Fresh Adriatic tuna-one of the main promoters of Croatian gastronomy

Adriatic tuna is surely a top-notch ingredient and one of the main promoters of Croatian gastronomy. Both caught and reared tuna make the popular export products. Its quality ranks it as one of the most sought after meat varieties, while in well-known world fish markets it is often astronomical in price.

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Even though the tuna is most frequently a pelagic fish, it can be found in the Adriatic all the way from Komiža to the Novigrad sea where it effortlessly enters coastal waters.

The Atlantic Bluefin tuna is the main tuna variety in the Adriatic. The largest specimens can be quite hefty, although most commonly weigh twelve kilograms. Given the fact that it can swim large distances and is one of the main sea predators feeding on small fish and cephalopods, its meat is of utmost quality. To prepare it, you only need to keep it simple and appreciate this truly valuable ingredient. In addition to health benefits due its nutrients, the tuna is considered a great delicacy. Its perfect meat possessing a gentle flavour requires quick preparation and being familiar with filleting and fish cleaning techniques.

If you aren’t an expert in cleaning and filleting fish, the best thing to do when you go to the fish market would be to avoid buying larger tuna pieces and definitely focus on finding good steaks. You can check the tuna’s freshness by inspecting the colour of its meat, firmness, compactness and scent. The meat is usually dark red, it shouldn’t be dry and tight nor should the meat have brown patches.

When preparing tuna, preserving its freshness is paramount. The best way to store it is to keep it in the refrigerator in a bowl containing ice. You just need to dry the meat in paper towels for a couple of minutes prior to preparation. Being the rightful queen of the Adriatic, you need to get your hand on just as superb classic Mediterranean ingredients such as virgin olive oil, fennel, anchovies, capers, cherry tomatoes, chard, spinach, pine nuts, chick pea, beans, lentil, etc. Nothing goes to waste when you have a large tuna at hand. The head is used to prepare excellent fish broths, while the body parts are used to make carpaccio, tartar, steaks, sauces, casseroles, pasta, risottos, pâtés. In a nutshell, a wide array of choices and countless recipes.

You can see the fascination with tuna first-hand if you just take a look at restaurant menus from the coast of Istria all the way to the south. It’s most commonly served fresh or raw. And it would be a dire mistake not to try it in this rendition. We set ourselves the task of gathering Adriatic tuna recipes to find out chefs’ secrets.

At the restaurant of Zadar’s art hotel Bistro Gourmet Kalelarga located in downtown Zadar, the city’s main street of Kalelarga to be more precise, guests can relax and enjoy numerous local specialties and the atmosphere. Head chef Bruno Cesar Lerzundi Vagner, who’s a Peruvian of Croatia descent, never ceases to amaze his guests with an intriguing blend of local and international cuisine. Restaurant manager Marko Bošković told us how they prepare tuna.

We try to include tuna dishes in our menu all year round, even though it goes without saying that this hinges on how available the ingredients are. Our guests can try tuna tartar, prosciutto and tuna steak. We obtain freshly caught tuna. We have a regular fisherman from Murter who always gets in touch when he catches tuna. Usually we buy it for the entire year and for the past several years we’ve been getting tuna from the same school. The tuna steak is exclusively grilled and we serve it on celery cream which is prepared by first cooking the celery in milk and then blending it to get a nice creamy mixture.

Although you won’t always find it on the menu because it depends on weather conditions, tuna prosciutto is a delicacy you won’t get to try in a lot of places.

A piece of tuna is first placed into salt and is then left in the brine for a couple of days. The drying duration depends on how large the piece of meat is and how much fat and water it contains. It’s dried for at least a week in original drying rooms only when the bora is blowing. When the prosciutto is dry enough, it’s thinly sliced and served with home-grown rucola, olive oil and a few pepper groats.

At the exclusive restaurant Bevanda in Opatija you can enjoy modern renditions of Mediterranean cuisine and wines from their wine cellar while enjoying the breath-taking view of the sea. As is the case with all top-notch fish, tuna is also a indispensible specialty. Klaudije Jerčić, who manages the restaurant and bar Bevanda, told us more about their tuna dishes.

Tuna is kept in a display case containing fresh fish and generally we prepare it in front of the guests. We prepare tuna sashimi or raw tuna, tuna tartar and tuna tataki, boiled tuna done in just ten seconds. It’s served with ginger sauce, wasabi and fruits like pear. When it comes to main courses, we offer tuna steak and tuna tagliata. We use the finest tuna parts for the tuna steak. It’s prepared like grilled beefsteak with each side grilled for about a minute and a half. We mostly serve it with Parmigiana cheese and seasonal vegetable casserole.

Given that Klaudije is one of Croatia’s best sommeliers, he also recommended the wines.

Tuna goes great with red wines such as Pinot noir made by winery Korak or Tomac. It’s important that the red wines we serve weren’t kept in wooden barrels. Local varieties such as Babica and Lasina, which are quite similar to Pinot, will also do the trick.

At family restaurant Kopun preparations for spring and summer are underway and tuna specialties are a regular item on their menu. You can try their tuna tartar, tuna steak with polenta and their signature dish - tuna pašticada. Head chef Toni Klarić told us more about it.

First you chop the onions. The onion is sautéed in regular and olive oil, then you add some salt and tomato juice, capers, laurel, rosemary, half a decilitre of vinegar, a bit of brown sugar. Everything is slowly cooked for about twenty minutes and red wine is added while cooking. While the sauce is being cooked, I grill the tuna steak just for a second on each side and then I place it in the sauce for a short while. In the end you add parsley and prosecco to the sauce. The pašticada is served with white polenta or pura.

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