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Fish 4 Friday: Tonno alla Calabrese

Tuna Steak

Somehow, Italian food’s gotten a bad rap in most American kitchens. I guess I can see where some of that’s come from. After all, who doesn’t like pasta with a red sauce? Or a creamy Alfredo? And lasagna, with lots of cheese and meat sauce. Okay, I’ll even give you pizza, although that’s decidedly not Italian in origin. All tasty.

Tuna Italian StyleSeldom spicy, though, except for maybe the pizza. Also a bit on the heavy side, most times. Filling comfort food.

At least there’s a general impression that Italian cuisine includes lots of fish and seafood. (Anchovies on pizza don’t count; that’s simply disturbing.) And why not? Italy’s surrounded by the Mediterranean, with more coastline than any other country touching that sea. Every region of Italy has seafood specialties, including Calabria, the “toe” that is preparing to launch Sicily over into France somewhere.

Fishing’s important to Italy, as industry and food source. Tuna is popular there. And swordfish. Two solid, meaty denizens of the deep with great flavor. Time to make that flavor even better! Here’s the recipe, originally from the south of Italy:

Dried peperoncini aren’t that easy to find; it’s a specialty that you can order a few places, although I couldn’t find any good houses for them online. (And yes, I realize the other way to spell it is “pepperoncini.” Call me a silly traditionalist.) You can undertake to dry these peppers using a standard vegetable dehydrator. That looks like work, though, and you have to begin with fresh peperoncini, not those tasty, pickled ones. For this dish, don’t try using pickled peppers; that’ll make the sauce too sour even for me, and I love sour pickles. Instead, look for chiles de ├írbol or similar. The taste will be different, and pleasant nonetheless. You can experiment with canned chipotle chiles as well, although be prepared for the dish to take on quite a bit of heat; those beggars are quite spicy!

You can use fresh tomatoes in place of the canned, or use a prepared sauce that has a lot of chunky character. Don’t use simple sauce, that’ll give an insipid texture to the sauce that won’t help the flavor much. You can use swordfish for this dish as well, or even salmon. I think if you use salmon, though, you should be prepared to punch up the zest factor a bit more to balance the extra flavor of the fish meat.

You can experiment with the vinegar and wine as well. Using a dry white wine will probably require a bit more honey or sugar to balance out the palate. Or, you can try some good-quality balsamic vinegar, always a taste treat. Don’t use only balsamic, though, or you might miss out on the bit of sour that is a key part of the dish’s flavor.

However you decide to fix it, I hope you enjoy it and let us know how it comes out…

Enjoy the (Zesty Italian Seafood) Heat!

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