Thursday, January 29, 2015

Chuck Charlie: A Life-Changing Tuna Recipe

Sorry to re-use a headline—c'mon, it was from 2009—but in this case it applies in spades. This recipe for tuna, Oregon albacore, actually, is so good you may never buy the canned stuff again. And I hate to say it, but even the locally processed, line and pole-caught stuff in jars can't hold a candle to its silky moistness.

I'll admit that the beginnings of this one particular piece of fish weren't all that pretty. We always try to buy a whole albacore when it goes on sale at the beginning of the season, but at some point in the past I forgot to write the purchase date on the packages containing the loins. Apparently this particular loin had been buried in the freezer for a year-and-a-half or so, and by the time I pulled it out and thawed it, I saw the damage…freezer burn on most of the surfaces. Figuring I had nothing to lose at this point, I started shaving off the burned bits, thankfully revealing the lovely pink flesh below. Whew!

A whole loin is about two pounds of fish, so after cutting it in four chunks, I rolled it in some herbs, garlic and salt and put it in a dish on the counter to marinate for a couple of hours. Then all it took was transfering the pieces to a saucepan and pouring in a decent-but-inexpensive olive oil to cover.

The next part was critical, though…you want to heat the oil sloooooooooowly. Apparently if the oil is heated too quickly, the surface of the fish seizes and the flesh turns out dry and hard like you often find in canned tuna. But cooked properly, it's terrific on its own as a tapas-style appetizer, or it can be mixed with pasta and grains for a stunning main dish. You could also make it into what will be the most amazing tuna sandwich you've ever had. Use your imagination!

Albacore Tuna Confit

1 tuna loin, trimmed of blood line and skin
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. red chili flakes
1 tsp. dried thyme
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed in a garlic press
Zest of 1/2 lemon
3-4 c. decent quality olive oil

Cut trimmed loin in four pieces. In a shallow pan, mix salt, chili flakes, thyme, garlic and lemon zest. Roll tuna pieces in the spice mixture, making sure to cover all surfaces (this doesn't have to be thick, it's just a rub). Place in dish on counter for at least a couple of hours or covered in the fridge if you're marinating it longer.

Place fish pieces in a saucepan and cover with oil. Put over very low heat and, using an instant-read thermometer, slowly raise the temperature to between 140-150°. Maintain temperature for three to ten minutes, or until the center of the thickest piece is almost cooked through. (You can use a fork or knife for this purpose.) Turn off heat and allow the oil to cool. Remove fish from oil. Strain remaining oil through a fine mesh sieve.

If you're not using all the fish right away, place it in a container that has a tight-fitting lid. Cover the fish with the strained oil and seal. It will keep in the fridge in its oil for a couple of weeks. Any remaining oil can be used for dressings or other purposes—it has a fantastic flavor!

For more information on Oregon albacore, read "Oregon Albacore A to Z."

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