Spain’s Coziest Fish Dish Is Atún con Tomate (Tuna and Tomato Stew)
You won’t see this stew on fancy restaurant menus—but it’s an abuela-approved standby that you don’t want to miss.
1 hour 10 minutes
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“ATÚN CON TOMATE” read the chalkboard of daily lunch specials at La Amarilla in Madrid, the kind of no-nonsense neighborhood taberna with crinkly paper tablecloths and olive pits on the floor. The dish was the only main course that hadn’t been 86’d, but it sounded too simple to be any good. Really? I thought to myself. Tuna with tomato sauce… That’s it?
Indeed, it was. But if there’s one thing to know about Spaniards and their fish, it’s that the simple is often sublime. La Amarilla’s atún con tomate was anything but bland, and I’ve been ordering it—and making it at home—ever since. The dish starts with good tomate frito, the silky Spanish mother sauce of plum tomatoes, onions, and enough fruity olive oil to turn it bright red-orange. Into the puréed tomate go hunks of ocean-fresh tuna, which poach to flaky perfection in a matter of minutes. And as they say in Spain, ya está.
At La Amarilla (and in abuelas’ kitchens the country over), that’s where the recipe ends. Me, I like to liven things up with a garlic-parsley oil that pops against the vivid red sauce. Served with a crusty baguette for sponging up the juices, atún con tomate is peasant food for the gods.
Note: If you can find albacore (“bonito” in Spanish), use it here—it’s the traditional choice in this dish, which is also called bonito con tomate. That said, any ultra-fresh, thick-cut tuna steak that passes the smell test will do. Swordfish or mackerel may also be substituted.
- 3 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley leaves
- 2½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
- 3 small garlic cloves, finely chopped, divided
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 small Cubanelle or green bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 6 medium plum tomatoes (2 lb.), coarsely chopped
- ½ tsp. sugar
- 2 lb. tuna steaks (1–1½ in. thick), skin and any pin bones removed, cut into 1½-in. cubes (see note)