Saturday, March 12, 2016

Thon - Tuna. Tuna in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated September 2021 
The Northern Bluefin Tuna.
Photograph courtesy of Mark Doliner
Tuna is a latecomer to both French and Japanese cuisine.

French chefs have been preparing tuna for hundreds of years, though they were mostly a bycatch, and tuna were never part of France's Haute Cuisine. Until the end of the 19th-century, tuna was only on the menu along France's Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts and Paris, where they could be brought up the Seine River by boat. 

The early 20th century saw canned tuna becoming part of certain French dishes, Salade Niçoise being the star. (The earliest recipe I have heard of for Salade Niçoise with tuna was published by the chef and food historian Henri Heyraud in 1921. Escoffier's recipe only used anchovies). The end of commercial whaling in France coupled with the new popularity of tuna in Japanese cuisine in the 1960's changed that. Then French ports caught tuna for the French canning industry, exported whole fish to Japan, and to satisfy the growing market sold this newly popular fish to French restaurants a long way from the sea.


Salade Niçoise
Photograph courtesy of Le Journal des Femmes

Forty years ago, the influence of Japanese and fusion cuisine in France served to popularize tuna. Even in Japan, tuna was not a sushi and sashimi star until about sixty years ago. Now, three members of the tuna family, caught close to France, consistently make themselves part of the best French menus; others may make it to your sandwich or salad after canning.

Other tuna family members, those not usually seen on mainland French menus are listed at the end of this post. Some of those tuna will be on the menus in France's Caribbean and Indian Ocean departments.

The French love Japanese cuisine, and the Japanese love French cuisine. That created a kinship where great recipes could be exchanged and built upon. In consequence, apart from the names used by France's neighbors, I have also included some of the Japanese names that I collected when traveling in Japan. The Japanese and Latin names aid in solving some confusion that can appear with French and English tuna names

Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin:

(Catalan -tonyina ), (Dutch – tonijn), ( German –thune), (Italian – tonno), (Spanish - thon), (Japanese - magura)

The three members of the tuna family on menus in mainland France:

Thon Germon – The Albacore tuna. 

Thonine - The Little Tunny or Little Tuna. 

Thon Rouge  - The Northern Bluefin Tuna.

Thon Germon, Thon Blanc
Albacore Tuna

Thon Germon, Germon, Thon Blanc, Thon à Nageoires Jaune - Albacore is the only tuna permitted to be called white tuna and "Chicken of the Sea in the USA." Fresh Albacore tuna turns nearly white when cooked and has a sweeter taste than most other tuna. In France, Albacore may be offered as a steak grilled or fried or lightly braised with vegetables. The Albacore tuna is found in every one of the world's oceans, and while they are considered a small tuna, many are over 10 kilos (22 lbs).

Thon Germon – Albacore Tuna
Photograph courtesy of Canned Tuna.Com

Albacore tuna on French menus:

Ratatouille Provençale et Son Mi-Cuit de Thon Germon Provence’s famous Ratatouille served with an Albacore steak just singed on the outside.

Steaks de Thon Germon à La Provençale  Albacore steaks prepared in the manner of Provence. Here the tuna will be flavored with thyme and rosemary along with a touch of garlic and served lightly fried with tomatoes and white wine.

Chicken of the Sea, 1961
Photograph courtesy of Jussi

Tartare de Germon aux Piments d'Espelette – Fresh, marinated tuna prepared as a tartar and spiced with the famous red peppers of Espelette from France's Basque country.

Trio de Poisson, Germon Mi Cuit, Dorade et Espadon en Brochette -Three different fish served together. The Albacore tuna is very lightly grilled with gilthead seabream and swordfish, well cooked.


Rare, Grilled, Albacore Tuna.

Niçoise aux Piquillos, Anchois, Thon Germon et Olives Lucque – Salad Nicoise served with Piquillos, Anchovies, Albacore Tuna and Lucque olives. Piquillos are marinated sweet red peppers with a Spanish and Spanish Basque history. This sweet pepper is cooked over charcoal and its skin removed by hand; it is preserved in its own juices and bottled. The Lucque olives are a green member of the prized Nice olive family.

Thon Blanc à la Moutarde
Albacore tuna (Thon Herman) in a Dijon mustard sauce

Thon Germon, Thon Blanc - The Albacore Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin: 

(Catalan – bacora), (Dutch - witte tonijn), (German – weisser thun), (Italy - tonnobianco), (Spanish - atún blanco), (Japanese –binchô, binnaga maguro and shiro maguro), ( Latin - thunnus alalunga).

N.B. Albacore Tuna is not the first choice of Japanese chefs for sushi or sashimi, but they will use it when available. The raw albacore tuna's meat is a translucent pink

Little Tunny 

Thonine, Thonine Commune, Tunina -  Little Tunny, Little Tuna, Atlantic Little Tunny, Bonito. Little Tunny tuna will be on many menus in France; they are caught close to the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts. They are small tuna that rarely reach more than seven or eight kilos (15 -18 lbs).

Little Tunny
Photograph courtesy of Fishing Status

Little Tunny on French menus:

Pavé de Thonine, Aubergines Rôties, Fromage Frais, Copeaux de Jambon Séché, Roquette et Sauce Vierge - A thick cut of Little Tunny served with roast aubergines, (eggplant in the USA), fresh cheese, shavings of dried cured ham, rocket salad greens and Sauce Vierge. As its name suggests, Sauce Vierge includes virgin olive oil (vierge is virgin in French). With the oil will be fresh tomatoes, garlic, lemon juice, basil, red wine vinegar, salt, and black pepper. Sauce Vierge will be served slightly warm but not cooked; heat destroys the distinctive taste that is the particular delight of virgin olive oil

Tartare de Thonine -  tartar made with fresh Little Tunny Tuna.

Tuna Tartar
Photograph courtesy of stu_spivack

Steak Provencal Thonine - A Little Tunny steak prepared in the manner of Provence. Here the tuna steak will be cooked with tomatoes, bell peppers, and a light addition of garlic and other herbs.

Tournedos de Thon Thonine Servi Saignant Sésame, Réduction Balsamique  A thick cut of tuna served with only the outer two millimeters of the fish cooked, the inside will be raw. The two tastes and textures match each other perfectly.  I first tried tuna prepared in this manner, in France, and without doubt, it is one of the best ways to enjoy fresh tuna. Here the steak offered will have been rolled in sesame seeds before cooking and then served with a reduction, a thickened balsamic vinegar sauce.   (The term "saignant" is taken from the usage of a very rare beef steak.

Carpaccio De Thonine, Condiment Framboise
Frédéric Chiron, Le Petit Boucot – Nantes

Thonine – Little Tunny. in languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin:

(Catalan – Bacoreta), (Dutch - dwergtonijn), (Germany - falscher bonito, thonine), (Italian - alletterato), (Spanish – bacoreta), (Japanese - Taiwan yaito, taiseiyou-yaito), ( Latin - euthynnus alletteratus).

Thon Rouge
Northern Bluefin Tuna, Atlantic Bluefin Tun

Thon Rouge, Thon Rouge de l'Atlantique - Northern Bluefin Tuna, Atllantic Bluefin Tina is the largest and fattest tuna in the world. Raw, this tuna is red and nearly as firm as beef; cooked, it is off-white. French fishermen and women catch these fish in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The largest of these tuna ever caught was an absolute monster weighing 684 kilos (1507 lbs)! Unfortunately, extreme overfishing has already brought down their average weight when caught to just over 200 kgs (440lbs).

Northern Bluefin Tuna
Photograph courtesy of Oceana.

  The largest of France's catch of Bluefin Tuna will be frozen and sold to Japan as they pay the highest prices. The Bluefin Tuna is the tuna most valued by the Japanese for sushi and sashimi, called hon maguro. The most expensive cut is hon maguro toro, the fattest part of the fish from the belly. Smaller fish caught when they weigh under 100 kilos will be on the menu in France.

Northen Bluefin Tuna on French Menus:

Salade de Thon Rouge Marine - A salad of marinated bluefin tuna.

Tuna Carpaccio
Photograph courtesy of Paul Pajo

Darne de Thon Rouge à la Provençale - A thick cut of a steak from the Northern Bluefin Tuna cooked in the Provencal manner. That will include red wine, tomatoes, a little garlic, vegetables, and herbs.

Pavé de Thon Rouge en Croûte de Sésame, Réduction de Balsamique à l'Érable A thick cut of the Northern Bluefin Tuna cooked in a sesame covering and served with a sauce of thickened balsamic vinegar and maple syrup.

Thon Rouge Mariné au Citron - Northern Bluefin tuna marinated in lemon juice.

Thon Rouge Fumé, Mariné à l'Huile de Sésame Grillé Smoked Bluefin Tuna marinated in roasted sesame oil. (Roasted sesame oil is used as a condiment for its taste, not as a cooking oil).

Mi-cuit de thon rouge
Photograph courtesy of Marmit

Darne de Thon Rouge Grillée Minute et sa Sauce Hollandaise - A thick cut from the Northern Bluefin Tuna, lightly grilled and served with a Sauce Hollandaise.  (Sauce Hollandaise is one of France's mother sauces, that means it is behind the creation of other sauces and on its own is served with vegetables, fish and steaks)

Thon Rouge - Northern Bluefin Tuna in the language of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin:

(Catalan – golfàs), (Dutch - tonijn), (German – Atlantischer thunfisch, roter thun, thunfisch), (Italian - tonno rosso ), (Spanish - atún, atún rojo, tonyina), (Japanese – kuro maguro), (Latin - thunnus thynnus).

To taste fresh tuna straight from the sea, caught less than 12 hours ago, go to the fishing towns and villages where tuna is the main catch. You will have many opportunities along France's Atlantic coast and more along the Mediterranean coast.

In the southwest of France, along its Atlantic coast, visit St-Jean-de-Luz's lovely coastal fishing port, the most celebrated of all the tuna fishing ports. St-Jean-de-Luz has French, Basque, and Spanish influences on its restaurant's menus, and after lunch, you may relax on the magnificent beaches just one kilometer away.

The port of St-Jean-de-Luz
Photograph courtesy of zenith

St-Jean-de-Luz is in the department of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in the administrative region of Nouvelle Aquitaine. It is just down the road, about ten km (6 miles) from the largest and most influential French Basque city and inland port of Bayonne. St-Jean-de-Luz is also only 19 km (12 miles) from the famous French Atlantic coast resort city of Biarritz.

St-Jean-de-Luz has an English language website:

I was on my way to Bayonne from Bordeaux 205 km (128 miles) when I decided to spend the weekend in St-Jean-de-Luz. St-Jean-de-Luz is crazy about food, and nearly every month, apart from music, dance, surfing, and water skiing competitions, there are fetes celebrating one or another of the locally caught seafood and fish. I spent nearly two days looking at and tasting some of the freshest sea fish, including tuna and seafood. Oysters and mussels were always offered as an introduction to the other specialties on the menu. St-Jean-de-Luz was once a whaling port, but today is the leading tuna fishing port in France. On the second Saturday in July is have their Fêtes du Thon, their tuna fete. On the days around the fete, all the restaurants around the old port and in town will offer special tuna-based menus. 

When you have consumed too much tuna, visit their Jaialai stadium for the incredibly fast Basque ball game of Cesta Punta. You can bet on the outcome of the game, and you may enter the stadium or leave whenever you wish. I spent two hours with a French acquaintance who explained the subtler points of the game while I managed to lose every bet I made. Luckily, I made the smallest bets I could using my instructor's “guaranteed to win” system and so I came out with my losses reaching only 15 Euros.

Cesta Punta, possibly the fastest ball game in the world.
Photograph courtesy of SIGMA PROJECT

The other tuna, rarely seen on French mainland menus


Bonitou, Bonite à Ventre Rayé, Bounicou  - Skipjack, Skipjack tuna. Rarely on menus in France. Its mostly found in tropical and warm-temperate waters. When it is available, its texture makes it a candidate for a Carpaccio or other dishes where it can be served raw or cured and very thinly sliced. If Skipjack is cooked by a French chef, then it will fried or grilled for only a second or two. Skipjack is important for canneries though some will be sold dried, salted, or smoked. In Japanese restaurants, Skipjack is welcomed, both for sushi and for making dashi, that essential Japanese fish stock

Skipjack tuna
Photograph courtesy of the Marine Stewardship Council.

Bonitou - Skipjack tuna in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin.


(Dutch -gestreepte tonijn), (German – bonito, bauchstreifiger bonito), (Italian - tonnetto striato), (Spain – atún de altura), (Japanese – katsuo), (Latin - katsuwonus pelamis).


Melva, Auxide

Bullet Tuna

Melva Bonitou - Bullet Tuna, Frigate Tuna, or Frigate Mackerel. One of this tuna's English names points to the tunas' family relationship with mackerel. The bullet tuna's French name is often confused with France's other bonitou, the Skipjack or Artic bonito. Bullet Tuna is one of the smallest, and most are caught under one kilo (2.2 lbs); when caught in the Mediterranean, most will be headed for canning plants

 Melva or Auxide – Bullet Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors and Japanese and Latin:

(Catalan - mèlvera, la melva ), (German – fregattmakrele), (Italian – tombarello), (Spanish – melva, melvera), (Japanese – kubarai), (Latin - auxis rochei ).

Thon Blanc Faux, Renard,
Thresher, Fox Shark

Thon Blanc Faux, Renard, Requin-Renard – Thresher, Fox Shark, Sea Fox. Despite one of its French names, this is a shark, not a tuna. Nevertheless, it will not be sold cheaply as it makes good steaks and maybe on your menu as a daily special

Thon Blanc Faux, Renard, the Thresher or fox shark in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin.  

Thon Blanc, Requin-Renard Commun – Thresher, Fox Shark:

(Catalan - guilla), (Dutch - voshaai), (German – drescher, fuchshai), (Italian - pesce volpe), (Spanish – guiílla, zortro, chichi espada), (Latin - alopias vulpinus ).

  Albacore Thon à Nageoires Jaunes
The Yellow Fin Tuna, Ahi

Albacore Thon à Nageoires Jaunes, Z'ailes Jaunes (in Martinique), Grand Foue, and Thon Jaunet (in Reunion) – The Yellow Fin Tuna, Ahi (in Hawaii) - This tuna is found in most of the world's oceans, but not usually in the Mediterranean. With its French name being Albacore, it is often confused with the real Albacore, which in French is correctly called the Thon Germon. 

Yellowfin tuna is a big fish that can grow to over 2 meters (6.5') and weigh over 100 kilos (220 lbs). Most of the commercial yellowfin tuna catch is canned, but fresh fish will reach French-Japanese restaurants for sushi and sashimi where it will be called Hamachi. Another Japanese cut is Saku du Thon that I saw on a French-Japanese menu. I was told that Saku Tuna is the best cut of the Yellow Fin Tuna. Nevertheless, I was advised that this name is also used for a cut from the Albacore tuna; just another case of name confusion. Uncooked Yellow Fin Tuna has the darkest skin and a tougher texture than other tuna; consequently, it is primarily seen in cans on the supermarket shelves

Yellowfin Tuna.
Photograph courtesy of nosha

The Yellowfin tuna in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin.

(Catalan - onyina d'aleta groga), (Dutch - geelvintonijn), (German – gelbflossenthun, gelbflossen-thunfisch), (Italian – tonno albacore), (Spanish – atún aleta amarilla), (Japanese – kihada).

Thon à Nageoires Noires
Blackfin Tuna

Thon à Nageoires Noires, Bonite Noire, Thon Noir - Blackfin Tuna. Another small tuna that weighs under ten kgs (22lbs) and is rarely seen on menus in mainland France. Mostly seen in Western Atlantic, off USA coast.


Blackfin Tuna
Photograph courtesy of Reel Revenge.

Thon à Nageoires Noires, Blackfin Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin.

(Catalan - llenguado d'aleta negra ),(Dutch -zwartvintonijn ), (German - schwarzflossen-thun, petit thon), (Spanish - atún des aletas negras), (Japanese - mini maguro), (Latin - thunnus atlanticus)

Thon Aux Grands Yeux
Bigeye Tuna

Thon Aux Grands Yeux, Thon Obèse, Patudo - Bigeye tuna or Bigeye tunny. These are big fish that can reach over 100 kilos and are not seen on mainland French menus. Bigeye tuna is much loved in Japan for sushi as it is a fatty fish.

This tuna is found in the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and Pacific but not in the Meditteranean.


Bigeye Tuna
Photograph courtesy of New Zealand Underwater Life

Thon Aux Grands Yeux - Bigeye Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin:

(Catalan - tonyina d'ulls grossos), (Dutch - grootoogtonijn ), (German – grossaugenthun, grossaugen-Thunfisch), (Italian - tonno obeso), (Spanish – patudo), (Japanese - mebachi), (Latin - thunnus obesus).

Bonite d'Inde

Bonite d'Inde, Thonine Orientale, and Bonite la Côte (in Reunion)  - Kawakawa, Black Skipjack, Eastern Little Tuna, Mackerel Tuna. The Kawakawa is a small tuna that rarely reaches ten kilos. This tuna will not be on the menus in mainland France but will undoubtedly be on the menu in France's Indian Ocean departments; you will be paying your bill in Euros there too. N.B. All France's overseas departments are as much part of France as Paris.


Kawaka, Black Skipjack

The Kawaka Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin:

(Dutch - dwergtonijn ), (German – falscher bonito, gefleckter thunfisch), (Hawaiian - kawa kawa kina'u,), Italian – tonnetto orientale), (Spanish –bacareto, bacoreta oriental), (Japanese - hiragatsuo and obosogatsuo), (Latin - euthynnus affinis ).

Thon Rouge du Sud
The Southern Bluefin Tuna

Thon Rouge du Sud – The Southern Bluefin Tuna. The Southern Bluefin may be prepared like its larger Northern cousin and on the menu in France's overseas departments. This tuna is the favorite of all sushi masters, but it is also in danger from overfishing. The Southern Bluefin Tunais found in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans and can reach up to 2 meters (6.5'), and most weigh over 150 kilos (330 lbs)..

Southern Bluefin Tuna
Photograph courtesy of VRFish.

The Southern Bluefin Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin:

(Catalan - tonyina del sud ), (Dutch - zuidelijke blauwvintonijn), (German - Südlicher Blauflossen-thunfisch), (Italian - tonno del Sud), (Spanish - atún del Sur), (Japanese - bachi maguro, Indo (Goshu) maguro and minami maguro), (Latin - thunnus maccoyii).


Sériole Chicard
Yellowtail, Amberjack

Sériole Chicard, America Grosse (in Reunion) - Yellowtail, Yellowtail Amberjack – The Yellowtail Amberjack is not a tuna though it is often confused with tuna. Nevertheless, it is a great-tasting fish and so will be on the best sushi and sashimi menus.

Yellowtail Amberjack
Photograph courtesy of Seafood Watch

There are several fish called yellowtail, but none are tuna. (The Yellow-Fin tuna is never called yellow-tail). The yellowtail on your menu as sushi is probably the yellowtail amberjack and found in sub-tropical waters. In Japan, when Hamachi is on the menu that fish is a farmed fish called the Japanese Amberjack, (Japanese- buri, Latin - seriola quinqueradiata). The Greater Amberjack (seriola dumerili) is also confused with tuna and the Yellowtail Amberjack.

The Southern Bluefin Tuna in the languages of France's neighbors plus Japanese and Latin:

(German - gelbschwanzmakrele ), (Italian - ricciola), (Spanish - serviola ), (Japanese - inada ), (Latin - seriola lalandi).

My thanks for the help with the names information of the tuna family members in other languages go to the amazing website of Froese, R. and D. Pauly. Editors. 2016. FishBase. World Wide Web electronic publication., version (01/2016). Any mistakes are mine alone.


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Bryan G. Newman

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016, 2017, 2021
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