The Great Expedition

Celebrated restaurateur Margarita Fores has just reeled in a new show for CNN where the focus is on ingredients. We sink our teeth into one of them, the bigeye tuna.

by Marcia Bonifacio, art by Natasha Jacinto

Margarita Fores is casting her net even wider. The 2016 Asia’s Best Female Chef and beloved restaurateur is moving into uncharted territory, as she travels all over the country for her new CNN show Harvest. In 4 episodes, she’ll take on new ingredients—including artisanal salt, as banned by the Asin Law, which requires all salt sold locally to be iodized—as well as the traditions and communities that mark them. We talk to Fores about the big one—the almost comedic, monstrous fish known as the Bigeye Tuna, which even Jiro would have nightmares of.

 

Hometown: General Santos

 

What is it, really? A bloody huge rare tuna. “They average 40 kilos!” Fores exclaims. “We’re aware of the yellow fin tuna, but we have something that’s even rarer. They call it the ‘Bigeye Tuna.’ It has meat that’s fatter and a little bit tastier. If [fishermen] harvest ten tunas, maybe only two will be ‘Bigeye.’ Sometimes even just one.” In recent years, conservationalists have already indicated a decline in the Bigeye catch–

 

How to spot one: The sperm sacs and fish roes of the tuna—which Fores herself has dubbed the foie gras of the sea—that typically make it to Manila markets average 12 to 14 inches long. General Santos’ Bigeye Tuna clocks in at around two feet.

 

Prime Cuts: Fores learned from a local GenSan chef to maximize use of all parts of the fish, including the typically overlooked tuna tendon. “It’s a very small piece that just comes from under the throat,” she explains, massaging her own neck just above the collarbone to indicate its human equivalent. “It’s like eating tripe, but imagine that it’s vegetarian.” Another is prime cut is located closer to the jaw bone, the (local name to follow), which is reminiscent of the Basque kokotxa.

 

How to get it yourself: Unfortunately, the tuna is graded either A or B the second it hits shore. Grade A gets shipped out to Japan or the US almost immediately. Grade B gets processed for canning or usage locally.

 

The Salt Price: Most of the Bigeye Tuna usually find themselves prepared for export to places like Japan, where hard working fisherman get a higher price for their catch. Fores’ adventures around the country come with important insights on the underside of the seemingly glamorous industry. “When they go out and harvest the tuna, they stay away from months on end,” referring to the group of fishermen she met while filming, who had left on December 12 and came back to shore six weeks later. Fores explains that the fisherman stay out at sea for an extended amount of time, coming back only when fuel, rice, food, or ice run out. One, in particular, struck a chord with Fores: “He was telling me when one of his children was born he was not around as well. So it also shows you the reality of the hardships of the fisherman. There needs to be a way to balance it a little bit, so that their efforts are worth it for them a little bit more.”

 

Watch “Harvest with Margarita Fores” on CNN Philippines Free TV CH 9 or via livestreaming on cnnphilippines.com/video.