Sautéed Fresh Tuna Cubes with Smothered Onion, Tomato, and Chili Pepper

Tocchi di Tonno Saltati con Cipolla, Pomodoro, e Peperoncino

The taste and appearance of this dish are those of a stew. The tuna is cut into cubes and it is served with some of the things that are kindest to it, slowly cooked onion combined with tomato and chili pepper. We know, however, that we cannot subject tuna to the unhurried cooking stews require because its meat stays tender until it just begins to feel the heat, and then starts to turn irreparably tough and dry. The solution is to cook the onion and tomato for as much time as necessary, but separately from the fish. When they are done, the tuna is browned in hot olive oil, a step lasting barely long enough to give its surface some crispness, yet sufficiently brief to keep the interior of the cube juicy. The savory bond that pulls the tuna and the onion and tomatoes together is then fastened by the lively heat of a skillet where they are all tossed rapidly just before serving.


  • 4 cups very, very thinly sliced onions
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
  • pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes or 3 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up with their juice
  • 3 tablespoons chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
  • Chopped hot chili pepper, teaspoon or to taste
  • pounds fresh yellowfin tuna, cut into 1-inch cubes


  1. Put all the sliced onions and half the olive oil in a 10-inch skillet with a pinch of salt and turn on the heat to medium low. Cook, turning the onions over from time to time. At first they will shed juice, then wilt. They are done when they are reduced to one-third their original volume and have become lightly colored. If and when it becomes necessary, add 2 tablespoons of water to keep the onions from drying out and sticking while they cook.
  2. While the onions are cooking, if you are using fresh tomatoes, peel them by dipping them in boiling water for 1 minute, then squeezing off their skin. For this dish, any tomato-peeling technique you find practical is satisfactory; please see Working with Tomatoes. Chop up the tomatoes coarsely, keeping all their juice and seeds.
  3. When the onions are done, add the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley, the chili pepper, and salt. Turn the heat up to medium high and cook, turning over all ingredients with a wooden spoon from time to time, until the sauce acquires density and the fat begins to separate from the sauce, as described in the Note, about 15 or 20 minutes.
  4. Put the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch skillet and turn up the heat to high. When the oil is hot enough to sizzle when slipping in a piece of fish, put in the tuna, turning it to brown it on all sides. The moment the tuna has been browned, pour all the contents of the smaller pan over it, turn the ingredients over with a wooden spoon for about half a minute, taste and correct for salt and chili pepper, and serve at once.