Tuna in Olive Oil From Scratch!


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…

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32 Responses

  1. Excellent post, MM! One quick question: you didn’t have to salt the tuna chunks nor add to the olive oil? Also, do the bottled tuna need refrigeration afterwards? Thank you for your continued generosity!

  2. If I am not mistaken this is the recipe for conserved tuna. The procedure is very similar to that of your recipe. There is a hint given though HINT: The most important thing is controlling the temperature. If the oil gets too hot, the tuna will turn tough. Start the fish in cold oil and cook it over the lowest flame you can manage. If you see more than an occasional bubble, reduce the heat further.

  3. Wonderful post. I’m excited to try this. Will follow Marides’ tip too. :)

  4. I so love this MM!!! I am a canned tuna fan so making it from scratch would be great. Who knew one can do this at home?

  5. i used to make this regularly but haven’t done so for a long time! the best thing about this is that you don’t have the metallic taste that you get from the canned variety. i find that bigger portions tend to be more tender (maybe because there’s less surface exposed). also, the belly is the best and fattiest part.

    MM, try to get the “tombo” (toro) variety…. the tombo belly is super! am sure the vendors know that. just a thought…would brining the tuna for about 20 minutes prior to cooking keep the flesh more tender? i should try this soon.

  6. I am sure it is not just the cachet but I find the imported Italian and Spanish tinned or jarred tuna taste a lot better than the cheap ones I pick up at Cosco which nevertheless are the steadfast staples in my pantry. Attracted once to a new brand by the come-on taunting minimum mercury content, it turned out it had an undertaste that I imagined a pet cat would find appealing so a friend’s pet cat got it. This is what Millet might be alluding to.

    Gee, you can do this when you find yourself in an excursion in General Santos and lodged in a hotel with an accommodating kitchen staff. The tuna extremeties you find in their market are meaty and the cheeks and jowls are miles ahead in freshness and flavor. You eat what you can what you can’t you can. Lamentable not to be able to bring a bit of them back with you when you leave.

  7. Yum! I immediately thought Nicoise salad.

    I have never canned tuna myself but rely on my sport fisherman brother’s regular sharing of fresh and canned albacore tuna that he has caught himself from one of his deep sea-fishing forays off the Pacific coast. Home-canned tuna’s taste is definitely far superior to the tin can variety from the market. I also love this in an omelette with onions and tomatoes.

  8. Sorry Charlie, but “Chicken of the Sea” will never taste the same. Thx for the recipe MM!

  9. How awesome that you made your own. I love tuna in olive oil and have discovered a few uses for it. I was actually planning to make a Nicoise salad this weekend and of course, tuna in olive oil is a must for me.

    Nice post.

  10. this is a timely post, mm. my friend is going ocean fishing on monday for
    yellowfin tuna. he always give us his catch because he doesn’t eat fish.
    he just goes fishing for the thrill of it. we still have some tuna steaks from
    his fishing last month. tuna is great for sushi and now i can experiment
    with your recipe! thanks, mm………

  11. Thanks for the recipe,MM! We love tuna sandwiches, pasta bake with tuna, salad nicoise, and making or prepping our own tuna with evoo and a variety of fresh herbs and spices will certainly make it more special.

  12. MM, thank you so much for posting this! I love canned tuna but my partner hates canned tuna – not the tuna but the preservatives it has. Now i can enjoy it and hopefully my partner too! :)

  13. Looks just so yummy! An occasional splurge for me is to order online from the specialty food stores for tinned Italian or Spanish premium tuna in olive oil. It is delicious, no bearing whatsoever to ‘chicken of the sea’ brand. I love your hearty experiments, MM!!

  14. Thanks for the recipe.. bottled tuna in groceries would already give you several tins of tuna in tomato sauce but i still love the ones in oil… if its this easy to make then why is it priced soo high! hehehe!! you should start expanding your business to also making tuna in oil… am sure it would also be a hit!!

  15. Lydia P., yes please season well with salt and pepper. I left that out of the original post, it has been revised now. Thanks. Hershey, yes, they are fresh bay leaves, from the garden. Marides, yes, keep heat very low indeed. Millet, yes, fatty belly would be much better for this. Footloose, you might be shocked to find out that a lot of tuna under Italian and Spanish labels are actually canned in Mindanao! I know, I was shocked to discover that from a good friend who was given access into the top canning factories and her jaw dropped when the labels of several European tuna brands were on the walls of the factory. So read the cans carefully to ensure you are really getting European tuna, otherwise, some cans will in teeny tiny fine print state the tuna is from The Philippines. :) I find the premium local Century Tuna not normally available to the public to be just excellent. But their grocery brands are not great. Lizzy, some great recipe ideas I have yet to try! Mom-Friday, you are reading my mind, stay tuned for upcoming tuna posts. thelma, wow! fresh yellowfin tuna is a treat, how wonderful for you that your angler friend doesn’t eat fish! linda, with access to good tuna in your local market, this will be a breeze… marilen, read my comments to Apicio above re: tuna provenance… kitchen, don’t you just love the occasional bargain you find at Booksale? kaye, the olive oil adds to the cost! :)

  16. I can hardly sit still to find out what’s behind the fundamental question of the current poll.

  17. Footloose, sorry to disappoint, no burning issues there. :) Mrs. MM simply asked me a question after dinner the other night which had me completely nonplussed… until I stood up and sat back down on the couch… The results of the poll so far are amazing in that there is no clear pattern yet… :) As for your very perceptive comment on the previous post about my probably heading off to distant shores as I tend to leave posts that keep readers amused on their own, we are still in Manila. But will be on summer holiday soon… that will be a separate post to ask readers for suggestions and recommendations about things to see, eat and do where we are headed…

  18. This is I’ve got to try! Lots of tuna here in General Santos, and I’ve been finding ways to cook them. Thanks.

  19. i have a major preference for canned salmon vs canned tuna. Will this recipe work effectively well? :) Although i think Bumble Bee sardines their salmon and not conserved, though not entirely sure on this.

  20. I Love Tuna. . . I would definitely do this when i get back to Phil. as Tuna here in Singapore is waaay too overpriced. . . maybe I could do some variations like I do with Sardines. . .

  21. Wow MM, thanks for that recipe; I have tried to find a recipe for sardines in olive oil, but no luck whatsoever – was just wondering whether one could do it the same way as your tuna…?

  22. globalnomad, I think sardines need to be pressure cooked to soften their bones, so this slow low heat approach may not work. Clarissa, sorry, I am not sure if this would work for salmon, though I suspect it might… For everyone, I wouldn’t keep this in the fridge for more than 1 week. Try and consume it all by then.

  23. cod fish, salmon or boneless bangus should work with the above Method. if you want it to keep longer please sterilize the bottle. Brining the fish will also improve the taste.

  24. hi MM! I’ve been reading your site from time to time and I always find your posts interesting. (even your past posts!) Your recipes inspire me to continue cooking. I like to cook a lot as well and I do when I have free time but I am actually more in to baking.

    May I just ask if there is a possible substitute for olive oil. Olive oil is a bit expensive and I only use it on special occasions. I would love to try your recipe of tuna in oil. I’m sure it tastes great with pasta! Hope you can help me out. thanks a lot! :)

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