One of the things I’ve been dying to recreate from my trip to San Sebastian is Marmitako. Not only was it one of the best things I ate, but it also might be my favorite zippy, funky Basque word. (Fun fact: Basque is the only language in the world that linguists cannot explain the origin of. I have no footnote, but someone told me that…). If you said something like that around these parts, people would not want to go near your skanky ass taco. So let me try to entice you…
Marmitako is a rustic late summer stew with potatoes, various bell peppers, and rich fish stock. We made it during my cooking class with San Sebastian Food at a little seaside restaurant in San Juan. The main event of the stew is sometimes squid, but more often than not, it’s tuna.
A huge part of my culinary awakening in the Basque region was refocusing my attention on tuna. I’ve never had anything against eating it, but in terms of cooking, it always just felt a little cheesy. This could be because when interviewing guys for the dating section of my book, 3 out of 5 said they’d make seared tuna steaks for a first cooking date. (I mean…come on.)
I’ll admit that I’ve been known to be overly fickle in my personal life, and in the case of tuna, that just might have trickled down into my culinary life as well. And while you will still probably never see a recipe on this site for seared tuna steaks with wasabi aioli, I have definitely come around to using it in a more rustic nature, like this stew.
My version of Marmitako was pretty darn good. But the one thing I was unable to recreate was the subtle kick in the broth. The chef used a small dried red chile – perhaps something like a New Mexican chile — rehydrated, seeds removed, and then torn up and tossed into the pot. I was lazy and used some red chile flakes instead. But it definitely lacked a little something something.
If you share my tuna biases or my budget, I would definitely recommend playing around with this stew and using squid or even a sturdy white stew fish like cod, hake, or halibut. Regardless of what you use, marmitako could not be simpler to make and it couldn’t taste further from a nasty ass taco.
I don’t know about where you live, but things are starting to cool off here in New York. I was even able to break out my cashmere sweat pants for the first day of the year (also known as my favorite day of the year). Spending money on cashmere sweatpants is not entirely dissimilar from spending money on tuna steaks and then throwing them in a stew. Some people might consider both concepts ridiculous (like, say, eating caviar with potato chips or having a bachelorette party in Ibiza). But I will say that they have made me very warm and snuggly and happy. And I’d highly recommend them in tandem.
Marmitako Basque Tuna Stew with Peppers and Potatoes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil divided
- 1 1/4 pounds tuna steak cut into 1-inch cubes
- Sea salt
- 1 sweet onion Spanish or Vidalia, finely diced
- 1 red bell pepper ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
- 1 poblano pepper ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
- 1 jalapeno or fresno chile pepper ribs and seeds removed, minced
- 2 large garlic cloves minced
- 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes
- 1 large tomato diced
- 1 large russet potato about 1 pound, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3 cups fish stock or water
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven. Season the tuna with salt and sear it in batches over high heat until browned on at least two sides, about 2 minutes total. Remove to a plate.
Add the remaining oil and the onion, peppers, garlic, chile flakes, and 1 teaspoon salt. Saute over medium heat until the vegetables are very soft but not browning, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and potatoes. Cover with the stock or water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender and the broth has thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt as necessary.
Stir in half the parsley and the tuna. remove from the heat and let stand 3 minutes, until the tuna is heated through and just barely cooked.
Serve the stew in bowls and garnish with the remaining parsley.