Bonito preserved in oil

Bonito preserved in oil

Palamita sott’olio

By
From
Acquacotta
Makes
4 jars of 250 ml
Photographer
Emiko Davies; Lauren Bamford

Bonito is fished out of the waters of the Tuscan archipelago between spring and summer, and again in early autumn. It’s a decent-sized, delicious oily fish, often sold whole in its armour of silver stripes. Though its flesh is rather similar to tuna, it’s significantly cheaper – in fact, it’s often known as ‘poor man’s tuna’. Preserving it in flavoured oil is the perfect way to ensure you always have some of this tasty fish on hand to whip up a quick meal.

Essentially tinned tuna but better, bonito in oil is delicious just as it is, served as part of an antipasto platter. But my favourite way to have this is with an impromptu salad dressed in red wine vinegar and olive oil with white cannellini beans and thinly sliced red onion that’s had a 10-minute soak in some cold water. It’s also great crumbled into some tomato and basil pasta sauce or on a panino with sliced boiled eggs and parsley or fresh tomatoes and lemon zest. And you could use it in place of the tinned mackerel in the following recipe for a fish salad.

This recipe is adapted from a Tuscan recipe book on the cuisine of Elba Island, Zuppe e Stornelli (1991), by Alvaro Claudi and Sergio Rossi. I recommend using smaller jars – as opposed to 2 jars of 500 ml capacity each – so that you can quickly consume the opened jars.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
1kg whole bonito
600g rock salt
10 whole dried black peppercorns
4 bay leaves
1 red chilli, chopped, fresh or dried (optional)
mild-flavoured vegetable oil, such as grapeseed oil, to cover

Method

  1. Remove the entrails, the head and the tail of the bonito and chop the rest into thick steaks, about 5 cm wide, bone and skin intact. Avoid cutting pieces from the smaller or narrow sections of the fish, too close to the tail or the gut, as these smaller pieces tend to be too salty. Put the steaks in a bowl of cold water (traditional recipes call for this to be seawater, but regular tap water will suffice) and refrigerate for 2–3 hours. Change the water once or twice during this time. This is to remove any traces of blood.
  2. Put 3 litres of water in a large stockpot with the salt and bring to a simmer over high heat. Drain the bonito steaks, put in the pot and simmer over low heat, covered, for about 1½–2 hours. They should be firm and cooked through.
  3. Drain and pat the bonito steaks dry. When cool enough to handle, use your fingers to break apart the bonito into a few smaller sections, removing the central bone and skin as you go. Wrap the fish pieces in a clean tea towel (dish towel) or in layers of paper towel and place on a colander set over a plate. Chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight to drain it well.
  4. Put the drained bonito in sterilised jars (how to sterilise jars) and evenly distribute the peppercorns and bay leaves (and chilli, if using). Pour over the oil, making sure the fish is entirely covered with about 1 cm of oil. Tap the jar on the counter to allow any trapped air bubbles to come to the surface and, if you wish, break apart the bonito further to get it to fit nicely. Once the air bubbles are gone and the fish is well covered with oil, put the lid on. If you plan on keeping this for a while, seal as described in the Sterilising and Sealing section.
  5. Store in a cool, dark place – I keep mine in the fridge. This is best about a month after bottling (if you can wait that long) and will keep for 3 months. Once opened, keep it in the refrigerator and make sure the remaining fish is covered in oil. The fish will keep for 7–10 days.
Tags:
Italian
Tuscany
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