3.07.2015

Rags to Riches

It's Tuesday night. Dad's on a business trip. Mom has four energetic boys chomping at the bit for dinner. Out comes the canned tuna, a bag of noodles, a can of cream-of-something soup, and my worst nightmare - tuna noodle casserole.

Okay, tuna noodle casserole wasn't really all that bad. In fact, I rather liked it. But because of that casserole, canned tuna has a bad reputation as being the last thing between you and starvation.

Here, in our house, we used high-quality canned tuna quite often. One of our favorite dishes is pasta with tuna, lemon, and capers. Simple. Tasty. Fast.

Another favorite way we use it is in hors d'œuvres. When we were in Venice we had it puréed on crostini and dusted with cocoa powder, and we have made a riff on salmon rilettes using tuna. Both of these preparations started with canned tuna.

And, of course, we use canned tuna in our Salade Niçoise. Nowadays, everybody is trying to make their Niçoise salads fancier by serving them with grilled tuna. I prefer the traditional method using the best quality canned tuna.

To us, the secret to our culinary success with these dishes has been using tuna packed in olive oil.

I'm not in the mood to research different canned tunas, so here are my anecdotal thoughts: Tuna canned in water generally tastes fishier to me. And it feels mushier on my tongue; it has almost no texture. Im not really a fan. Certain companies are now canning their tuna in oil, but not necessarily in olive oil. Sorry; still not convinced, although it is a step in the right direction.

Tuna packed (either in a can or glass jar) in olive oil, with no additive but a bit of salt, has great flavor and texture. My feeling - remember, I didn't feel like spending my day on research when the are desert wildflowers to be seen - is that, perhaps, packing it in water breaks down the muscle fibers of the fish.

I generally buy Genova brand tuna packed in olive oil from San Diego(this is not a sponsored post), because it is the most widely-available brand locally. But, I also keep my eyes open when in Italian import stores for other brands direct from Italy. The quality is definitely better.

Today, I am making perhaps the fanciest dish for which I use canned tuna. It is a recipe (with my edits) from Food & Wine this holiday season. It is creamy and smooth - it is Pâté au Thon.

I found this pâté to be an elegant dish to go with a bottle of Domaine Chante Cigale Châteauneuf-du-Pape sent to me by Susan at the Provence WineZine for pairing notes. (Click here to see the pairing notes.) Normally, I would think that a white wine is not a sit-in-front-of-the-fire kind of wine, but this one is different. It is so full-bodied, unctuous, and comforting that it lovely in the winter as well as in summer. And I am sitting in front of the fire enjoying it right now with the pâté - a far cry from that tuna noodle casserole 'round the kitchen table.

~ David

Pâté au Thon

2 10-ounce cans tuna packed in olive oil, drained
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup heavy cream
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6 anchovy fillets, drained
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika, optional (for garnish)
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, optional (for garnish)
Toast or crackers, for serving

Line a 5 1/2-inch by 3 1/2-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving plenty of overhang.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the tuna, butter, cream, lemon zest, lemon juice, cayenne, anchovies and the 3 tablespoons of capers. Season with salt and pepper and process until smooth.

Spoon the pâté into the loaf pan and smooth the top. Spoon any remaining pâté into a small crock for a more casual presentation. Cover with the loaf pan overhanging pieces of plastic wrap, and cover the crock with additional plastic wrap, and refrigerate until firm, at least 8 hours or overnight.

Unwrap and unmold the pâté onto a serving dish. To decorate the unmolded pâté (optional), place two pieces of paper – approximately 5-inches by 2 inches – on top of the pâté about 1/4 inch apart, pressing slightly to get good, clean edges. Sprinkle the paprika on the1/4-inch strip of pâté, then gently remove the paper on both sides. Cut a 5-inch by 1/4-inch strip of paper to cover the paprika. Press the chopped parsley onto the pâté, and remove the strip of paper covering the paprika. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with toast or crackers.


Serves 6-8.

38 comments:

  1. Looks and sounds delicious. Great to take to a party. How long do you think it would stay in the fridge so I could make ahead or if there were leftovers?

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    1. I have made it several times now, and find it lasts about a week in the fridge. Yes, Jill, it is perfect party fare!

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  2. The richness that makes white papes so elegant comes from the relatively quick ripening of the grapes. Both the climate and the stoney soil are quite a bit warmer than other French wine growing regions (allowing the grapes to mature quickly). Ken just told me that. He's taking a French wine class at UCLA this semester! GREG

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    1. Have you had this wine, Greg? If you haven't, you should get a bottle. Thanks for the info - how nice to have Ken at your fingertips for moments like this. I feel the same way about Mark.

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  3. That just looks so rich & elegant! I agree - tuna packed in Olive Oil is the best. One thing I learned to love in Italy is tuna sandwiches with marinated artichokes.

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    1. Tuna and artichokes sounds wonderful! I have never had it, but that will be remedied soon! Thanks, Susan!

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  4. How could you not like tuna with so much butter and cream. :) The lovely presentation makes it perfect party food.

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    1. Honestly, Karen, I was hoping no one would notice all that butter! :) It is a great party food!

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  5. Beautiful. I have purchased tuna belly before, in a can, I think from IGourmet.com, and it was fabulous. There are differently different qualities. And by the way, I'm so glad I wasn't raised on tuna noodle casserole!

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    1. I have to check out iGourmet. Thanks for the heads up, Mimi!

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  6. I agree! Tuna in water is nasty, and I was never a fan. Until, the olive oil packed ones, they are really good. I didn't see a photo of your tuna can, but I like the Genovo brand too...it must be the same one. I can't find it here anymore :( so I've been trying to find another brand I like.
    Thankfully, we never had tuna casserole growing up, and I made it once myself for the kids. They are not fans. But the worst thing, I cut my finger on the stupid can when I was making the casserole and cut it so deeply I thought I needed stitches. I survived not going to the hospital but have a scar on my thumb to tell me to never ever think of making tuna casserole again.
    Anyway, enough of tuna horror stories :)
    This does look wonderful. I think I might like this, and if you used great tuna, then I know it will taste fab. Tuna is one product that really has to be good to taste good. I just don't know how people buy that dubious cheap tuna in a can!

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    1. Nazneen - our Albertsons market just started carrying the Genova brand. I am sure it is the same one you have been using - do you have Alberstons there? Or Kroger? I always try to remember the adage, "You are what you eat." I do NOT want to be cheap tuna! :)

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  7. I used to love tuna noodle casserole! I think my mom may have put in frozen peas as well, or maybe that was creamed tuna on toast? Either way, recall liking them both. This looks wonderful, David! I'll have to remember this one for our next girls night. Always looking for a good white wine also - will research this one. Hope you are enjoying what is left of the weekend!

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    1. Cathleen - you are reminding me that my mother made cream salmon and peas to serve over noodles, toast, or potatoes. I loved that as a kid. The white wine was wonderful - but definitely special occasion!!

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  8. My mother never ever served tuna... I think the first time I ate it was in home ec class in the 70s... in a mornay! Love the sound of this elegant dish, David!

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    1. Tuna in mornay? Sounds like you had some interesting Home Ec classes, Liz!

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  9. I'm definitely trying this, David. My husband loves tuna and he'll love seeing it in a new preparation. Can't wait. Love how it's garnished, too.

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    1. Thanks - I thought it was worth garnishing so it didn't look like a slab of nothing! xo

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  10. This Pate of tuna must taste oh so delicious with cayenne,lemon juice,zest,sweet paprika and parsley...yum,creamy and perfect for a snack time to remember...we have been hearing from our fish eating friends this very thing...oil canned tuna tastes better and somewhat less fishy than that with water...if we get to find it in store...will be making this beautiful dish for them,thanks so much for inspiring with such beautiful,quick and delectable dishes...Have A Beautiful Day! :-)

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    1. Thanks, Swikruti and Rakesh! It will make a very nice dish to serve your friends who do eat fish! Have a wonderful week!

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  11. Very impressive David, love how it's garnished. I agree with you... I like the texture of tuna in oil so much better. Have a great week!

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    1. Thanks, Cheri - don't you think garnishing makes a big difference in many dishes? Have a great week, too... gorgeous weather ahead!

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  12. I love canned tuna, but then again some of the best canned tuna in olive oil is fished and canned right here, so I guess we have a wide choice. I totally agree, I dislike tuna canned in water, but as you pointed out, it is important to buy the best quality available, as the oil in cheaper brands truly tastes like engine oil. A while back I made (and posted) a delicious sardine paté but I have yet to try this. Anything tuna in our house is a favorite.
    P.S. I also totally agree about the Nicoise!

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    1. I love the idea of your sardine pâté, Fiona. I will check it out! I am glad I am not alone in my love of Italian tuna packed in olive oil! Maybe it's what we will have for dinner tonight!

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  13. Simply damn delicious !!!
    nice tuna pate...
    Dedy@Dentist Chef

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  14. I'm with Lizzy. I think the first time I had tuna was in a mornay, as well. Probably not the best one, either.

    Your pate looks and sounds divine, especial with those glorious anchovies!

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    1. John - from your comment, I am not sure I should run out and try tuna in mornay sauce...

      And, as we have discussed, anything with anchovies makes me really happy. Like your spaghetti!

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  15. Yum! This sounds good. I also survived a tuna-heavy childhood (tuna and pasta bake, which sounds similar to your noodle casserole!) so it's not my favourite, but I'd forgotten how much I like tuna pate. I'm always looking for new ideas for T's lunchbox too, and he is a bag fish fan, so I might see if he'll go for this.

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    1. Wow, Ruth - Tim is a lucky boy if he gets tuna pâté in his lunchbox! Save some for you and Young!

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  16. Hahahaa...! Yes, my mother made the same thing! As John and Lizzy said, we call it 'tuna mornay' here in Australia (but it's basically a tuna casserole with pasta) and I am pretty sure that most school children were tortured by it at some point of their childhood! This is a much prettier way to use quality tuna :)

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    1. Maybe I ought to give Tuna Mornay a try, Laura! Glad yo like the pâté recipe!

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  17. David, no horror tuna story in my childhood - we never ate tuna, ever - so I have quite an open mind. Your Pâté au Thon looks elegant and like a perfect dish to share with family and friends, with some lovely crackers, some grapes maybe...
    A nice recipe - thanks for sharing all your lovely pictures and stories and recipes!
    Andrea

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    1. You are most welcome, Andrea! This is a nice dish, and grapes would, indeed, be a nice accompaniment!

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  18. David ~ This Pâté is definitely on my short list AND I think it sounds perfect for a rosé tasting we are hoping to have soon! I am so glad that you loved the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, too, and I want to try it with that wine, too! Oh, so many food and wine combinations to try....sigh...will I live long enough?!

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    1. This pâté even tasted good with the Italian red we had last week, Susan. Looking forward to the new rosés!

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  19. Totally agree about Italian tuna! So much better than most tuna we can find in the US.

    It's so funny that you started out with the Tuna Noodle Casserole horror story. When I was first married, I usually cooked what I knew how to cook and what I'd learned at home, which was mostly Italian and also British. One day, I decided to delve into American cuisine (which I'd honestly never done before) and figured my new husband would like something that his mother would have always made: Tuna Noodle Casserole.

    OMG.

    Let's suffice it to say that my husband asked me never to make it again. And I never have (25 years later)!

    Your pâté sounds wonderful, especially paired with the wine. I'll have to remember it for our next cocktail party, whenever that may be.

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    1. Good for your husband telling you "no more" to the casserole. I think you will like the pâté - it actually is just nice to have around for snacking during the week!

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