Thursday, January 13, 2011

Frozen (!) tuna with peas, and soubise

My grandfather and my uncle were both fish mongers, and consequently, my parents are something of fish fetishists. They have an intimate relationship with the creatures of the sea and a deep and intuitive knowledge of their anatomy.  I can't decide whether watching them dismember a steamed fish at a Chinese restaurant was a lesson in marine zoology or performance art, but it drove away at least one of my brother's girlfriends. They remind me a bit of the aunt in Woody Allen's Radio Days (the first artistic fruit of his decades in psychoanalysis) who used to win prizes by identifying fish on various occasions, and they were and are almost Cantonese in their insistence that the fish that they eat be absolutely fresh.  Consequently, we always looked down on frozen fish and people who would eat it, and I was raised never to consume it.  It would be like buying polyester, or retail.

However, as it turns out, much of what is sold in markets is actually fish that was frozen on the boat when it was relatively fresh, and then defrosted before sale to the public.  And when you think about it, unless the fish is local, and caught on a day-boat, aren't we better off with frozen fish than with creatures that have been slowly decomposing as they make their way back to shore and market?  I realized this intellectually, but could never bring myself to actually buy fish that was frozen.  Trader Joe's and the recession changed that.  (I used to dislike Trader Joe's but I am re-evaluating the whole phenomenon.  But more on that another time.)  In the past few weeks we have tried their frozen cod, ahi tuna, and mahi-mahi, and all have been at least as good as what we have gotten at Fairway's fish counter, and much, much cheaper.  You just have to look for packages where the fish is solidly frozen and the plastic adheres well to the fish, showing that it hadn't defrosted at some point and been refrozen.  I am a convert.  I will still go to the farmer's market for local fish, and to the fish market for whole fish or a treat, but for everyday meals, the frozen stuff is better than acceptable.  Let it defrost, in the packaging, overnight in the refrigerator. 

I recently prepared tuna with peas and tomato sauce with frozen defrosted ahi tuna. My recipe is based on one that appeared in the New York Times back in 1990.  I have made lots of changes over the years, and I recently looked back at the original recipe and decided not to link to it because mine is far better.  The recipe goes well with rice, but having a spouse who is watching her carbs, I decided to make soubise.  Soubise is an old-fashioned French concoction that is part of stodgy dishes like Veal Orloff where rice cooks with lots of sauteed onions, some other seasonings, and sometimes a little liquid like wine or cream.  The rice absorbs the liquid that the onion gives off.  It is very tasty and very easy, and takes time rather than effort, and my version is much lower in calories than Julia Child's.  It is a great accompaniment to this dish, and a nice low carb side dish, if that is in demand in your home.  The amounts for both recipes will serve two generously.  The ingredients can easily be doubled or tripled to serve more.

Tuna with peas and tomatoes

  • 1/2 to 3/4 pound tuna (no skin or bone)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • pinch of hot red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (use they wine you are drinking, otherwise a vermouth;  we used a Verdejo)
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 to 2 cups frozen tiny peas, defrosted under cold running water

  1. Dry the tuna and cut into 1-inch cubes.
  2. Season the flour with salt and pepper on a plate.
  3. Dredge the tuna lightly in the flour mixture.
  4. Heat the vegetable oil on high in a medium nonstick skillet, and add the tuna cubes.  Brown for 1-2 minutes on one side, turn over, then brown for another 1-2 minutes.  Remove tuna to a plate.
  5. Pour the oil out of the skillet and add the olive oil.  Heat it on medium, and then add the shallots.  Add the hot red pepper if you would like.  Saute for 2-3 minutes until soft, and add the wine.  Cook for 3 minutes on high, and add the tomatoes.  Cook on high for about 5 minutes, or until the oil begins to separate indicating that you now have a sauce.
  6. Add the peas season with salt and pepper, and bring the mixture to a simmer.  Add the tuna, cover, and cook on medium for about 3 minutes.  The tuna will be just barely pink in the center.  If you would like it more well done, cook it for another 2 minutes.  Serve at once.

Soubise (this takes about an hour so start it before the tuna)

  • 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 large Spanish onions, chopped (you should have about 4 cups)
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 heaping tablespoon to 1/3 cup white rice, preferably arborio or short grain (but the rice disintegrates, so you can use almost any white rice other than converted, minute rice, or basmati).  I used my lesser amount to show my moral support of the low-carbotarian.
  • 1/2 cup milk (I use SkimPlus, Julia Child uses cream.  You can use whatever you want)
  • 1/2 cup grate Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese

  1. Melt 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of butter in a 2 to 3 quart pot with a cover.  Add the bay leaf and saute a few seconds.
  2. Add the onions, a little salt and pepper, and saute for a few minutes until the onions begin to soften.
  3. Stir in the rice, turn the heat down to low, and cook for about 45 minutes to an hour. Stir every 10 to 15 minutes, maintaining the heat so that the mixture remains at a low simmer.
  4. Add the milk, raise heat to medium high, and cook until it is absorbed.  Don't worry if it curdles a bit.  Cook a few more minutes if necessary until the mixture is a puree the texture of a risotto and the rice is almost entirely dissolved.  
  5. If you want to gild the lily, beat in 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon additional butter over low heat.  Not necessary, but good.
  6. Stir in the grated cheese, check for seasoning, and serve.  This dish can be kept warm if needed, and even reheated in the microwave.

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