For an Extraordinary Tuna Melt, Think Outside the Can at Claws Seafood Market

Leave your can opener in the drawer and get down to Claws to treat yourself to succulent melts that have never seen the inside of a processing plant or a can.

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If there’s one thing Frank Palermo of Claws Seafood Market has down, it’s making classic comfort food even more so by following one simple rule: using ingredients as pure and high-quality as possible. Farm-to-table has nothing on sea-to-sandwich this fall with the introduction of $10 soup and sandwich specials at this seafood shack with a cult following, especially now that they’re offering tuna and salmon melts using—get this!—fresh, cut-off-the-bone, steamed-in-house fish.

If you’ve ever enjoyed either from a can, you never will again, because this is what you’ve been missing all your life.

Here’s how conventional commercial processing works (according to StarKist):

  1. Tuna is caught and frozen while aboard the fishing vessel
  2. Once on land, it’s thawed, cleaned, and inspected
  3. The fish gets pre-cooked in wire baskets and cooled. The loins are then cut and sent to a machine—a “chopper” for chunk-style or a filling machine for “solid” packs
  4. Salt, broth, water, or oil is added
  5. The can is vacuum-sealed and cooked again

Well, that’s just too much processing for Palermo, who prefers to monitor every step personally when it comes to making his soon-to-be-famous tuna salad. From picking out the 10- to 20-pound fish to taking it apart himself to steaming the meat right in his cheery shop’s kitchen, he’s made the simple tuna melt an eye-opening experience of what happens when you make the quality of your seafood shine.

Exclusively leaning on responsibly sourced, whole albacore, yellowtail or big-eye premium tuna, that criteria isn’t enough for picky Palermo.

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“I won’t use any fish graded lower than a 2+,” he said with passion. “The canned tuna is generally a 3, 3-, or even a 4, and that’s not good enough for me because there’s a higher risk of the meat carrying histamines, which can trigger allergies. I always look for that telltale rainbow hue that signals the presence of histamines for health reasons. They’re just not good for you and I refuse to serve it.”

Focusing on natural, unadulterated seafood that does a body good is a commitment Palermo is unwilling to compromise on. As many know, Claws Seafood Market is a strictly a soak-free, chemical-free and preservative-free shop. So although tuna salad can be a throwaway item on deli and diner menus, it’s not above scrutiny at his shop.

“I will—and have—turned down fish that shows traces of histamines, or whose color and fat content (for moisture, omega-3s, and flavor) don’t meet my personal specifications,” he said. “I just won’t compromise.”

The list of dealbreakers continued as he shared insider facts, like the practice processing plants make of cryotreatment and reblooming lower-quality fish that show signs of oxidation and histamines, all to extend their shelf life before cooking.

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At Claws, the tuna doesn’t even get the chance to dull—Palermo grades them as soon as they come in, rejects them if they don’t meet his high standards, then cuts the meat right off the bone by hand before steaming it that same day. He adds no salt, no vegetable broth, no oil, nor water, believing that the inherent freshness of the fish makes the product strong enough to stand on its own.

And he’s right.

Good God, is he right, as one bite quickly proved, the fateful day front-end manager Shannon Michelini cheerily suggested I try this new menu item.

Thick-chunked, tender and silky, this was a tuna sandwich like I’d never had before. So fresh that no discernible “fish” smell could be detected, so high-quality that the meat’s snowy color was actually dulled by the ecru of mayonnaise, it was a delight to multiple senses.

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With nothing more than that just that nominal bit of mayo (as little as on their signature lobster roll), a sprinkling of red onion and crisp celery, a dash of pepper, and of course, that addictive Claws Bay Seasoning (“I’m just nuts about it!” Palermo admits of his trademark seasoning, now available in-store), the salad just sings in clear, sweet tones. Pair it with good old-fashioned American cheese and an inverted, garlic butter-griddled bun and it becomes comfort food that makes you realize that sometimes, the present can be even better than remembrances of the past.

When I later raved about it to Palermo, he chuckled with bewildered amusement. “Have you never had fresh tuna before?” He asked me. The answer was yes, I’d had seared tuna, tuna steaks, tuna tartare … but where was I ever to get tuna that wasn’t from a can? Tuna that wasn’t chewy with bruised, brown, or shiny bits, salted down, and swimming in liquid?

That stumped him. Having been a fishmonger most of his life, he’d been providing fish like this to his own family for years and simply forgot that this was not the norm. But happily, this now can be for the people of Long Island, and for less than the cost of a tuna sammie from some delis. Because in his words, “Fresh versus canned?” He laughed. “C’mon.

How to Make Your Own Fresh Tuna

Want to replicate Claws Seafood Market’s methods? Here’s how Frank Palermo makes meat magic out of humble tuna.

  1. Buy a high-grade cut of albacore, yellowtail or big-eye tuna, checking for signs of histamines. Claws sells these raw and untreated, and already pre-checks for the presence of allergens, making this first step easier.
  2. Loin the fish into four pieces for ease of handling.
  3. Trim the bones and skin (if applicable) carefully, then cut the bloodlines.
  4. Set about an inch or so of water to boil, covered. Ready a steamer basket or steamer tray.
  5. Cut the fish pieces into large cubes, and arrange in the steamer.
  6. Once the water boils, lower the steamer into it, making sure the water doesn’t lap too far into it, which can toughen the fish.
  7. Cover tightly and let the steam gently cook it for 15-20 minutes.
  8. Check to see if it’s done. If it’s pink, it needs a few minutes more. The finished product will have blanched to a dove-white and easily chunks off in hearty pieces when pulled with two forks. Do not expect it to flake; it’s not that kind of fish!
  9. Let cool and dress to taste.

Or, in one easy step, stop into Claws Seafood Market and tell ‘em Edible Long Island sent you.

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A native Long Islander, former food editor in New Orleans, and current copywriter in the travel industry, Su-Jit Lin-DeSimone has four great passions in life, and they all feed (!) into each other: food, travel, fitness, and the written word. All she wants to do in life is to simply to see all the sights, taste all the flavors, do all the things ... and tell everyone.