Steaks and chops lend themselves beautifully to cooking for one. One of my favorites is tuna steak, griddled or grilled–served with a side of spinach risotto and a salad it’s a very quick, easy meal. If there is leftover from the tuna steak, it can be used in tuna salad. But sometimes I want to tuna salad when I don’t have leftover tuna steak. What to do then?
I dislike the “average” can to tuna that is fishy, mushy, and buy the “solid white albacore” which is likely packed in water, but still dry since it’s cooked twice in the processing (Cook’s Illustrated, July/August 2011). I love the expensive, olive-oil packed European tuna–but my budget doesn’t permit it so I’m always looking for alternatives.
One of the things that I like about Cook’s Illustrated is the comparison of products readily available in the American supermarket–that is, after all, where I do most of my shopping. Those products are reviewed without knowledge of the manufacturer, and are not supplied by the manufacturer–so I do tend to give them some credence.
In the July/August issue, there is a comparison of major brands of canned tuna and some newcomers on the market. The two newcomer brands were Wild Planet Wild Albacore Tuna and American Tuna Pole Caught Wild Albacore. Both these were single-cooked products and had much less liquid and more tuna. True there were a bit more expensive but not nearly so prohibitive as the European canned products. There are a variety of different products available from both companies (salmon, sardines). In both cases, products are available with no salt added, or with sea salt add–such a simple ingredient list on the tuna: albacore tuna (and maybe sea salt)–nothing else.
Since I like tuna and use it both as a salad ingredient and as a staple in my “emergency” food supply, I wanted to check this out. I went in search of some of both. I found the Wild Planet albacore tuna and tried it in a simple non-mayonnaise tuna salad. I was impressed–I’ll definitely be buying this for my tuna. I have yet to find American Tuna, but given the review in Cook’s Illustrated, I suspect that I’ll like that one too. I found the Wild Planet tuna at Whole Foods. Though Kroger was listed on the retail list, the one closest to me did not have it on the shelf. The American Tuna products are listed as being available at Whole Foods but apparently have not reached out local Whole Foods yet. I’ll be watching.
I’ve tasted (and love) the expensive “gourmet” European tuna, but it’s not in my budget, so these products at a more reasonable price are welcome.
There is another alternative for good tuna which will approach the European canned tuna, though not really for the “emergency” food supply since that needs to be canned. That is to make your own tuna confit.
Confit was originally a way of preserving meats–pork, goose, and duck–by cooking them very gently in their own fat, straining the fat and using it to seal the meat away from air for storage. It produces meats that are markedly different in texture from those cooked in other ways–smooth, velvety are the adjectives that come to mind, at least in reference to duck and chicken.
I’m lucky to live close to a Harris Teeter which has high-grade tuna. Every once in a while they will have it on a managers special, or will have smaller pieces left from cutting the tuna steaks which are sold at a reasonable price as “tuna medallions”. Every time I see those (or steaks) on sale I get some and make my own tuna confit. So for you tuna lovers, here is a master recipe from Fine Cooking 46, pp. 68-69, January 6, 2004. I usually halve the recipe since I’m a solo cook.
3 cups good-quality olive oil (but not best); more if needed to cover the tuna during cooking
1 medium yellow onion, cut in 1/2-inch slices
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. black peppercorns, coarsely cracked
Zest of 1 lemon, pared in strips
3 Tbs. coarse salt
2 lb. top-quality fresh tuna (yellowfin or ahi), cut into 1-inch-thick steaks
- Combine the oil, onion, herbs, peppercorns, lemon zest, and salt in a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven. Heat to between 140° and 150°F, stirring occasionally and cook for 20 minutes to infuse the flavors of the aromatics into the oil and to pasteurize it for a long shelf life. Taste the oil; it should be slightly salty. Leave to cool and infuse for about 30 minutes; the oil will be warm.
- Put the pan back over medium-low heat and slip the tuna into the barely warm oil. (Add as many pieces as will fit in one layer. The tuna must be covered by the oil; add more if needed.) Slowly bring the oil to 150°F again. Turn off the heat, take the pot off the heat, and let the tuna cook slowly in the warm oil. After a minute or two, test for doneness by breaking into the flake of the tuna. The fish should be cooked to medium rare-slightly pink inside and still tender to the touch. If the tuna isn’t quite done, return it to the oil for another minute. Repeat with any remaining pieces of tuna.
- Transfer the tuna to a storage dish (I prefer glass or crockery, but an airtight plastic container will do fine) and let it cool. Let the oil cool separately and then strain the oil over the fish, discarding the aromatics. If the tuna isn’t completely covered in oil, add more fresh olive oil to the storage dish. If not using right away, cover the container tightly and refrigerate. The tuna will keep, covered in oil and refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.
Nutrition information (per ounce of tuna)
- Calories (kcal): 60
- Fat (g): 3
- Fat Calories (kcal) 30
- Saturated Fat (g) 0.5
- Monounsaturated Fat (g) 2
- Polyunsaturated Fat (g) 0.5
- Protein (g) 7
- Carbohydrates (g) 0
- Sodium (mg) 85
- Cholesterol (mg) 15
- Fiber (g) 0
It’s easy to make this with much less than a pound of tuna–I occasionally do it with a single tuna steak in the summer when I’m really eating lots of salads and want to have them be a meal.
I use the confit to make tuna salad–but usually without mayonnaise–this is not dry so it’s not necessary to have the mayo to make it edible. I generally pat it dry and use just a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil with herbs, and some scallions, or cucumbers, or really splurge and do a salad à la niçoise.
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