I thought I’d start off the New Year with a recipe that is one of Mike’s specialties: Curried Tuna. I know. I don’t like fish, but I’ll eat tuna from the can. And, I’ve never been wild about “hot tuna” – unless you’re talking about the ’70’s band that was a spin-off of Jefferson Airplane (there – I’ve dated myself). Go figure.
But you know, when you’re young and in love, you’ll even let your boyfriend feed you an improbable-sounding pasta sauce made with canned tuna and an Indian spice mixture called “hot madras curry powder”. You’ll even pretend that you like it. Except for one little thing. I really did like it! It’s another one of those concoctions that doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does!
Here we are, over 25 years later, and when Mike cooks, this is one of his go-to’s. I can’t believe I haven’t pried this recipe out of him before now, but it’s appropriate to start a New Year with a fish recipe (fish is good luck food – they can’t swim backward!), and share something from the heart.
This recipe can be made days ahead of time, making it the perfect “cook it on Sunday to eat for dinner on Wednesday” dish. It also makes a vat of sauce, but it will last a week in the refrigerator and freezes beautifully, so even though you could easily cut the quantities in half, go ahead and make the full recipe and freeze some for a later time. You can easily reheat it, with no loss of quality or flavor, in the microwave or on top of the stove. Your choice.
Curried Tuna Sauce
(makes 6-8 hearty servings)
- 2 large (or 3-4 medium) yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
- 2 4 oz cans mushrooms, drained (optional)
- 2 7 oz cans of solid white albacore tuna in water, drained
- 3 Tbs dried basil
- 4 Tbs Hot Madras Curry Powder *
- 4 bay leaves
- 2 tsp garlic powder or to taste -or- 2 to 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
- 1 Tbs salt
- 1 tsp sugar (optional – see Notes)
- 1 ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 4 Tbs butter (may substitute olive oil)
Pour crushed tomatoes into a large bowl. Drain tuna and put the contents of both cans into the bowl, breaking the tuna up into small, irregular pieces. Add basil, hot madras curry powder, garlic powder, salt, sugar, bay leaves, and black pepper to the bowl. Stir until well mixed. (You can also add a tablespoon of dried parsley and/or a ½ tbs of dried oregano if you want to vary the flavor a little).
Heat a 6-quart pot or 6-quart capacity deep frying pan over medium-high heat. Add chopped onions and sauté for about ten minutes (until soft and translucent).
Add chopped fresh garlic to the pan at this point (if not using garlic powder). Add the mushrooms (if using) and sauté the onion-mushroom mixture for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomato mixture to the same pan, bring it up to a slow-boil, and then turn down the heat to simmer. Cover the pan and let simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking, and continue to simmer for another 10 minutes.
Serve over your choice of pasta and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. If you require gluten-free, it’s equally delicious over rice, or try one of the gluten-free pastas. While it is a thick “meaty” sauce, we prefer to eat it with something long and thin, such as vermicelli or angel hair.
For best flavor and aroma, snap the dried bay leaves in half, but don’t crumble them; bay leaves are not really edible (and really unpleasant to try to eat), and you want to be able to pick them out before serving— or, at least, make it possible for your guests to extract them easily.
Mike said that he’s been making this sauce since he was in high school, and can’t remember where he got the original recipe. The one thing he does remember is that the original recipe contained raisins, but he didn’t like the sound of that, so he omitted them. I swear – this is the first time I’ve heard this – and I think raisins would probably be delicious in this sauce. So if you’ve a mind to experiment a bit, go ahead and throw in a handful of raisins or golden raisins or currants for the last 10 minutes of cooking, just to plump them up a bit and heat through.
Most pasta sauce recipes that call for sugar, including this one, add it for the purpose of countering the sometimes bitter acidity in the tomatoes. Try this trick: Instead of adding sugar, add a large pinch (about 1/8 tsp) of baking soda to the sauce and stir well. It will foam up a little as the baking soda interacts with the acid, but will then subside. Do this with all of your pasta sauces – you’ll never miss the sugar!
You can find Hot Madras Curry Powder in any Indian grocery. However, if you can’t get it where you are, you can make it yourself. Here’s Mike’s recipe:
Hot Madras Curry Powder
- 2 dried red chili peppers
- 5 Tbs coriander seeds
- 3 Tbs cumin seeds
- 2 pinches dried ground curry leaves (omit if you can’t find these)
- 1 Tbs black mustard seeds
- 2 Tbs ground turmeric
Put all ingredients into a spice grinder or clean coffee grinder, and grind until the ingredients are a fine powder. Makes about ¾ cup, so you’ll have plenty left over to use in soups, stews, or other meat or chicken dishes that you want to perk up a bit. Store the curry powder in an airtight jar or container, away from heat and light, just like your other spices.
From our home to yours, Happy New Year!