Tonno sott'olio: Tuna preserved under oil

Tuna preserved in olive oil is the pride of the Calabrian pantry. Most Calabrians that live near the Tyrrhenian coast preserve their own. My parents did not, since they lived inland, but were fortunate to be able to buy good tuna. At the end of every summer vacation we would spend in Calabria my son would have me pack as many jars as would fit in my suitcase.

Tuna from Calabria used to be hard to find here in California. It is available now, but unfortunately you do pay a steep price for it. So, after visiting the Callipo processing plant and watching them do the canning, as well as talking to people that canned tuna at home in Calabria, I decided I would start making it myself. It was so good, and so easy to make, that I've made it every year for the past five years.

Tuna canned at home is rich and creamy. I always have it on hand and can put together a quick pasta dish with it, mix it with some cannellini beans with red onions for a salad, toss it in a tomato salad during the summer, top a pizza with it (see page 135 in my book for the recipe) or add it as part of an antipasto platter.

The detailed recipe is in my cookbook on page 288, and the pictures below will clearly show you the steps involved.

I cut the tuna in big chunks, about 2 inches thick, although you can use 1½ inch-thick steaks if you can’t find a big piece of tuna.

Put the pieces in boiling water with salt. For 2 pounds of tuna I add 2/3 cup of kosher salt to 3 quarts of water. Return the water to a boil and turn the heat to low to maintain a simmer.

Cook it for two hours at a low simmer. Check that the internal temperature reads at least 165 degrees F with an instant thermometer.

This is what the tuna looks like after cooking:

Remove the tuna from the water, let it drain and place it in a sealed container. Refrigerate it overnight to firm and dry the meat.

The following day, cut the meat into pieces that will fit into pint jars.

Fill the clean jars with the tuna pieces and top it with olive oil.

Cover the jars with new lids and rings and then cook them in a pressure cooker following the manufacturer’s directions, usually 100 minutes at 10 psi.

The tuna can be eaten after a month but it only gets better with age. In fact the experts at Callipo told me that it is best after 6 months. It usually doesn’t last that long in our home, but we have kept it as long as a year.

Once you taste good  tuna preserved this way you will never eat canned tuna from the supermarket again!