Nearly seven months ago, a couple of friends and I preserved batches and batches of lemons and tangerines fallen from backyard trees and in jeopardy of rotting if not put to good use. Most of them were meant to be gifts for others, but we all walked away with a few jars in hand. Slices of sweet tangerines tightly packed and layered with salt sat in the fridge for seven months, and all the while, I lazily pondered ways to use them. Nothing clicked. Until a few days ago. I went back to an old idea for a poached tuna and grilled bread salad typed into my iPhone’s notepad. Of course, this was when a panzanella with summer’s bounty would have been fantastic, but it’s October, so a fall panzanella would be in order. Finally, finally, finally, it seemed like a few of those preserved tangerines would have their chance to shine.
Never have I ever poached fish in oil–only water or broth. The latter is fairly boring compared to the impact of extra virgin olive oil. I worked with a chef who prepared his version for a television show, and it inspired me to devise my own method. And those preserved tangerines would fall well into place. The olive oil keeps the flesh of the fish tender, and it holds flavoring agents far better than broth. Preserved tangerines were the top choice for this batch, but you could add herbs, smashed garlic, peppercorns, etc. The options are endless. Because the preserved tangerines are themselves coated in salt, you won’t need to season the fish. The salt from the tangerines will leech into the olive oil and fish, resulting in a seasoned fillet.
As is to be expected of a poached dish, the cook time is reasonably short, especially if you use smaller cuts of fish. Some people poach on the stovetop, but that requires monitoring the temperature of the oil. Pop the fish into the oven, and there’s one less thing to look over as you prepare the other elements of the salad. The amount of olive oil you will need depends on the size of the fillets, as well as the size of your cooking vessel. Use something small, as it will prevent you from using more olive oil than is necessary. Save the warm poaching olive oil to drizzle over the fish or accompaniments to the meal. It serves as the base for the salad’s vinaigrette in this recipe. If you poach a larger amount of fish, store the leftovers in the cooking olive oil for a couple of days. No one wants to eat dried up tuna, no matter how flavorful it may be.
So back to this fall panzanella. The poached tuna was ready to go, and the remaining ingredients filled in the gaps. Pan fried focaccia, lightly bitter radicchio, aromatic fennel, creamy cannellini beans and sweet cranberries combined with the tuna created a very satisfying salad. Who needs tomatoes and cucumbers when it comes to the traditional Italian dish. This fall panzanella breaks the rules and hopefully offers a bit of inspiration.
- 6 slices preserved lemon or oranges, halved*
- 2-four ounce albacore tuna steaks, 1/2″ thick
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 ounces baby red and blue potatoes
- 5 ounces focaccia, sliced 1/2″ thick
- Non-stick cooking spray
- 4 ounces radicchio, cored and sliced
- 1 small shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 cup cannellini beans, rinsed
- 1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves, roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons dried cranberries
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Set a small pot of salted water to boil over high heat.
- Lightly wipe about half of the salt off the preserved citrus. Place a few slices at the bottom of a small, shallow baking dish. Put the two pieces of tuna over the tangerines, so that they fit snugly, and top with the remaining slices of fruit. Pour 1 cup of olive oil over the fish, then cover tightly with foil. Place the baking dish on a small sheet tray, then slide into the oven, and cook for 15-18 minutes. The fish will have an opaque white exterior, white bubbles around the flesh and feel fairly firm to the touch once cooked. Remove from the oven, and allow to cool in the oil for 5-10 minutes. Break the fish into medium pieces, and set aside. Strain 1/4 cup of the poaching olive oil through a fine sieve, and set aside. Discard the remaining poaching olive oil.
- While the fish cooks, drop the potatoes into the boiling water. Boil for 10 minutes, then drain and run under cold water to stop them from cooking. Cut into quarters, then set aside.
- Set a medium frying pan over medium high heat. Once hot, spray with non-stick cooking spray. Lay the slices of bread in the pan, cooking approximately 2 minutes per side, or until golden brown and well toasted. Spray the pan again with cooking spray as necessary. Remove the bread from the pan, and cut into 1″ chunks.
- Toss the cooked fish, potatoes, focaccia, radicchio, shallots, cannellini beans, parsley, and cranberries into a large serving bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the reserved 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, orange juice, Dijon mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Lightly dress the salad, and serve immediately.