The Food Chain

Thomas Boyce Remembers Chris Cosentino’s Chili and Bones (But Not Much Else)

Photo: Courtesy Incanto

Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, Laurent Gras of Chicago’s L2O shared his obsession with Thomas Boyce’s Smoked Salmon Pizza at Spago in Beverly Hills. What’s stuck in your head, Thomas?

Who: Thomas Boyce, Chef de Cuisine, Spago, Beverly Hills
What: Chili and Bones
Where: Incanto, San Francisco
When: January, 2009

“I really haven’t traveled much out of town recently, but earlier this year, I had dinner in San Francisco at Incanto. I’m not exactly sure what they were, as this was after quite a few drinks, but we ate these amazing crispy chili bones. As best as I can figure it out, I think they put tuna in a frying pan and then toss it with their own mix of chili powder. It was just dynamite. There was a gentle heat to it and it really became almost a meaty dish. Again, I was many drinks in by that point and don’t remember exactly what was in the dish, but it was absolutely incredible. I’d love to know what’s in it.”

Incanto chef-owner Chris Cosentino has the answer:

“Chili and Bones is a dish that basically came out of poverty. Every year in Italy they do an event called the Mattanza. The ritual tuna harvest off the coast of Sardinia in Italy. The actual individuals who hand-spear the fish are called tonarati. These men are never given any meat. The tuna are sold to Japan or they’re used for canning, but these guys are given only bones, guts and gills. They end up with these ‘frames.’ There’s that old saying, ‘close to the bone the sweeter the meat.’

“What I do is cut [the tuna spines] into sections that are manageable, so people can eat them like barbecued ribs. They’re seasoned with salt and pepper and then flavored with classic Sicilian flavorings, which are mint, fresh chili, capers, garlic, and citrus zest (classically it’s orange). Then you’re just searing them with all these aromatics in the pan. The key is the chilis that are used—I’ve seen some people use fresh, but I prefer to use the dried. We use a dried cayenne here at the restaurant. I dry my own cayenne peppers. I get a lot of requests for the dish here at the restaurant, but I don’t get enough tuna spines to sell it as a regular menu item. For one thing, there’s not very much tuna left. And for another thing, it’s a by-product — usually it’s just automatically thrown in a hopper. It’s a specialty thing that we don’t always get, but when we do get it it’s fun.”

Thomas Boyce Remembers Chris Cosentino’s Chili and Bones (But Not Much Else)