I love fine imported Italian tuna packed in olive oil and I always use it in my salade nicoise during the summer, when tomatoes and green beans are at their peak. A few years ago, I started making my own approximation of fine canned tuna, with various ingredients added to give the tuna some subtle notes of flavor.
The main ingredients in my slow poached tuna are lemon zest, black peppercorns and bay leaves. In order for the tuna to really develop some flavor, it should be made the day before and allowed to rest in the fridge overnight. The beauty of this preparation is that the salt and oil act as preservative for the otherwise delicate and perishable tuna. Even though you’re not actually canning the tuna, you are preparing it in such a way that it can hold in the fridge for about 4 or 5 days and taste better each day. Therefore, when I make it for dinner, I like to make enough for several lunches as well.
Now that it’s winter and I’m not thinking about salade nicoise, I am making a variation in my poaching medium which will serve as a sauce for the tuna. Tuna is great in tomato sauce–a couple of ounces tossed with tomato sauce and capers and olives is always a great pantry-based pasta sauce.
The sauce in this dish is more a tomato flavored oil than a tomato sauce per se. I start with a straight-sided sauce pan that can comfortably hold the tuna without too much room around it–you’ll need a lot of oil. I add several bay leaves, black peppercorns and strips of lemon zest. I coat the tuna steaks with a generous amount of salt and ground black pepper before placing them in the pot. Add a bunch of chopped tomatoes, some black and green olives then enough extra-virgin olive oil to cover the tuna steaks by about three-quarters and place on the lowest heat, covered. After about 5 minutes, lift cover and make sure it’s barely perkiing. Continue cooking covered for about 8 to 12 minutes, then let sit in the pan, covered, for about 10 minutes. Store the tuna in its poaching liquid and use the poaching liquid as a sauce.
Olive Oil Poached Tuna
Serves 4 with leftovers
2 to 2 1/2 lbs fresh tuna, sliced into steaks about 2″ thick
4 dried bay leaves (if using fresh, use 2–california bay leaves can be strong)
12 black peppercorns
zest of one lemon
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes for this dish)
1/4 cup mixed black and green olives
salt and pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil to cover the steaks by three-quarters
Coat tuna steaks well with salt and black pepper on all sides. Add other ingredients, then cover with oil. Place on lowest heat and cover. Let simmer approximately 8 to 12 minutes, then turn off heat and let rest for another 10 minutes. Transfer to a baking dish, cover and refrigerate in its oil overnight.
To serve, flake the tuna with 2 forks and cover with poaching liquid. Can be gently reheated or served at room temperature.
Roasted Pepper and Anchovy Salad
Alongside my tuna, I’m serving smashed baked potatoes (dressed with the oil from the tuna as well as the following great salad.
Roasted sweet peppers and anchovies are a common antipasto in Italy–they’re a great combination of super-sweet and super-briny that I love. Tonight, I’m chopping them and tossing them with baby spinach, tomatoes, lemon and olive oil. It’s a great light, fresh salad that goes beautifully with fish or steak. In fact, you might also recognize this dish as a chopped salad from a steakhouse menu.
I have a great easy way of roasting the peppers in a hurry–it’s something my mother taught me. Believe it or not, peppers can be julienned, tossed with salt, pepper and oil and roasted uncovered, in the microwave. I’m not a microwave cook by any means but when I need only one pepper roasted, I can do it in 7 to 9 minutes in the microwave–it’s a great technique.
Normally it would take much longer to roast the peppers in the oven. To roast in the oven, you can either broil each side of the pepper until it blisters, then peel it and julienne it. Or, you can julienne the raw pepper and toss with oil and salt and roast in a 425 degree oven for about 40 minutes.
Roasted Pepper and Anchovy Salad
1 sweet pepper (yellow, orange or red)
1-5 oz. container of baby spinach, coarsely chopped in ribbons
1/2 cup of grape tomatoes, cut in half
4 anchovies, chopped finely
juice of half a lemon
2 tbls extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste.
Sliver pepper, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and place on a microwave plate. Microwave on high for 5 minutes, then check for doneness. Continue cooking until it begins to shrivel and softens (length of time depends on the strength of your microwave)–keep checking it every minute or so. Cool.
Place spinach, peppers (with their oil), tomatoes, and anchoveis in mixing bowl. Add salt and pepper–careful with the salt–the anchovies will be salty little bites in themselves. Toss and serve.