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Estevan Tuna is a great find at Nat Bailey Farmer’s Market

At first, it might seem crazy to pay $5 for a can of tuna. Canned tuna is a common, unremarkable product, most often found in casseroles and stinky sandwiches. So why pay $5 for a single can of the stuff?

Consider the Estevan Tuna Co. out of Courtenay on Vancouver Island. In their booth at the Nat Bailey Farmer’s Market, I caught up with Estevan’s Dianne Devereaux. The company itself is named after the boat that she and husband Bruce use to catch the fish which go into their cans. This is a totally traceable source. Not only are the fish caught in British Columbia waters by local fishers, but you actually buy it directly from those same people.

In a world where tuna has been so riddled with controversy, from dolphin welfare to recent questions about the actual contents of certain brands of canned “tuna”, this represents a refreshing change. It is a local product, responsibly caught, and minimally processed. According to Dianne, all of their tuna is troll-caught.

In our conversation, Dianne informs me that the big corporations double-cook their tuna so that they can extract the oil and process it into vitamins. Since Estevan does not do this, their product is more nutritionally-rich.

Now about the price. The product which got my attention was the olive oil-packed Albacore. My wife is European and loves tuna. As it happens, one of her favorite foods is tuna packed in olive oil. Typically, the only decent product you can find here is shipped from Europe. But that means that it has to arrive by boat, gathering a large carbon footprint along the way, and then lands on the shelf at an inflated price and with no indication of its age. Has it been sitting in the can for a month? For a year? Since DaVinci had an Inquest?

Estevan’s price is comparable to the imported products, if not actually a bit cheaper. When you open the can, the Albacore inside is a very dense little puck. However, just looking at it, you can see that it actually looks like a cooked piece of tuna, rather than a processed piece of fish. It is also not packed in very much olive oil, the oil itself diluted by the juices of the fish.

At first, it looks like a small amount of tuna. However, once you fluff it with a fork, it expands to a decent size. With the olive oil packed Albacore, we found that you do not need to drain the juices, but can simply integrate them back into the fish. Overall, this is a different sort of product than the supermarket variety, certainly worth a try. At the price, I would not just throw it into a casserole with a can of mushroom soup and some frozen peas, but I would serve it with a salad or even blend it with some homemade mayo into a nice sandwich.

The verdict on the flavour, from my wife the tuna-lover, is very positive. At first, she was confused and thought that it tasted under-seasoned. But as she ate it, she realized that it was just right, delicate and complex in flavour and texture when compared with the usual commercial variety.

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