Lovers of fresh seafood enjoy living in Mazatlán. We can go down to the boats or visit the pescaderías and be blessed to eat fresh fish nearly every day of the year. The only downside can be that what is available depends, of course, on what was caught that day.
There is a new market in town, however, that ensures that we can always have fresh tuna on hand to use as sashimi, in a tasty ceviche, or to sear as steaks for unexpected company. A month or so ago Greg and I happened into Dolores Market at Rafael Buelna #20 (between Valentino’s and Soriana on the south side of the road) to check it out. There we found flash-frozen-on-the-boat, sashimi-grade tuna at very good prices, tuna pre-cut for ceviche, minced tuna to use for meatballs or paté (or pre-made paté that is delicious), tuna pre-made with veggies on kabobs, pre-formed tuna burgers, canned tuna premixed with seasoning and veggies for an on-the-go lunch, as well as tuna chorizo and ham. I am glad to have Dolores Market so close to our house, as it provides me an easy way to make a healthy and beautiful meal in just a few minutes! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.
Then, out of the blue, a book club friend called to say he’d taken on a new job in charge of Dolores Markets and would love to have us tour the production facility to see what it was all about. It turns out that Dolores Market is part of our local and world-class Pinsa group, owned by Leovi Carranza (PezAzteca, Tamara Trucking, ProNova, Estrella del Mar). Pinsa, founded in 1990, is Mazatlán’s biggest employer with over 4000 team members, and one of the world’s most important tuna plants. Their brands include Mexico’s best-selling tuna brand, Dolores, MazAtún, El Dorado, Portola and Brunswick. They produce over two million cans of tuna per day! The market on Rafael Buelna opened in 2016, though the original store in Parque Bonfil (the commercial fishing port) has served Pinsa employees and the public for five years. There are also Dolores Markets in Monterrey, Guadalajara and Culiacán, with plans for major expansion.
Our beloved Mazatlán is not only home to México’s largest tuna fleet—Pinsa has 26 tuna fishing boats and is certified “Dolphin Safe”—it’s also home to our adopted country’s largest and most state-of-the-art tuna processing and packaging facility—Pinsa Congelados. Greg and I were fortunate to tour this factory and felt very proud to learn that Mazatlecos have built, run and work in such a world-class facility resplendent with certifications: Global STD/SQF System, Socially Responsible Company, ESR, HACCP, GMP, Clean Industry, FDA… They have Ministry of Health certification to export to the European Community, the USA and Canada, and elsewhere worldwide. They wouldn’t let me take photos inside the factory, so the pics below are from the offices, and an official video below shows the production line.
Our economic diversity is part of what makes Mazatlán such a terrific place to live. We all see the fish packing, canning and processing facilities in Parque Bonfil as we drive to and from the airport. Touring, however, was quite an eye-opening experience. I worked for years in the semiconductor and food industries, so am very familiar with cleanliness and sanitation standards. Pinsa takes these to a new level. Greg and I were both instructed to empty our pockets, remove any makeup or hair products, as well as any jewelry—like airport security on steroids. We then put on freshly-washed (at the on-site laundry) white sweatshirts and sweatpants, white rubber boots (also freshly sanitized), a hair net, fabric face mask and a full burka-like hood—with only openings for the eyes. We looked like snowmen or players in some futuristic, sci-fi version of Arabian Nights. Sadly, photo taking was prohibited, so you are spared from seeing the evidence, but the video below will show you the garb, the factory and the process. The warm clothes help workers because the warmest area of the plant is 10 degrees C/50 degrees F.
Upon entering the 17,000 square meter plant we had to clean our already clean boots—lifting our legs up into motorized boot brushes moistened with sanitizer-filled water. A guard checked our entry badges, ensured our pockets were empty, and sent us through a metal detector.
We entered onto a long hallway, with numerous swinging doors leading to rooms on the left and the right. The left side of the hallway is the “natural” side, where tuna fish flash-frozen on the boat are cut up and packaged for sale. The right side is the “mejorado” or “improved” side, where tuna is injected with salt to cure and give it color before being processed and packaged. We stepped into a pool of sanitizer each time we entered or left a new room, and we wore rubber gloves.
On the left side, tuna fish are first sorted by size—60 kg and up, 40-50 kg, 20-30 kg—into large bins in a room kept at -9 degrees C/-4 degrees F. In the second room the heads and tails are cut off the frozen whole fish. Next, they are cut into quarters, removing the spine and entrails and leaving two stomach quarters and two back quarters. Finally, the skin is removed. Workers stand with knives along conveyer belts to remove any remaining blemishes. Quarters go through x-rays to be sure no foreign material is inside the fish; the machine ejects any piece of fish in which metal is detected. Vacuum sealing is automated: stomach quarters are shorter and packed right on the conveyer belts; back quarters are longer and are packed into vacuum-sealed bags on a separate line.
From here the tuna flesh takes different routes. Some is destined to be cut into medallions/steaks. The leftover pieces will be shaped with a knife, packaged as “pieces” and sold at a cheaper price, but still perfect for sashimi or searing. Smaller or irregular pieces are cubed for kabobs, cut up ceviche-size, or minced for burgers and sausage. At each stage the fish pieces are meticulously weighed and inspected. The skin, entrails and odd pieces go to the flour mill, also run by Pinsa, to make pet food.
On the right side, the “improved” tuna rooms, the frozen quarters are injected with the salt solution to cure them and give them a nice rich color. As the quarters travel around conveyer belts the excess saltwater runs off and into a tank for recycling. Next is a room with huge thawing space, where the tuna quarters are left for a couple of days to cure. The plant processes over 66 tons of fish—including 27,000 tuna medallions—on every shift; up to 240 tons per month! The cold storage facilities are huge.
The plant is amazingly clean. Nothing is on the floor, anywhere. We saw many lines in full production, and several on pause while workers ate lunch. All were spotlessly clean. I cannot believe that fish processing can be clean and not smelly!
Locally, Dolores Markets has plans to branch out before Semana Santa to offer fresh food cooked to order in addition to their retail products. So, while listening to banda and side-stepping the crowds, there might not be carne asada on the grill, but fresh tuna steaks courtesy of Dolores Tuna. Qué rico!!!! Their website is full of recipes (in Spanish), so for those of you who love to cook—or just eat good, healthy food—be sure to check it out!