Did you know there is a semantic relationship between cod and salami in the Italian language? I only just found out myself.
In Italian, calling someone a dried cod, i.e. “baccalà” is not a compliment. The same can be said for name-calling someone a salami, in Italian “salame”. Basically, you’re telling a person they are not very bright, that they are ‘thick as a plank’, rigid or just plain stupid in their thinking or acting.
I discovered that in the 1400s both pork meats and fish were sold by butchers (?) called “lardaroli”, meaning that both cured meats and salt cod were sold at the same store. Both were salted. And the word “salame” derives from “salamen” which itself deries from the Latin word for salt. It turns out that these fish were salted, historically speaking, before meats were. And if you look at a salame, well … it’s going to be pretty ‘stiff’, just like an entire salt cod.
Anyway. About the recipe that I have dubbed “salame di tonno”, i.e. tuna salami. Some Italians would call it a “polpettone” instead, the same word to describe a meat loaf. I stick and abide by salame, because its shape is just like that of a salame – only it’s made with tuna, the kind of tuna that cames already cooked and preserved in oil in a glass jar or a in metal tin/can. The kind that is stocked in every Italian larder to be eaten all year round, especially for those ‘just in case’ moments, when there doesn’t seem to be much other choice to which to resort. And extremely often for the Christmas Eve fish-themed dinner.
Duing the warmer months of the year, this kind of tuna is often served with beans and for those brave enough, with slices of onion too. This kind of tuna can also be added to salads. It can be used to make little tuna meatballs. It can be used to stuff tomatoes. And, for the rest of the year, this kind of tuna will be used to make a pasta. You can see how indispensable this food item really is. The next two posts are going to be about tuna pasta.
It was my sister-in-law Nadia who taught me how to make a tuna salame. And the first thing that shocked me was the addition of a cheese – parmesan – and eggs to the recipe. In Italy fish and cheese/dairy do not usually do a meal tango together. The second ‘shock’ was that the recipe entailed cooking the already-cooked tuna … again. How strange. Once I tasted the end result, with a great deal of groaning over its goodness, all those ‘shocks’ melted away, never to return.
An added bonus to this recipe, is that it can be made in advance and even frozen. I hope I am able to encourage you to make it.
Start by draining the tuna by placing it in a colander. The oil that gets drained is usually of poor quality so just chuck it.
Place the drained tuna in a bowl.
Add some lemon peel/zest and some salt and pepper.
Mash everthing up with a fork. By the way, you could put everything in a food blender if you preferred.
Add 1 whole egg per jar of tuna and combine with the fork.
Add 1 tablespoon of grated parmesan per can of tuna. You could add a little more – you’ll have to taste and decide for yourself.
The same idea with the breadcrumbs. Basically, you are going to add as many breadcrumbs as it takes to make the texture a firm one.
Here we are – done. Repeat, you can do all of this with the help of a food processor. In which case you will have a more ‘refined’ texture. Both are admissable, both are good.
PREPARATION BEFORE COOKING
Place the tuna on some parchment paper and shape the ingredients into a salame. By the way, I did not do it in this photo but I would now recommend that you wet the parchement paper first – it makes everything a lot easier. Proceed as follows, it’s basically common sense.
Now place the wrapped salame on a sheet of aluminium foil.
The place it on another sheet.
Done – nice and snug and hopefully watertight.
Place in a pot of boiling water and cook for 20 minutes.
By the way, it used to be traditional to wrap and cook the salame di tonno in a clean tea towel.
Remove fromt the pot and remove the aluminium sheets and parchment paper too – careful they are very hot.
At this point, once the salame has cooled down enough, you can wrap it in some parchment paper and freeze it or put it in the fridge for later use. Wait for it to be completely cool before attempting to slice it.
HOW TO SERVE
Home-made mayonnaise is the classic option. Any salsa of your choice would be excellent too.
Below are some other ideas.
Unlike my dear gastronomic friend Phyllis Knudsen, I just adore anchovies. So I added some to the slices before slathering a home-made salsa verde concoction over them. So rich, mmmm. Yep, a little decadent. This was last year.
The other day I made a mayonnaise with fresh tarragon. I never know what to do with tarragon so this was a welcome ‘input’ for me. (FYI I have tarragon growing in a pot on my balcony. The only reason there is plenty of it is that tarragan doesn’t need much tender loving care to grow, it just ‘grows’, phew.)
This mayo complemented the tuna salame very well.
Last, here it is served with tomato and some rocket/arugula – plain and simple.
The sky is the limit for any sauce you might care to add – the tuna will hold its own in terms of flavour. It is robut without being too ‘heavy’ if you know what I mean.
Since it can be made in advance, it’s a great idea for parties.