Today, 95 percent of the tuna we eat is canned, but you can also find glistening, fresh tuna steaks in the fish department at nearly any supermarket. As recently as the 1960s, few Americans knew about fresh tuna. Except for those adventurous souls who tried sushi, it took chefs leading us to the Mediterranean way of eating before we turned on to this satisfying, meaty fish.

In Europe, long before there were canneries, fisherman in Italy, Spain and Portugal created ways to cook thick slabs of lean, fresh tuna. Some of these dishes were quick and simple, like Marmitako, the Basque stew in which chunks of tuna are simmered with sweet green peppers and diced potatoes. Seasoned with paprika, this hearty dish is ready in 30 minutes, just what a hungry fisherman needs after a long, hard day at sea.

Other dishes, meant to preserve the fish, take longer to prepare. In Portugal, tuna steaks are marinated overnight in olive oil with herbs and garlic, then grilled. Spanish escabeche calls for first cooking the fish, then storing it in a zesty vinegar marinade, where it keeps for days.

While visiting Sicily, I once watched fresh tuna being simmered in olive oil, then canned in jars to store for the winter. Adapting these methods to leaner ways, I season and sear the fish, then simmer it in a broth-based marinade. Stored in this marinade, this make-ahead cooked fish is extraordinary served in a simple salad. It can also be used to give bold flavor to a traditional Salade Nioise.

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Marinated Fresh Tuna Salad

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Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. sweet paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tsp. extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4 lb. fresh tuna, in 1-inch slices
  • 6 cups romaine lettuce, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips
  • 3/4 lb. unpeeled new potatoes
  • Thin wedges of tomato for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Coarsely chop garlic. Add salt. Continue chopping until garlic is minced and moist, 2 to 3 minutes. Place in a small bowl. Mix in cumin, paprika, pepper, and 2 tsp. oil. Mix in vinegar and broth. Set aside.

  2. Rub fish on both sides with remaining oil. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. (If not non-stick, first spray pan lightly with oil.) Sear fish for 1 minute. Turn and sear fish on second side for 1 minute. Transfer tuna to plate.

  3. Pour the marinade into the pan and bring just to a boil. Add fish. Reduce heat to a simmer, so liquid barely bubbles. Cook until fish is no longer red in center, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer fish to a container. Add marinade and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate at least 6 hours (or up to 4 days) before using.

  4. Shortly before serving the salad, cook potatoes in water until tender. Meanwhile, cut fish diagonally into bite-size pieces. Drain and cool potatoes. Divide lettuce among four plates. Cut potatoes into quarters. Arrange one-fourth of the potatoes and fish on each plate. Spoon some marinade over the top of each serving. Add tomato garnish, if using. Serve.

Per serving:
190 calories,
4 g. total fat (less than 1 g. saturated fat),
17 g. carbohydrate,
23 g. protein,
3 g. dietary fiber,
438 mg. sodium.


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