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The Fish Market

Tasty Tuna Steaks in a Tomato Sauce

July 17, 1986|ISAAC CRONIN and PAUL JOHNSON

The blue-fin tuna is found in all the temperate and subtropical seas of the world and is the largest of all the tunas. The largest blue-fin ever recorded weighed 1,500 pounds, and fish of 500 pounds are common. In the fall these fish are very fat and considered to be in ideal condition for the Asian sashimi market. Asian buyers visit the major blue-fin ports of the world and compete for the highest quality fish. The fattest fish with deep red flesh color are the most sought after.

The price of these fish may reach $20 per pound for whole fish, which in turn may become as high as $50 per pound for fillet by the time it reaches Tokyo.

As with all tunas, the blue-fin migrate over great distances and grow quickly in their travels. Fish of the same size generally travel together and visit the same areas as previous generations have at specific times in their life cycles.

Each summer, Southern California is visited by small (from 10 pounds to 45 pounds) schooling blue-fins. Although these small fish have not developed the fat content and color to make them important to the sashimi market, they have long been an important commercial fish. They are often canned as "light-meat" tuna. Right now there is high-quality fresh blue-fin being caught off California. This is a great time to enjoy this inexpensive and delicious member of the tuna family.

From the Mediterranean, where people prefer tuna cooked as opposed to raw, come a number of classic dishes made with tuna. Often in this region fresh tuna is braised in a tomato sauce. The red pepper and cumin in this recipe reflect its North African origin. TUNA STEAKS IN ALGERIAN TOMATO SAUCE

Juice of 1 large lemon

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 onion, finely sliced

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil

4 (6-ounce) tuna steaks

2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon chopped garlic

3 bay leaves

Mix lemon juice, parsley, onion, black and cayenne pepper, paprika, cumin and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Add tuna steaks and marinate 1 hour in refrigerator.

Meanwhile, make tomato sauce. Cook tomatoes, garlic and bay leaves in remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in medium-size skillet over medium heat until mixture becomes puree. Stir frequently to prevent mixture from sticking.

Remove tuna from marinade and place in heat-proof casserole. Thoroughly mix marinade into tomato sauce and pour over tuna. Cover dish and cook at 400 degrees 20 minutes or until done. Makes 4 servings.

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