The name Jessica Simpson is associated in my mind with the Dukes of Hazzard movie and Chicken of the Sea (arguably the most famous brand of tuna in America). Jessica, having the incredible misfortune to be famous after the invention of the internet and thus have every dumb thing she says replayed over and over, had this conversation with her then husband, Nick,
Jessica eating, “Is this chicken what I have or is this fish?” “I know its tuna but it says chicken by the sea.” “Why is it called chicken by the sea or in the sea?”
Nick, “Chicken of the Sea is the brand.”
Nick, “You know because a lot of people eat tuna. Like a lot of people eat chicken. So its like the Chicken of the Sea.”
This conversation plays through my mind when I think of tonno del Chianti (tuna of Chianti). Chianti is a landlocked area in Tuscany, most famous for its red wine. So it begs the question, “how do they have tuna?” What is perhaps more interesting is the question, “how tonno del Chianti, while made of pork, actually taste like tuna?” Now, some of you are likely being dismissive of how delicious this dish could actually be or why one would make this dish instead of opening a tin of tuna. All I can say is that you are wrong. You will have to trust me on this one.
This is a dish that keeps on giving. It was made in an era when food preservation was challenging and it was made to last. And last it does as the pork is first salted, poached in wine and then preserved in olive oil. The process is similar to that of duck confit. Deliciously meaty chunks can then be fished out whenever needed to accompany a salad during the summer, lentils or cannellini beans during the winter or on its own as a starter any time.
Although pork was cooked and preserved in this style for hundreds of years in Tuscany, Dario Cecchini of Antica Macelleria Cecchini in Panzano di Chianti is credited with having revived this recipe. I have tried it in one of his restaurants and at Borgo di Conte in Umbria and here is my take (for illustrated step-by-step instructions, see here):
Tonno di Chianti (tuna of Chianti/pork confit)
500 grams pork shoulder, rinsed, dried and sliced 3-4 cm thick
40 grams coarse sea salt
3 bay leaves
4 black peppercorns, whole
2 juniper berries
750 mls white wine
500 mls extra-virgin olive oil
Place the pork shoulder slices and the salt in a shallow container and rub the salt into the meat. Leave the meat uncovered in the refrigerator for 3 days, checking it daily to see if any liquid needs to be drained away. Rinse the meat and dry it. Place it in a pan with the bay leaves, peppercorns, juniper berries and wine, ensuring the wine covers the meat. Heat over low heat to below a simmer and cook for 6 hours. Allow the meat to cool in the liquid before removing. Break the pork into large chunks using two forks (no knife!) and place in the bottom of a glass or plastic container. Cover the meat with olive oil, seal and refrigerate for up to 1 month.
For sous vide: After salting the pork for 3 days and rinsing, reduce the wine to 150 mls and heat the wine with the bay leaf, juniper berries and peppercorns until half of the liquid has evaporated. Allow to cool completely. Divide the meat between two bags and add 30 mls of the liquid to each bag, 1 bay leaf, 1 peppercorn and 1 juniper berry. Vacuum seal the bags and place in 68.5 C water for 2 days. Let cool in the bags before removing the meat from the liquid and covering with olive oil.
Do you know of other ancient recipes worth reviving? Please share.