We’ve heard about the Japanese Hon Maguro ceremony. But what do you know about Spain’s El Ronqueo de Atún?
A culinary tradition spanning over 3,000 years, the El Ronqueo de Atun is one of Spain’s most revered celebrations. Award-winning chef Nandu Jubany of FOC Group (Singapore) and the Michelin-starred Can Jubany, Spain, took Singapore through its first ever encounter with the ceremony in March. We caught up with him to find more about this millennia-long tradition.
What significance does the El Ronqueo De Atún ceremony have for you?
The El Ronqueo de Atún is a traditional celebration in the south of Spain. It reminds me of the traditional La Matanza (slaughter of the pig) that we have at home. There are whole celebrations revolving around the animal. We do the La Matanza two to three times per year. It involves using pigs from my own farm, feeding them ourselves, slaughtering them on our own. We then prepare sausages and other products, thereby using its every part effectively, in a manner very similar to Japan’s tuna ceremony.
For both festivals, you invite the closest friends and family to enjoy and celebrate dishes that you don’t have on a daily basis.
This is the first time it’s being performed in Singapore. Why did you decide to bring it here?
After a few years of having our restaurants here, we have observed that Singaporeans are very well-travelled and are used to appreciating different cuisines from around the world. They like authentic things.
We wanted to prepare real Spanish cuisine—and not a type of Spanish cuisine adapted to the local market—but with less salt, of course, to fit local palates. Apart from that, it needed to be exactly like we do it in Spain: authentic. And El Ronqueo de Atún is one of the most authentic celebrations from Spain.
What are the main differences between Japan’s Hon Maguro ceremony and the Spanish El Ronqueo De Atún?
The Japanese cut the tuna belly before the loin. We take out the whole loin with the tuna belly together and only when it is out, we separate the tuna belly. While the Japanese style is very similar to ours, theirs is more precise.
How many active practitioners are there today? Would you say that the profession is ‘in extinction’?
There are very few people who do this. Cutting maestros dedicate their lives to this profession; a person does this and only this—nothing else. They are working with a product that is very expensive therefore they can’t damage it. Tuna carving can’t be performed by people who are mediocre. Imagine if they damage a tuna loin or tuna belly; it will be a disaster!
I wouldn’t say the profession is in extinction because there is a demand and necessity for their services. There are some great professionals, but they are few in number.
What is the best time of the year for harvesting tuna?
The best times are in late May and early June. I’m not entirely sure about the exact dates, but there are a few weeks during spring time that are best. Balfego, who specializes in importing tuna, will only fish tunas after they cross the Gibraltar Strait into the Mediterranean Sea (their spawning zone). This is the only time you can fish tuna as part of international tuna conservation laws, so as not to deplete the tuna stocks by excessive fishing.
Which is your favourite part of the tuna, and why? What are the culinary applications of it?
I actually like all parts of tuna! [For our special El Ronqueo de Atún menu], we are going to prepare a part that I like a lot—part of the tuna ‘neck’, which is located next to the head, on top of the loin. It is gelatinous, but not as fatty as tuna belly. We semi-cook it with a Spanish sauce made with veal bones and just a little bit of vinegar so that it doesn’t taste so ‘fatty’. We add some delicious potato gnocchi and pickled onion as well. I think this is one of the dishes that I enjoy most.
We’d like to thank Izabela Skolimowska of FOC Group for translating our interview with chef Jubany.