I grew up in a household that never bought oil-packed tuna. In fact, I never understood until I was older and learned about yummy Italian foods why anyone would buy tuna in oil—it actually sounded sorta gross unlike something like sardines, which for some unknown reason made sense.
So I don’t think I’ve ever even bought oil-packed tuna myself. We were “packed in spring water” type of folks. This may well be because my mom always mixed the tuna with Miracle Whip (we were also Miracle Whip people). Lord knows Miracle Whip and oil would have been a nightmare of fat. Of course who knows which is worse for you, having your tuna with mayo or with oil…
Since this post is about confit, let’s just assume that oil is at least a bit better for you, particularly if it’s olive oil. What I can say, is that tuna confit beats mayo hands down anyday!
I first had tuna confit a couple years ago when I took a 13-week cooking course at Kitchen on Fire in Berkeley. One of the classes was centered around using fat to cook, so we fried, we confited (yes, that is now a verb!). One of the things the instructor made to demonstrate how to confit proteins was a tuna confit—it was so good, I’ve wanted to make it ever since.
I’ve known I wanted to confit at least one of the two packets for a long time. But both packets are sort of large—that’s a lot of tuna for one. The other thing that has been holding me back was the oil.
Confit requires a helluva lot of oil. As in, you really need to have one of those industrial sized cans of oil on hand to be able to submerge a large piece of meat.
For the uninitiated, confit is basically a technique where whatever you’re making—vegetables, protein—is submerged in oil or fat and then simmered slowly until done. For proteins, particularly if you make the confit in the oven, this can take a few hours. In other words, this is low and slow at its best.
And although confit sounds really fancy and daunting, it is so frickin’ easy! Especially if you do it in the oven—all you have to do is take your confit victim—animal or vegetable—season, cover with oil and throw in the oven and forget it for a few hours.
I decided last week that the tuna confit would be great for a Nicoise salad, so I finally broke down and confronted the tuna fillet and invested in a few liter tin of olive oil (the rest of that can is going to last me a few months at least – maybe through the end of the year!).
Making this is so simple, that—if you’re one of those people who takes comfort in exactitude and precision in the kitchen—you can let yourself go for once, throw caution to the wind and not follow a recipe! (This is probably another reason why I like confit—it suits my “throw it together” style).
Here’s how it’s done:
Confit of Tuna
Fresh tuna fillet
2-3 cloves of garlic (you may want more if you have a really large fillet)
½-1 whole lemon, sliced
Copious olive oil (grapeseed would also be good)
Preheat oven to 250°F. Season fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Place in baking dish and surround by herbs, lemon and garlic. Pour oil over fish until submerged. Simmer in oven until cooked fish is cooked through—approximately 2 hours or so.
That’s it!! How easy is that?!?
Depending on your oven, you can actually confit anywhere between 250°F and 350°F—you just want to make sure that the oil stays at a simmer, not a hard boil. If you’ve got gentle bubbles that keep rising to the top of your oil, you’re in good shape. If they’re rolling, you’re in trouble—turn down the temp!
When the fish is cooked through, you can transfer it to a glass bowl and flake it with a fork. Now here’s the good part—since you took the time to add all that garlic and lemon as seasoning, you’ve gotta use them with your fish! Crush the soft garlic cloves and lemon (yes, peel and all!) and incorporate them with the flaked fish. Add a little of the oil to keep things moist if you like. If you can capture some of the rosemary and thyme to add to the mixture, even better!
Adding the confited garlic and lemon to your tuna frankly makes it. So, so yummy! So, so better than anything you will ever get out of a can!
What can you do with this freakin’ amazing tuna once you have it? Here are a couple ideas:
Salad Niçoise: Top salad greens with the following: blanched green beans, roasted potatoes, sliced boiled egg, tomatoes, tuna and Niçoise olives. Dress with a combination of olive oil, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt and pepper.
Tuna Melt: Make a tuna salad from the tuna, chopped capers and sliced Spanish olives. Top favorite bread with tuna salad, then slices of parmesan cheese. Broil. (You could also make this with sundried tomatoes, pimentos or roasted red pepper.)
Another idea I’m thinking about is making a tuna burger. I haven’t made it yet, but here’s what I’m thinking of doing. Put tuna in a bowl, add a beaten egg, a little Dijon mustard or mayo, capers, cornichon, salt, pepper, tarragon and enough breadcrumbs to bind mixture. Mix and form into burger patties. Bake at 350°F or pan fry.
The tuna could also be really good in a tuna/tomato pasta sauce, which is another combo I happen to love. You can either keep it simple and use a large can of tomatoes, garlic and sliced mushrooms with the tuna or make it with kalamata olives, capers, garlic and a little crushed red pepper. Serve over spaghetti.
Give the DIY tuna a try – it’s seriously so much better than Starkist or Chicken of the Sea!
All recipes and photos copyright of Foie Gras and Funnel Cakes unless otherwise noted.