seafood & Sake Lunch & Learn on November 9.

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Ellen is a member of the Slow Food Portland steering committee.

Thanks for sharing