Sunday, November 11, 2012

Tuna confit with preserved lemon

Photo by Steve Shanahan

First published Canberra Times 7 November 2012
Oblivious to the world around me, I’ve been completely absorbed in researching the do’s and don’ts of feeding my insatiable rye sourdough bread starter. It’s taken me many years to finally take up the challenge of bread baking using a wild sourdough starter, and I’m hooked, spelt, rye and wholemeal!

Growing a rye mother, as she’s known, is no easy feat in colder climates. After mother sat in her jar completely inert for days, I decide that she might appreciate some constant warmth. The spare bed with its electric blanket is just the place, with a perfect temperature of 25C on the low setting. With warnings to the rest of the family of mother’s occupation of the bed, she snuggles between the sheets and soon starts to bubble away. Lift off has commenced, which is great but so too has the cost of electricity, and it probably outweighs the price of buying a loaf of bread. But what price do we put on our passions, not to mention a happy mother.

Food neglect sets in and the family are pleading for anything other than bread, and so I am forced to dust the flour off my hands. No doubt you’ve heard of confit duck, pork and even salmon, the concept of confit tuna is no different. It is cooked very slowly to preserve the delicate flavour of the fish.   While it’s difficult to drag my allegiance from duck, and more recently bread, if anything can, the prospect of the velvety succulence of confit tuna just might.

The method is a little time consuming, but simple. So in true confit fashion, prepare at least a few hours in advance for this technique.

The tuna is marinated in preheated olive oil, infused with the aromatics for about two or three hours, then cooked very slowly for a short time in its oil bath. It doesn’t, thank goodness, bear any resemblance to the canned variety. I choose a fresh coriander and basil pesto with a tangy cherry tomato salsa to match the flavours of the tuna, giving it a fresh Spanish influence. If serving as an elegant dinner party entree, you could add cauliflower puree as a base. The muskiness of creamed cauliflower is a great match to the tuna.

As with most confit, there is little oil left in the tuna. Although the deliciously herbaceous oil from the tuna bath will give you some very flavoursome dressing to add to salads and for flavouring pizzas, ideal for mild weather lunches. Keep the flavoured oil in a sealed jar in the refrigerator during summer.

The oil and tuna are brought slowly to a temperature of 60°C, once at temperature it is left for only a few minutes to cook. The tuna is then removed. A thermometer is very useful for this recipe, as the temperature should not rise above 60°C. If the oil temperature rises much above this level, the proteins may ooze from the tuna, covering it with a white film and the tuna will be dry and lose its delicate flavour. You are looking for pink, satiny and elegant tuna meat.

500g good quality tuna, about 1 inch thick steaks
3 cups good-quality olive oil, more if needed to cover the tuna during cooking
1 small white onion, sliced
2 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
6 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorns, coarsely cracked
½ a preserved lemon, discard flesh, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, skinned and sliced
2 tbsp of sea salt
zest of 1 lemon

Tomato Salsa
½ cup cherry tomatoes sliced into quarters
½ red capsicum, sliced thinly
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch sea salt

½ cup of fresh basil leaves
½ cup of fresh coriander leaves
2 anchovies
zest of ¼ lemon
¼ cup of olive oil
¼ cup of salted peanuts
2 large cloves of garlic
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Combine the herbs, seasonings, preserved lemon, onion and salt in a deep saucepan. Heat to 60C and cook for 20 minutes to infuse the flavours of the aromatics into the oil. This will also pasteurise the oil to increase its shelf life. Leave to cool for about thirty minutes, the oil should be warm and slightly salty to taste.

Cut the tuna so it will fit snugly in one layer into a pan or heat proof casserole dish. This will limit the amount of oil you will need. Pour the warmed oil and the aromatics over the tuna, making sure the oil covers the fish.
If the oil doesn’t cover the tuna, add extra. 
Make the tomato salsa and pesto now.