As you can see this fish steak is cut vertically from a largish sized fish and it is the perfect size to stud the four different sections with different flavours. On this occasion I used fennel, cloves, garlic and mint. I vary the flavours and I may use rosemary, a bit of cinnamon stick or lemon peel.
I was pleased and surprised to find that the Trevally had been cut into steaks because it is usually only available whole or as fillets. It is pleasing to see that there is a growing awareness that fish, like meat, can be partitioned into different cuts that lend themselves to different styles of cooking. Silver Trevally is also called White Trevally and has a firm, dense texture when cooked. It benefits from a little liquid to deglaze it after it has been seared and can taste dry if it is overcooked.
I used a combination of white wine and Sicilian Marsala Fine – semisecco (semi dry). At other times I have used just white wine or fresh orange juice (with a little grated peel) or dry vermouth. I like to use dry vermouth particularly when I use tarragon – this is not a Southern Italian or Sicilian herb but it is used in the North and known as dragoncello -little dragon. Sage (salvia) is also good to use, but once again it is not widely used in Sicilian cooking.
Silver Trevally is fished in estuaries and coastal waters of southern Australian states and most of the Australian commercial catch is taken in NSW and eastern Victoria.
Other fish I have studded with flavours has been wild caught Barramundi shoulders
and Albacore tuna.
Not much detail is needed in this recipe – the photos tell the story.
Use a thin, sharp knife with a long blade and make slits into four sections of the slice of fish.
Insert into each split half a clove of garlic and three other different flavours. Select from: fennel, cloves, mint, sage, rosemary, a bit of cinnamon stick or lemon peel. .
Heat some extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan that can accommodate the fish in one layer.
Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper. Sauté the fish, turn once (until it colours).
Add Marsala and white wine (about 1/2 cup) and evaporate the liquid leaving the fish in the pan.
Above – One Fish, One Chef, presentation by Josh Niland, and part of Melbourne Good Food Month. Josh butchered a large fish, head to tail – that is correct, almost every part of the fish, innards as well are edible. (Mr Niland, Fish Butchery)
A bit of fish butchery at a fish market in Sicily where butchery has been going on for centuries.
Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and therefore in Australia we also tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but still excellent for cooking (lightly or cooked for longer). As in Australia, Blue fin tuna is the preferred tuna in Sicily; if it is sustainable depends on how and where it is caught – it should be wild caught and aquaculture is not an option.
Unfortunately I rarely find albacore tuna where I live in Melbourne and if I do, I always grab it when I can and cook it as I would cook blue fin tuna.
I like tuna seared and left rare centrally but my Sicilian relatives eat tuna very well done and this is also how it is presented in the traditional home-style restaurants in Sicily.
In Sicily there are numerous ways tuna but Tonno alla stemperata is one of the favourites in the south eastern part of Sicily. It was first cooked for me by one of my cousins, Rosetta, who lives in Ragusa. She and her husband have a holiday house on the beach at Marina di Ragusa, and she usually buys most of her fish from the fishermen on the beach.
Although Rosetta prefers to use tuna in this recipe, any firm-fleshed fish, thickly sliced, is suitable. She prefers to cut the tuna into large cubes – this allows greater penetration of the flavours in the sauce and of course, it will cook to a greater degree and more quickly.
Rosetta cooked the fish in the morning and we ate it for lunch, at room temperature…in Australia you may find this unusual but eating it at room temperature and some time after it has been cooked allows the flavours time to develop.
A version of this recipe is also in my first book: Sicilian Seafood Cooking.
I have used Albacore tuna,trevally,mackerel or flathead (better choice category) successfully in this recipe.
tuna or firm-fleshed fish, 4 slices
sliced white onions, 2
capers, ½ cup, salted variety, soaked and washed
white wine vinegar, about 2 tablespoons or for a milder taste use 1 tablespoon of white wine and one of vinegar
extra virgin olive oil, about 2 tablespoons
salt, black pepper or red chilli flakes (as preferred by the relatives in Ragusa),
celery heart, 2 or 3 of the pale green stalks and young leaves, chopped finely
green olives, ½ cup, pitted, chopped
bay leaves, 4
Soften the onion and celery in about half of the extra virgin oil, and cook until the onion is golden, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add the fish, olives, capers, seasoning and bay leaves and sear the fish. The pieces of fish only need to be turned once.
Add the vinegar and allow the vinegar to evaporate and flavour the dish.
Remove the fish from the pan if you think that it will overcook and continue to evaporate.
Optional: Decorate (and flavour) with mint just before serving.
You can tell I am in South Australia by some of the photos of the fabulous varieties of fish I am able to purchase in Adelaide when I visit.
In Australia we have different types of tuna: Albacore, Bigeye, Southern Bluefin and Yellowfin tunas. Bonito and mackerel as well as tuna are part of the same family (Scombridae).
Albacore tuna is sustainable, cheap in price and much under-rated in Australia. It is not sashimi grade so the Asian export market does not want it and I think that this is the reason why in Australia we tend to undervalue it. It is denser in texture but excellent for braising (lightly or cooked for longer). Generally it is sold as a wheel but I have also been able to buy it as a fillet – perfect for baking and braising in one piece.
When I see Albacore tuna I grab it. It is caught in winter on the coast of Southern New South Wales but unfortunately not many fish vendors stock it.
This is Mike holding one of the Albacore tuna at his stall in the Queen Victoria Market. He looks very noble in this photo.
In this recipe the tuna is lightly braised and has slivers of garlic and mint studded throughout the pieces of fish. The rest of the ingredients and cooking style are Sicilian through and through.
I prefer to use a large round piece of Albacore tuna for this dish, which can be separated into 4 portions.
The following recipe is for 4 people
INGREDIENTS and PROCESS
fish, 4 pieces
onion, 1 chopped thinly
garlic, 2 cloves, cut into halves (or thinner)
fresh mint, 4+ leaves (or sage leaves in winter because mint is not doing well)
green olives, 8 -10
extra virgin olive oil, ¼ cup
salt and chilli flakes to taste
red wine vinegar, 1 splash – about 1 tablespoon
sugar, ¾ tsp
orange, 4 slices , these are optional and a modern take on this recipe. If you are going to add them sauté them before you add the sugar and vinegar
Cut the 4 portions of tuna from the round piece. Discard the skin around the outside.
Use a thin, sharp knife with a long blade and make 2-3 deep, regularly spaced slits into each hunk of fish (I made 3-4 slits in the biggest pieces of fish).
Insert into each split half a clove of garlic and in another a mint leaf.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a pan large enough to accommodate the fish in one layer.
Sauté the fish, turn once (until it colours), remove and set aside.
Sauté the onion in the same pan until it becomes golden and soft.
Add the anchovies and stir them around over moderate heat – they will dissolve.
Add olives and the seasoning. Add the orange slices (optional). Add the sugar, watch it melt (still over medium heat) then add the vinegar and evaporate it.
Return the tuna to the pan it and cook gently until it is cooked to your liking – this will depend on the size of your fish and how you prefer to eat it. For my tastes I return the tuna to the sauce mainly to reheat it as I do enjoy my tuna fairly underdone (this is in comparison to how Italians generally eat tuna).
The sustainable albacore tuna (better choice category in the Marine Conservation Seafood Guide).
As you might expect many Sicilian fish recipes are for the aristocrats of Sicilian fish – the blue-fin tuna and swordfish – but these species have been overfished and are no longer sustainable, not just in Sicily, but worldwide.
A century ago in Sicily, during tuna fishing season, it was easy to catch thousands of tuna, each weighing approximately 300 kilograms, but their numbers have fallen drastically.
Unfortunately, the situation with swordfish (pesce spada) is much the same as with blue-fin tuna. Once it would not have been unusual for fishers to haul into their fishing boats, swordfish measuring more than five metres long. Now, especially in the Mediterranean, stocks have rapidly reduced due to overfishing.
For all the Sicilian recipes intended for tuna and swordfish I use the sustainable albacore tuna. My vendor stocks it when he can get it, but not all fishers are interested in catching it because it does not fetch high prices – it is not in demand as an export to Japan (where tuna is preferred eaten raw and red) and therefore it is the cheaper alternative. I have sometimes seen albacore tuna for sale at only one other stall at the Queen Victoria Melbourne Market – it has never looked appealing; it has been cut roughly and with high proportion of red flesh. When I am able to purchase it from my vendor (Happy Tuna Seafood), he has either cut it into quality thick steaks, or as a larger fillet left whole, or in a vertical slice from the centre of the tuna (see photo).
This cut is called a rota (in Sicilian). In Italian the word is ruota – a round or a wheel. I have stuffed the slices of tuna with garlic and rosemary. The rota is cooked in one piece and is separated into portions when it is ready to serve. I have found the slices of tuna I purchase in Australia to be smaller than those I remember in my childhood and will only feed 2–4 people. I remember my grandmother Maria in Catania cooking a very large rota of tuna during one of our visits to Sicily. It must have weighed about 2 kilos and it fitted very tightly in a shallow fry pan (an indication of how large the fish once were).
The pale flesh and versatility of Australian albacore tuna is very under rated. It is known as the chicken of the sea – the flesh turns white when cooked.
Cooking albacore tuna and RECIPE
I generally braise albacore tuna, usually with tomatoes, capers and herbs. I always insert flavours into the flesh (slivers of garlic, herbs or cloves). Sometimes I use white wine, but on this occasion I softened some onion in some extra virgin olive oil, sealed the slices of tuna and then added some dry marsala , orange slices and bay leaves. When I am braising food, I always cover the pan with a lid and cook it slowly.
Yellow-fin tuna and Big-eye
Both of these species of tuna are wild-caught, but catch rates are declining so they are in the think twice category (Marine Conservation Seafood Guide).
Big-eye is the second most popular tuna for sashimi and unfortunately numbers are declining very fast.
Southern Blue-fin tuna
Southern blue-fin tuna always seems to be available for purchase. This is because much of it is farmed, but some is wild-caught.
We need to say no (Marine Conservation Seafood Guide) to the most popular species of tuna because it has been severely over-fished in and outside the Australian fishing zone. Most are caught wild and then fattened in sea-cage aquaculture farms, especially around Port Lincoln in South Australia.
For a long time I had thought that fish produced by, such as tuna, ocean trout and salmon was sustainable and was surprised to find that the Marine Conservation Seafood Guide totally apposes sea-cage aquaculture – penned, dense schools of fish in large floating cages moored in bays and estuaries.
Although sea-cage aquaculture may sound preferable to the wild-caught fish, there are problems associated with sea-cage aquaculture. Views expressed by a variety of environmentalists are:
• Tuna farming is a large and profitable industry and it involves herding juvenile tuna from the wild into pens to fatten in cages – it is called fish ranching.
• Fish farms are established in bays and estuaries to avoid damage from storms and currents and they need clean and frequent water exchange. Unfortunately other wild fish and marine life also favour these and their habitat is affected.
• Significant amounts of waste can be discharged from fish farms back into the ocean – the nutrients in unused fish feed, fish faeces and the chemicals and pharmaceuticals used to keep the fish healthy and the pens clean. These can be toxic to many aquatic species and impact on the surrounding environment.
• There is also the potential for some farmed fish to escape. These could spread diseases and can threaten local, wild species by competing for food and habitat and interfering with their breeding.
• Farmed tuna are fed large quantities of wild, whole fish (pilchards, sardines, herrings and anchovies, chosen for their high oil content and mostly imported). Penned tuna are fed three times a day, whereas in the wild, they may eat once a week.
In the hands of an able cook, fish can become an inexhaustible source of perpetual delight.
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)