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Tuna Steaks with Wine, Tomatoes, and Herbs

February 24, 2022 | Laura Bullock

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Tuna or Swordfish Steaks with Wine, Tomatoes, and Herbs Julia Child Recipe

✽Recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I | Julia Child✽

Recipe 189

- Thon à la Provençale [Tuna or Swordfish Steaks with Wine, Tomatoes, and Herbs], p. 219

Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I was written by Julia Child who co-authored with Simone Beck & Louisette Bertholle and was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1961. You can buy Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I which contains this recipe here. (affiliate link)

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Thon à la Provençale- Butter Count & Cost

✽ Butter Count: +1 tablespoon

✽ Cost: $38.40 [~$5.49 per serving]

Check out the total Julia Child butter count & cost here!

Cooking tuna for 45 minutes AFTER searing? Hmm..

Tuna is hands-down in my top 3 favorite fish to eat. To say I was excited to have finally reached the tuna steak recipe in the fish chapter would be an understatement. I guess it would be considered slightly naive of me to think this 1960s French recipe would instruct you to sear a tuna steak for just a minute or two on each side and call it good, but that's what I had pictured in my mind. While reading the instructions prior to cooking, I couldn't believe that I would be baking this fish for 45 minutes! I'm not totally against a well-done tuna steak, but 45 minutes seemed like a little overkill. But as always, despite my questioning, I rolled my sleeves up and put all of my trust into this recipe.

Tuna Steaks with Wine, Tomatoes, and Herbs Rating

✽ Laura's Rating: 6

✽ Brian's Rating: 6

My suspicions were right. This recipe left me feeling disappointed. Maybe I've just eaten too much raw/slightly seared tuna in my life and fallen in love with that preparation to really appreciate a well-done tuna steak now. This tuna was way too done for my liking. The taste and texture were very similar to canned tuna. Which don't get me wrong, I love canned tuna, but it's not what I want after spending that much money and time on a recipe.

Upon looking up other well-done tuna recipes, I found that most instructed to bake for 20-30 minutes so the 45 minutes is quite a bit longer when it comes to cooking fish. Especially after a 1-2 minute/side searing prior to the baking. The saving grace of this recipe, though, was the delicious tomato sauce. It was absolutely delightful, and went well with the fish.

Thon à la Provençale: Questions

Why is not all tuna bright red?

Within muscles there is a protein called myoglobin. Myoglobin brings oxygen into the muscles to help the muscle continue to keep working and moving, and this gives meat its red color. Now you maybe saying, "well some fish is white." Red meat indicates muscles that are used continuously for slow and constant movements. Think of cows and deer- they are always moving, but not very fast, and as a result they have deep red meat. White meat has less myoglobin and gets its energy from glucose which is used up quickly. White muscles do not require as much oxygen as red fiber muscles. You can get different colored tuna because some species move slowly in migrations while others stay mostly in one place and only move in quick bursts to grab food.

And now we can answer the question of why your red tuna may be brown and dull even if fresh. When red tuna is instantly cut, the meat will be a dark purple red color due to deoxymyoglobin which is myoglobin that does not have an oxygen molecule. As soon as it reacts with oxygen in the air, it will change to oxymyoglobin which produces a bright red color. When deoxymyoglobin and oxymyoglobin become oxidized, they will convert to metmyoglobin which turns the meat a brown color.

So if your tuna is brown, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's bad at all. In fact, fresh tuna can brown within hours of being cut. It's best to pay attention to how fresh the fish you are buying is and the smell. But now you may wonder why you can have some tuna in the fridge for days without it ever browning. This is thanks to carbon monoxide injections. Carbon monoxide adds oxygen back to the oxymyoglobin molecules giving the meat a stable bright red color, and now the oxymyoglobin will never be oxidized to metmyoglobin and turn brown. Carbon monoxide injections aren't bad for you, but they can mask the color of old fish so just because your tuna is still red after sitting in the fridge for a week, does not mean it's still good!

Should you cook tomatoes in a cast iron?

It was brought to my attention that one shouldn't cook tomatoes in a cast iron skillet so I did a bit of research to determine if that was true or not. The reason why some may be against cooking tomatoes in a cast iron is because the tomatoes can pick up a metallic-taste and the acidity of the tomatoes can strip the seasoning off of the cast iron.

However, the consensus seems to be that if the cast iron is properly and very well-seasoned, it shouldn't be a big problem. The well-seasoned pan will be able to withstand the acidity. Some also say that as long as the tomatoes have a 30 minute or less cooking time, you won't notice any metallic flavor in your food. Lesson learned!

Facts about Tuna

• The Atlantic bluefin can reach 10 feet in lenght and weight up to 2000 pounds! Some species can swim up to 43 miles per hour.

• While there are many species of tuna, there's four main ones you will see when shopping. The first is Albacore which is what you will find inside canned white tuna and is mild in flavor. The second is Bluefin which is going to be your best bet for fresh tuna, is dark red in color, and high in fat and flavor. Third is the Skipjack tuna which is found canned as chunk light tuna, has strong flavor, and high fat. Lastly, there's Yellowfin or Ahi tuna which is a pink color, mild in flavor, a cheaper fresh tuna alternative than Bluefin tuna, and can be found canned as well.

For this recipe:

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How to Make Tuna Steaks with Wine, Tomatoes, and Herbs

The first step is marinating the fish steaks in a lemon juice and olive oil mixture for a couple of hours, basting the fish several times during the time period. During this process, you might start to see the fish turn to a 'cooked' color. This is due to the lemon juice in the marinade that is 'cooking' the fish or denaturing (breaking) the proteins. The proteins also are denatured when you heat the tuna as well.

Julia Child's Thon a la Provencale recipe

After marinating, the fish is quickly sautèed over very high heat until each side is lightly browned. This is my favorite way to cook tuna. I could've stopped the cooking process of the fish after this step. Yum!

Tuna Steaks Julia Child

Now onions, tomatoes (that have been previously peeled, seeded, juiced, and chopped), garlic and seasonings are cooked together for a few minutes and scooped over the seared fish.

Tomato Sauce Julia Child

For the baking, the pan gets covered, brought to a simmer on the stove, and cooked for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven. After 15 minutes, white wine is poured in, and it's put back into the oven for 30 more minutes. Once the tomato sauce is simmering, the oven is reduced to 325 degrees. I read these instructions over and over to ensure that I wasn't misreading them, and since the times were so exact, I followed them blindly. If this wasn't a Julia Child recipe, I would have taken out the tuna when it was to my liking. However, a lot (like A LOT) of Julia recipes have surprised me in the best way possible after I question them. I accept whole-heartedly that Julia Child knows her way around the kitchen more than I do, and I can learn something from following these recipes exactly. How would one 'improve' a recipe or change a recipe more to their liking if they haven't made the recipe exactly? This is how I grow and learn in the kitchen! I'm assuming that this is one of those recipes that was very much 1960s, and times have changed.

After the fish is done baking, the sauce is boiled down, tomato paste is added for color and flavor, and a flour/butter paste is beat in to thicken up the sauce some. Lastly, parsley is stirred into the sauce, and the sauce is topped over the tuna steaks.

Provencale Tomato Sauce Julia Child

Tuna or Swordfish Steaks with Wine, Tomatoes, and Herbs Julia Child

*This blog, Laura The Gastronaut, and this post were/are not endorsed or supported by Julia Child or The Julia Child Foundation.


Category: Julia Child, Fish Cuisine: French
Keywords: tuna steaks, French cooking, Julia Child recipe, homemade tomato sauce

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You can find this recipe and all the other Julia Child recipes I make in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I (affiliate link). Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. I was written by Julia Child who co-authored with Simone Beck & Louisette Bertholle and was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1961.

Check out my Recipe Checklist to see a list of all my completed and pending recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking!

Bon appétit!

February 24, 2022 by Laura Bullock

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