It’s been two years since I caught a tuna, but my friend Joe fishes for them down in San Diego every year and always comes home with extra, so around this time I often find myself with lots of it. This also happens to be the time when all my various peppers are ripe. Combining the two is a no-brainer: Tuna and red peppers are a common combination in Spain.
The origin of this recipe is from the late Penelope Casas’ Delicioso! The Regional Cooking of Spain, which is my go-to cookbook for Spanish food. Casas found the dish in Spain’s Canary Islands, which are known for their tuna fishing, and for their little potatoes. This recipe combines them.
You don’t think about fish when you eat this dish. The tuna, seared hard and simmered until cooked through, takes on a character similar to long-simmered beef — although this recipe barely takes 30 minutes to make. The sauce is the star, however. It hinges on roasted red peppers and features lots of paprika, garlic and fresh chopped herbs. It is one of my favorite ways to cook tuna, and works really well with all firm, oily fish, from the yellowfin and bigeye down to the little bonito.
Bonito is a term for several related small members of the tuna family, all with very dark meat — it is as burgundy as venison — and is closer in flavor to mackerel than its larger tuna cousins. Bonito are generally unloved in the United States but enjoyed in the Spanish-speaking world. I like them a lot, once you cut out the extremely dark “blood line” that runs down the center of each fillet.
This recipe is easy and fast enough to serve on a weeknight, but if you cut the tuna into nice squares, you can stick a toothpick in each piece and serve them on a tray as a party appetizer. The dish is almost as good at room temperature, which makes things even easier come party time.
Tuna with Red Pepper Sauce, Canary Islands Style
Use any fresh tuna with this recipe, or you could use yellowtail, amberjack, Spanish mackerel or king mackerel. If you are inland, sturgeon, paddlefish or even catfish. Really any firm fish you can cut into squares will work.
Serve this roasted fingerling potatoes and a green salad, or with a Spanish style rice.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
- 2 pounds bonito, tuna, jack or Spanish mackerel
- 7 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 3 whole roasted red peppers, chopped
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
- 6 chopped garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 1 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 3/4 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons white wine or sherry vinegar
- Black pepper
- Slice the bonito or tuna into chunks about 2 inches across. Be sure cut out the “blood line,” the extremely dark band of meat running along the midline of each fillet; it is very, very strong-tasting. Toss the tuna chunks in a large bowl with some salt to coat and set aside.
- Make the sauce by putting everything but the olive oil in a food processor or blender and buzzing it to combine. With the motor running, drizzle in all but about 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
- Get a large saute pan hot and add the remaining olive oil. Heat this for a minute or so, but don’t let it smoke. Pat the tuna chunks dry with paper towels and sear them hard and fast over high heat in the pan. You will want at least two of the four sides of each chunk to get a good sear. Take your time and do not crowd the pan — place each chunk down by hand, otherwise they will all stick in a clump if you dump them in at once. You will know when to turn the fish when you can lift up most of each chunk with tongs. Try not to scrape the bottom of the saute pan with a spatula, as this defeats the purpose of getting a good sear on the fish. It could take a good 3 to 5 minutes to get this sear, depending on how big the chunks are and how hot the pan is.
- When the fish has been nicely seared off, pour in the sauce and toss to coat the fish. Turn the heat down to medium and let this simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt and black pepper to taste and serve hot or at room temperature, with fingerling potatoes, rice or crusty bread.