Yesterday was Tuna Thursday. A local fisherman found me through a flyer and asked if I would can his fresh tuna in exchange for a percentage of the catch. Since I had not canned tuna before ( have canned lots of salmon) and really and truly had it on my bucket list I took the bait. The deal was he would supply the fish ready to can and the jars and I would do the canning.
His first lesson was never to go last minute to find 7 cases of wide mouth 1/2 pint canning jars in early September. After stopping at several stores with empty shelves, he ended up at a True Value hardware store and spent $13 per box - ouch! A word of advice to Fishermen, go secure your jars before you go fishing and you will save money.
My first task was to clean the kitchen sinks, counters and equipment with a bleach mixture. I had a new plastic table cloth which I wiped down and put on the kitchen table.
The next task was to wash all the jars. It took two rounds in my dishwasher. I found out I can get three dozen jars in a load. I suppose I could have washed all the jars by hand but I wanted them sterilized too. Since I really don't like washing dishes, I think it was most efficient to use the machine. The fellow wanted mostly 1/2 pint jars which meant more jars to wash than if he had chosen pints. 1/2 pint hold more fish than a typical tuna can from the store. I am sure you have noticed that the amount and quality of canned tuna has changed since we were kids and home canned tuna really makes that evident.
The fish arrived on ice in a huge cooler packaged in plastic bags.
Tuna is cut into what they call loins. The pieces actually look like pork loins and I thought they looked a bit like corned beef because of the fatty area on the belly. The loins were rinsed off to be sure all scales were gone and put on the cutting board. "Tuna Tim" cut the loins into rounds about 2" long for the 1/2 pints and 4" for the pints.
I packed the fish into jars. It is necessary to push the fish down tightly to avoid air pockets and maximize the contents. Depending on how thick the loin was, two chunks could fit side by side and there was room for some of the belly meat on top.
A1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt was added. In my research, I read about various ingredients that could be added for flavor and moistness. Some canners added water to the top of the head space level and others added two teaspoons of good quality olive oil. Since the tuna had a healthy amount of natural fat it did not seem necessary to ad extra oil. The results proved this to be true. Personally I do not like tuna packed in oil (memory of a sailing trip, oil packed tuna and seasickness pops up). Too much oil can interfere with the canning process. I added dill and garlic to some jars. Many things can be added including jalapeno peppers, garlic, sage, rosemary, hot sauce, dill, pre made salad dressings.
To get the oily fish juice off the rims of the jars, paper towels were dipped into white vinegar and the lids were wiped clean. This seemed to work well and the vinegar was a relief from the fishy smell in the kitchen.
We used tow All American pressure cookers and did the processing outdoors. Fried turkey propane cookers work really well and kept the heat at a fairly consistent level to keep the pressure canners at 11 pounds of pressure for 100 minutes. It took less time to bring the pressure down after cooking because we were working outdoors so we could open the canners and unpack them onto the canning table outside. All those cooling racks we have collected over the years came in handy for this project.
Then we repeated the entire process three times and ended up with 48 1/2 pints and 15 pints for the fisherman and some additional pints for us. I actually took one quarter of the fish and canned mine separately. It was a long day and I have to admit the house still smells fishy even though I cleaned with bleach again afterwards but the tuna is beautiful!
Oh I forgot to mention the fisherman also brined and smoked some of the catch for a few hours before canning. That fish turned a beautiful umber color and smelled great. I do not have much experience using a smoker. I do own one (guess where I got it?) and will now get it out and get some practice using it. My neighbor has been giving me salmon and we plan on smoking the next batch he catches.
I have now learned to can tuna and crossed off another item from by bucket list. This is a labor of love and canning your own tuna is very doable. If i were to can for money, I would have to charge between $3 and $4 a jar. If you figure the time it takes to wash jars, pack jars, bring canner up to pressure 20 minutes, pressure can 100 minutes, cool down 25 minutes, cool jars then wash it is time intensive and costly. We were at it about 8 hours yesterday and we had two canners going. Hmmmmm what will be next?