The shrewder observers among you will note that that is not tuna in the picture. While the recipe in this month’s cookbook calls for tuna, my wife is far, far, too pregnant for that particular fish at the moment. We substituted tilapia but any white fish will do. In 1998 I was working in a fledgling French restaurant. It was a slow night. I was bored, the kitchen was bored, and it was my birthday. Sergio, the sous chef, took pity on me. I was cut, as was my girlfriend who was a waiter’s assistant/bartender at the time and these days is not eating tuna. A glass of wine placed in each of our hands, we went back into the kitchen for a cooking lesson. Sergio guided through the process of making turbot Provencal. We ate it on the fire escape out back. That’s one of my favorite fine dining experiences.
This isn’t Sergio’s recipe. I never wrote it down and what remains in my head is garbled with fourteen years of kitchen experimentation and improvisation. It’s good though. Thickly slice four or five tomatoes. The directions say “remove some of the seeds and pulp,” so I guess de-seed them, but don’t do too good a job of it. I’m not sure why they want some of the seeds and pulp to remain. The next step is to put the slices in a colander, salt, and allow to drain for thirty minutes, so we aren’t half-assing the tomato cleaning to retain moisture. I considered that the seeds contribute bitterness, but dismissed the idea pretty quickly. This dish is bright flavors and alums contrasted with olives. When I make this next time I’ll see how seedless tastes and update.
After thirty minutes, add a few glugs of olive oil to a skillet and heat to smoking. Reduce the heat to medium and add the tomatoes. You would think that draining salted tomatoes for thirty minuted would leach enough water to keep them from violently splashing when you add them to hot oil. You would be wrong. Professional Kitchen Tip: You can rub salve on your right forearm with your left hand while using your right hand to add thyme, chopped scallions, garlic, and basil. Let the ingredients heat and marry for eight minutes and then remove from heat. Correct for seasoning, add chopped olives and let sit.
At this point in my “From the cookbook” posts, most wonder why I haven’t given specific measurements for the recipe. I am well aware that a recipe cannot be copyrighted, but as I have said before, a nod towards intellectual property is character building. We could just take the recipes and measurements from any book and post them, but that would be bastarding bastardly in a most bastidinous way. We are talking about someone’s work product here. They deserve consideration.
While the sauce sits, salt and pepper the fish and, in the case of tuna, rub with olive oil and cook two minutes per side, at most, in a hot pan. I want my tuna raw with a thin layer of the outside seared so I will go about thirty seconds a side, and turn the filet with my tongs to sear the edges. Make sure you have sushi grade. If you are using white fish, heat a few glugs of olive oil in a pan and cook the fish until done, about four plus minutes per side.
Rest the fish for a minute and reheat the sauce. Serve with some torn basil and a rosé. This being a Provencal cookbook, let’s just assume a rosé is a good pairing unless I tell you otherwise.