Much like the different grades of beef, there’s a visible difference between the cuts of tuna. With beef, you have USDA Select, Choice, Prime (+Certified Black Angus for some), and then wagyu and kobe. Kobe beef, the pinnacle of steak, sells for about $110 a pound at retail. Kobe beef is the best meat on land, while otoro is the best meat of the sea. I love otoro and you should too. But first, let’s understand the different cuts that come from blue fin tuna.
Blue fin primarily has three main “cuts”, rather than “grades”. The first cut is akami. This is the most common cut, and if you’ve ever had sushi with tuna – then you’ve most certainly had akami. Akami is used for the spicy tuna rolls, simple nigiris, sashimis and other rolls. Akami is mostly found on the back of the blue fin tuna and parts outside of the belly.
The next cut after akami is chutoro. This is the medium fatty cut, and in my opinion, is the equivalent of USDA Prime beef. Chutoro has well-uniformed fattiness throughout, with medium level marbling. It is located on the bottom of the belly of the blue fin tuna, towards the belly tip. You’ll often see a rich red color that accompanies chutoro.
There’s something undeniably romantic about otoro sushi. So much love and care is put into the cut and preparation of each piece. The best otoro doesn’t come from just any part of the tuna though, it is widely accepted that the most excellent otoro comes from the lower belly of the blue fin tuna. Otoro is so rich with fat and flavor, the 98.6 degree environment of your mouth is enough to melt this cut of fish into an Umami-inducing trance. It is the most expensive cut of tuna – easily $17+ for a small slice and always listed on a menu as “market price”. No filter, photoshopping or special lighting is needed to see the detail and beauty of otoro sushi.
As a bonus, there’s a highly underrated piece of tuna that people often don’t get a chance to enjoy – and that’s the tuna collar (shown to the right of the otoro nigiri in the photo above). This piece is usually tossed out because the collar area rarely yields a usable piece for serving. Tuna collar is on the chewier side, but is loaded with a lot of flavor and can sometimes be well-marbled like chutoro. You can see some delicious collar next to the otoro nigiri below.
If the photos don’t do enough justice for you, and you’re looking to try a flight of your own, check out
Katana Chicago at 339 N. Dearborn St. Chicago, IL 60654 for the chutoro, otoro and the collar you see above.
The akami pic was taken at Koi Fine Asian Cuisine at 624 Davis St. Evanston, IL 60201. Enjoy.