Tonno di Maiale – Chianti’s Tuna
Any self-respecting food lover knows about Italy’s love of their tuna. The speedy silver fish caught in the Mediterranean is a delicacy with those caught in Sicily being most prized. I once spent a trip on the Amalfi coast buying up jars of tuna encased in rich, green olive oil while attempting to build a hoard of the stuff. Alas, I ate it all – unable to resist its deliciously wonderful texture and flavor.
But what of the interior of the country? Italian coastal communities abound in seafood and you can surely get your fix in fresh and preserved form throughout the land. But one region created their own version of Italy’s beloved fish – yes, the clever Chiannese figured out a way to take the humble pig (maiale in Italian) and transform it into a tuna like substance. This is Tonno di Maiale which originated in Tuscany and is also known as Tonno del Chianti in some circles.
Prince Alberto in a Can?
Yeah, yeah, yeah – we’ve all heard the old joke. Tonno is the Italian word for tuna and Tonno di Maiale seeks to replicate the texture of the tuna you’ll find packed in oil in Italy. I had eaten this dish in a number of places but my absolute favorite in Seattle can be found at Bar del Corso. You’ll see it on the menu there as ‘Tonno del Chianti’ and Chef Jerry Corso uses pork shoulder vs. the traditional preparation of using a pork leg roast.
I prefer Jerry’s version in using the shoulder as the fattiness of the cut lends itself to a better flavor profile and tenderness that I think is more difficult to achieve with a tougher leg muscle. So, without further ado – here’s how to make the simple but delicious preparation of Tonno di Maiale at home…
1 Large Glass Canning Jar (or other non-reactive container)
Kosher Sea Salt – to cover pork
4-5# Pork Shoulder – ideally with the skin on and bone in
2 cups Dry Italian White Wine such as Soave or Arneis
12 Dry Bay Leaves
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
4 – One Pint Canning Jars with lids and seals
This recipe makes 4-5 pint jars
Step 1 – Salting the Pork
The first step in preparing Tonno di Maiale is to salt the pork before cooking it off. Now I know I recommend using pork shoulder/butt for this prep but in this series I’ve used a sirloin tip from a half hog I purchased in the fall from Kevin Morse at Morse Family Farm in La Conner, Washington. I would have used the shoulder but, alas, I ate it with a nice Chianti chaser. The sirloin also conveniently fit into this beautiful French canning jar so all was copacetic.
To begin, fill the jar (or non-reactive container) with a base of salt – about 2 inches, and then insert the pork. Then slowly surround the pork with salt so that it is covered on all sides. This series of photos
Once the pork has been completely covered, seal the container and place it in the refrigerator for between 48-72 hours.
Step 2 – Rinse and Cook the Pork
After the pork has had enough contact time with the salt casing, remove from the refrigerator and rinse off the salt casing with cool water.
Pat the pork dry with paper towels and reserve.
Once you’ve rinsed the pork, place it skin or fat side up in a tall, narrow pot and add the wine and half of the bay leaves. Then, fill the pot with cold water just to cover the pork by about an inch as shown.
Bring the pot to a simmer over medium-high heat and skim any foam from the surface. The foam will look like this:
Place an offset lid on the pot to allow for some steam to escape and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 2 hours until you can start to peel the skin from the meat. If you are using skinless pork, you’ll begin to be able to peel back the fat cap and the liquid will have more of a gelatinous texture. The photo below shows the gelatin on the surface
Once cooking is complete, remove the pork from the pot using a large slotted spoon and tongs or a spider. Let sit in a colander or large bowl to cool.
OK – I admit that it’s not much to look at but what do you expect from meat simmered in wine and water for a couple of hours? In this case, the dish is about flavor and texture – not presentation.
Step 3 – Jarring the Tonno
While the pork is cooling, prepare the glass jars that you will use for canning the Tonno di Maiale. The jars don’t need to be expensive or fancy – just functional. The ones I use in this preparation are actually from Ikea and cost about $3 each.
Clean the jars with hot, soapy water and dry with a paper towel or linen cloth so that no debris is left. Then take each jar and fill it with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil as shown.
Once the pork has cooled, prepare it by first removing the fat cap and skin. Then tear the meat into 1.5 – 2 inch chunks. Pack the pork into each jar fairly tightly and leave about 3/4″ of airspace at the top. Place a bay leaf on top of the tonno and then pour in more olive oil to fill and cover the tonno and leave about a 1/4″ of space between the oil surface and the top of the jar. Then use a skewer or sharp tipped knife to remove any visible air bubbles or pockets from the jars.
Let the oil and tonno settle for 10-15 minutes and then top it off to 1/4″ below the top of the jar as the oil will settle. Close the lids and clip the seals before refrigerating for at least two days before serving. This preparation will easily last for 4-6 weeks if refrigerated properly.
The final product will look nearly identical to the jars of tuna packed in oil that you’ll find all over the Mediterranean. When ready to serve, remove from the refrigerator and let stand until the jar reaches room temperature and the oil liquefies. Then, delight your guests (or yourself) with some of the best charcuterie you will have ever tasted.
I like to serve Tonno di Maiale with things like lentils, feta, tomatoes and salads with a piquant vinaigrette. Serve with a cold, dry white wine with good acid balance to offset the fattiness of the tonno and olive oil. Enjoy!