This tuna will be a revelation for anyone who has spent her entire life eating tuna from a can, as I had when I first tasted it some 20 years ago. Poached gently in olive oil—nearly three cups of it—the tuna remains moist for days. Once done cooking, eat it at room temperature with a salad of white beans, parsley, and lemon, as the Italians do in their classic dish tonno e fagioli. Or, wait for the peak of summer and make a juicy pan bagnat, the superlative Provençal tuna sandwich. Use the crustiest bread you can find, and slather one side with aioli, then layer torn pieces of tuna confit, a sliced hard-boiled egg, ripe tomatoes and cucumbers, basil leaves, capers, and olives. Dip the top piece of bread in the tuna oil, and press the sandwich together. If eating this sandwich sounds like a messy endeavor, imagine making 700 of them for the summer party we threw every year in Berkeley!
- Season the tuna with salt about 20 minutes before you plan to cook it.
- To confit the tuna, place the oil, garlic red pepper, bay leaves, lemon zest, and peppercorns in a Dutch oven or deep, heavy sauté pan. Heat to about 180ºF—the oil should be warm to the touch, but not hot. Cook for about 15 minutes to infuse the oil with the aromatics, and also to pasteurize everything, to allow for a long shelf life.
- Slip the tuna into the warm oil in a single layer. The tuna must be covered by oil, so add more if needed. You can also cook the fish in batches if necessary. Return the oil to about 150ºF, or just until you see the fish emitting a bubble or two every few seconds. The precise temperature of the oil isn’t so important, and it will fluctuate as you turn the flame up and down and add and remove the fish. The important thing is to cook the fish slowly, so err on the low side if needed. After about 9 minutes, remove a piece of tuna from the oil and check for doneness. The fish should be barely medium rare—still quite pink in the center—as heat will continue to carry over. If it’s too rare, return the fish to the oil, and cook for another minute.
- Pull the cooked fish from the oil and allow to cool on a plate in a single layer, then place in a glass container and strain the cooled oil back over the fish. Serve at room temperature or chilled. The fish will keep in the fridge, covered in oil, for about 2 weeks.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat, with illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton, Simon & Schuster © 2017