For several years now, one of the items on my personal kitchen wish list is a pressure canner or canning system. But I can’t really justify the cost of one because the only ingredient that I might make on a fairly regular basis is homemade bottled tuna. Bottling or canning fish and/or meat requires a higher temperature than the simple “bottle submerged in boiling water method” sufficient for jams and pickles. So when I ran across this very simple sounding recipe for a small batch of tuna that could easily be made at home, with a minimum of ingredients or special equipment, I immediately set about to try it… David Pasternack & Ed Levine’s cookbook, “The Young Man & The Sea” retails for more than PHP1,300 at Fully Booked, but in a serendipitous moment in Baguio a couple of weeks ago, I found a pristine copy at a second hand bookshop for just PHP270! This tuna recipe is from that book, and based on the results, the recipe alone was probably worth the discounted price of the cookbook!
It’s rare that I err on having too little food, and I had rationalized myself into doubling the recipe with the “why not just make more while you are at it argument” so we had tuna up the wazoo for days afterwards. So I suggest you stick to the original recipe unless you are feeding a small army with preserved tuna, no matter how good it is. First, acquire a nice fatty piece of tuna belly. I am not sure this piece was actually a belly piece but there wasn’t much choice at the Seaside market in Baclaran that day…
Cut the tuna into large chunks, mine were roughly an inch by an inch or more. Remove the muscles or stringy parts, if any. Also remove the skin. Season with salt and pepper. Next, add some olive oil to a pan that can fit all of your tuna cubes, and add enough olive oil to cover the pieces of fish all over. Pan size matters in that you want to fit all of the tuna in one layer, snugly, and not have to use tons and tons of olive oil. Having said that, extra olive oil is not a problem because there is a tendency to need more oil to submerge your cooked tuna when storing it in a bottle or other container.
The recipe does not tell you to put some oil in the pan first, but do this, so that there is less chance that your tuna will stick to the bottom of your pan. Next, add some flavoring agents… several cloves of garlic, sprigs of fresh thyme, some fresh bay leaves and lemon zest.
Use good ingredients. Fine tuna. Excellent olive oil (I used extra virgin as the oil is not brought up to frying temperatures), fresh herbs and spices. Turn the heat on to low and watch the oil come up to the temperature at which it has the slightest of “gurgles” but is NOT frying the fish. Keep the heat on for another 8-10 minutes or so. Essentially you are poaching the fish in flavored olive oil. Remove the pan from the heat and let the oil and fish cool down to room temperature. This might take a couple of hours depending on where you live and the time of year… right now in Manila it is sweltering and decent room temperature may actually require an airconditioner!
The meat will turn opaque or light tan. And the oil will get a bit cloudy. This is normal.
Transfer the cooled tuna for a covered bowl or bottle and add in all the olive oil used as well. Let this marinate overnight or up to several days. The flavor, according to Pasternack, is best after a day or more marinating. I would have to agree. Although our tuna turned out a little harder than I would have wanted, it possessed a wonderful flavor and if you were a canned tuna expert, you would know this was homemade by tasting and feeling the texture of the flakes. It was such a thrill to make our own tuna at home, and it’s a process I will do again in the future. Just remember not to go overboard and start with maybe 1/2 or 3/4 kilo of fish on your maiden attempt! Coming up in the days ahead, some ideas for the tuna other than a tuna fish sandwich with mayonnaise…