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Tuna isn’t just for sandwiches anymore

Slices of pork tenderloin tonnato are topped with a tuna sauce and slices of lemon.
A sauce made with high-quality canned tuna, lemon zest and capers adds savory elegance to pork tenderloin tonnato.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Once upon a time, not so long ago, San Diego’s tuna fleet ruled the Pacific. It pretty much ruled San Diego, too, earning the city the nickname “Tuna Capital of the World.”

At the fleet’s peak in the early 1970s, San Diego’s harbor was brimming with tuna boats, some sporting helicopters for spotting fish. Major canneries, including Bumble Bee, were based here, and the industry was the city’s third-largest employer, behind only the Navy and aerospace.

It’s a different story now. There are a lot fewer commercial fishing boats in San Diego Harbor and no canneries on our shores.

The fall of the area tuna industry can be traced to several causes: the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act passed by Congress to address the issue of bycatch, or unwanted animals — especially dolphins — entangled in fishing gear; boats and canneries moving abroad because of that and the labor cost and real estate requirements of processing tuna; the shrinkage of the amount of tuna in a can and a decline in the quality of the product, which contributed to a hit on consumer demand.

But with the quality of canned tuna available in America improving, great dishes at home are within reach. It’s even possible to kick up the tuna sandwich to new heights.

Here are some examples:

Tuna, caper and cornichon sandwich on pumpernickel

A tuna, caper and cornichon sandwich on pumpernickel
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Makes two sandwiches

Ingredients:

• 2 cans good-quality oil-packed tuna, drained
• 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
• 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
• 3 cornichons, finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon capers
• 1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
• 1 small shallot, minced
• 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley
• 4 slices pumpernickel bread, toasted

Instructions:

• Add the tuna to a medium bowl and mash lightly with a fork.

• Add the mayonnaise and Dijon and whole-grain mustards to the bowl and stir to combine.

• Add the cornichons, capers, celery, shallot and parsley and continue stirring until the ingredients are evenly distributed.

• Evenly divide the tuna salad on two pieces of the pumpernickel toast. Top with the remaining toast slices and cut in half diagonally.

Tuna-stuffed tomatoes with fresh dill vinaigrette

Tuna-stuffed tomato with fresh dill vinaigrette
A smooth tuna mousse is put in a soft tomato in this tuna-stuffed tomato with fresh dill vinaigrette.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Makes four servings

Ingredients:

For the stuffed tomatoes:
• 4 medium tomatoes
• 2 cans oil-packed tuna, drained
• 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
• 1 tablespoon tomato paste
• 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

For the fresh dill vinaigrette:
• 1 bunch fresh dill, chopped
• 2 shallots, chopped
• ½ cup lemon and red wine vinaigrette

For the garnish:
• Spanish sweet paprika
• ¼ cup amba (pickled mango) sauce
• Finishing salt
• Radish sprouts

Instructions:

• Prepare the tomatoes: Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat and prepare an ice bath. Prepare to skin the tomatoes by making a small X-shaped incision on the bottom end of each tomato. Add the tomatoes (two at a time if necessary) to the pot and blanch for 10 seconds. Remove and plunge into the ice bath to stop the cooking. Do not discard the boiling water because you’ll need it later in this recipe; just turn the heat down and cover to maintain a simmer. When the tomatoes are cooled, peel them by pinching a bit of the skin at the incision point and gently pulling it back and down, peeling it away from the flesh of the tomato. Slice off the tops and remove the seeds and insides. Refresh the ice in the ice bath.

• Make the tuna mousse: Put the tuna, mayonnaise, tomato paste and parsley in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally as needed, then process to a smooth, mousse-like texture, about 2 minutes. Stuff the tomatoes with the mousse, firmly pressing the filling down. Set aside until the vinaigrette is made.

• Make the fresh dill vinaigrette: Bring the water back to a boil and blanch the fresh dill in the water to set the bright, green color, about 10 seconds. Plunge the dill into the ice bath to stop the cooking, then remove and wring dry. Combine the dill, shallots and lemon and red wine vinaigrette in the bowl of a high-speed blender or food processor. Starting on the lowest speed, blend the vinaigrette to combine, gradually increasing the speed until it achieves a tight, pureed sauce texture, about 1 minute.

• To serve the dish, place a stuffed tomato on each plate, cut-side down. Drizzle some of the fresh dill vinaigrette over the top of each tomato. Garnish with sprinkles of paprika, 1 tablespoon of the amba sauce, some crystals of finishing salt and radish sprouts.

Pork tenderloin tonnato

Makes four servings

Ingredients:

For the pork tenderloin:
• 2 small pork tenderloins, about 2 pounds total
• Kosher salt
• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 cup dry white wine
• 1 clove garlic, minced
• 2 bay leaves
• 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
• 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
• 1 small carrot, roughly chopped
• 6 black peppercorns

For the sauce:
• ¼ cup packed parsley leaves
• 2 tablespoons capers
• 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
• 1 tablespoon lemon zest
• 4 canned anchovy fillets, drained
• 4 egg yolks
• 1 can oil-packed tuna, drained
• Kosher salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the garnish:
• 1 lemon thinly sliced
• 12 parsley leaves

Instructions:

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

• Line a roasting pan with aluminum foil. Place the pork tenderloins on the prepared pan, season them with salt and douse them with olive oil, massaging the salt and oil into the tenderloins. Pour wine over the tenderloins and add garlic, bay leaves, onion, celery, carrot and peppercorns.

• Place the pan in the oven and roast for 1 hour. Using an instant-read thermometer, test the pork for doneness. If it is less than 150 degrees, return the pork to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes until it comes to temperature. Set the pan aside to cool. After 15 minutes, transfer to the refrigerator for an hour up to overnight.

• To make the sauce, add the parsley and capers with the vinegar, lemon zest, 4 anchovies, egg yolks, tuna, salt and pepper to the bowl of a food processor and process, starting on low speed and gradually increasing until you achieve a smooth texture. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until the sauce emulsifies.

• Thinly slice the pork tenderloins across the grain and divide among four plates. Top the pork with the sauce and garnish with the lemon slices and parsley. ◆