Cooking local with Francesca – Lovely Tuna


Tuna fish has a delicious mild flavour and a firm flesh suitable for eating raw, preserving or pan-frying. In Vanuatu, we are very lucky to have it readily available in shops and always fresh on our menu.

When I get fresh-caught tuna delivered to my kitchen, I cannot help but wanting to cook ‘everything tuna’ and prepare a ‘tuna feast’. Here are five different ways to serve this delicious fish:

For a ‘must have’ pasta dish, combine and lightly cook small pieces of tuna with garlic, chilli, sliced black olives, basil pesto and olive oil and add to gorgeous heart-shaped pasta. The sweetness and nuttiness of the pesto balances the subtle tuna flavour and the acidity of the olives for a simple yet amazing match.

Tuna flesh is delicate and slightly dry, needing a bit of a flavour boost and moisture when cooking. To achieve this, marinate small tuna fillets (about 3-4cm thick and 6-8cm long) in olive oil, chilli, garlic and parsley and leave in the fridge for an hour. Wrap half of the fillets with prosciutto slices until they just overlap and press the other half hard into a bed of chopped herbs (parsley, dill and chives), nuts, salt and pepper before searing the fillets in hot olive oil until slightly cooked on all sides. Serve whole or slice them and arrange on a serving dish for a great presentation!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor a tasty ‘Italian’ version of raw tuna ‘tartare’, cut the fresh tuna fillets into small cubes and marinate them in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a drop of sesame oil and sesame seeds and serve really cold with fresh watercress leaves.

I love to invent new ways to cook tantalizing tuna skewers such as coating small tuna cubes with olive oil before rolling them in spices like turmeric, paprika, cumin and Portuguese piri piri seasoning. Arrange two cubes seasoned with the same spice on a toothpick with a green olive or caper berry in the middle and pan fry in hot olive oil until nicely browned for a quick and easy masterpiece!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile living in Italy I rarely came across a fresh piece of tuna while on the other hand, tinned tuna is very popular as a fundamental ingredient to salads, pasta sauces and pates. I grew up eating ‘Spaghetti col tonno’, a pasta dish so easy to make yet so yummy. Open a tin of good quality tuna in oil, break the flesh in small pieces with a fork and pour the lot including the oil into a saucepan with a little more oil and a small sliced onion frying until slightly browned. Add a splash of white wine and some chopped ripe tomatoes, season and simmer over very low heat until the sauce is thickened and slightly reduced. Toss your cooked spaghetti through the sauce and serve hot with a nice white like a Chardonnay or aged Riesling.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we have plenty of fresh tuna in Vanuatu, I have been pursuing the old tradition of preserving tuna in olive oil. Arrange a few pieces of fresh tuna in a small saucepan with some rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, whole garlic cloves and a piece of lemon rind. Cover with olive oil and bring to a low simmer for about ten minutes or until the fish has whitened. When cool, transfer to a glass jar, cover with a lid and store in the fridge for up to two weeks. It makes a delicious tuna that you can later use in many ways.

Tuna is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and protein. Most of all, to me it is yet another fabulous food which should be preserved and respected so we can enjoy it for many years to come!

Francesca writes the regular “Cooking Local With Francesca” food column for Island Life magazine. You can also find her at her restaurant, the lovely ‘Francesca’s’ located at Havannah Harbour, Efate.