Thon à la Provençale

Provençal Tuna Fish

Long before thon, tunny fish or tuna, got into a tin the Sicilians used to preserve fine fillets in small barrels of olive oil which they exported to Nice and other Provençal ports. Today fresh tuna is widely available in the south of France and now and again I have discovered some in London. Fresh tuna tastes far superior to the tinned kind, with a more delicate flavour, and, if not overcooked, a less woolly texture. The flavour of this dish depends on the quality of the bouquet garni, which is easier to obtain in France, where bunches of fresh herbs are often available on market stalls. But it’s more fun when possible to make your own by tying a piece of leek with a few stalks of parsley, some thyme, a bay leaf and a short stalk of celery or leaves of celeriac.

This is a filling dish and, on account of the meatiness of the flesh and the absence of bones, it is popular with children. Incidentally a very similar recipe appears in nineteenth-century books as thon chartreuse and includes a glass of the liqueur; later the recipe appears under the same name but without the distinguishing alcohol.

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Ingredients

  • 450 g(1 lb) fresh tuna, cut across in one slice
  • 2–3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium-sized onions, mild-flavoured and finely chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, flattened but whole
  • bouquet garni
  • 1 wineglass dry white or rosé wine
  • salt, a few peppercorns

Method

Rinse the tuna fish in cold water and dry on kitchen paper. Heat the oil in a pan just large enough to contain the fish and sear the tuna on both sides. Remove and leave on a plate while you prepare the sauce.

Add the onions to the pan and cook, stirring, for 4 minutes until soft but not coloured. Add the tomatoes, garlic, bouquet garni, wine, a little salt and a few peppercorns. Cook over a high heat for 10 – 15 minutes until reduced and thickened.

Draw half of the mixture to one side, place the tuna on a layer of vegetables and spoon over those from the side of the pan. Cover the pan and lower the heat so that the fish cooks gently for 8–10 minutes or until the flesh is just coming free of the centre bone.

Transfer the tuna to a hot serving dish and remove the skin and bone. Discard the bouquet garni and the garlic, and reduce the sauce over high heat. Either spoon the sauce over the fish as it is or press through a sieve first. Sometimes I prefer the contrast in texture by not sieving the sauce but it depends on the rest of the meal to some extent and one’s energy or batterie de cuisine. If you prefer to serve the fish cold, then the smoother sauce is better, as it will set, if chilled, into a light jelly.

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