My friends sure know what pleases me—gourmet gifts. I’ve recently enjoyed a prize-winning goat cheese from El Bosque (Cádiz province), packets of the best acorn-finished ibérico ham from Jábugo (Huelva province), morcilla sausage from Burgos (northern Spain) and mojama, superb dried tuna from Barbate, on the Atlantic coast of Cádiz (southern Spain). (Thanks, Julianne, Nancy, Charlotte.)
|Mojama is air-dried tuna. Serve it with extra virgin olive oil, coarsely ground black pepper and grated lemon zest.|
Mojama is made from thick slabs of tuna—bluefin, albacore, yellowfin—that are packed in sea salt for a day or two, then washed and hung to air-dry. The process, indeed, is similar to that for producing serrano and ibérico hams. The salting draws the moisture out of the flesh. As it dries, the flesh becomes firm, compacted. The flavor intensifies.
|Lovely gift--12-ounce package of mojama from Barbate.|
The best quality mojama is cut from the lomo, side of the tuna, closest to the center spine. It is veined with fat which keeps the flesh fairly soft and pliable. Outside cuts taken from near the skin don’t have this streaking and become stiffer in the drying process. I have had mojama that was like cardboard or tough jerky.
The taste of mojama? Salty, like good ham, not like anchovies. It has marine overtones, a subtle iodine, but is not “fishy.” It’s a rich, umami taste. Because it’s a concentrated flavor, a little mojama goes a long way.
|Slice mojama thinly--about the width of a knife blade (1/16th inch). Marinate in extra virgin olive oil for 30 minutes before serving.|
Good quality mojama is thinly sliced, moistened with extra virgin olive oil and served with bread. It can also be cut in dice or, if very firm, grated, and used as a flavor garnish. Unlike another dried fish, bacalao, salt cod, mojama is not soaked before using. It is never cooked.
In addition to the simple, classic presentation, I’ve discovered that mojama can be used in dishes in place of anchovies or canned tuna. Here are some suggestions. Fino Sherry or manzanilla is the best wine with mojama, in my opinion.
|Breakfast or apéritif? Here sliced mojama tops toasted bread spread with grated tomato and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.|
|Mojama with Andalusian tapas--bottom, salad with oranges, onions and olives; left, salmorejo, a thick gazpacho cream; top, stuffed eggs.|
|Stuffed eggs with mojama.|
To make the stuffed eggs: Hard-cook eggs. Separate the yolks and mash them with a spoonful of Dijon mustard, lemon juice, chopped red pepper, chopped mojama and a little mayonnaise to make a smooth mixture. Fill the whites and top them with strips of mojama.
This Málaga salad is usually made with salt cod. Layer sliced oranges, onions and sliced mojama on a serving plate. Dress with extra virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes and black olives.
|Pasta with mojama, garlic, chile and sun-dried tomatoes.|
Pasta with Mojama and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Mojama tuna replaces anchovies in this version of pasta alla puttanesca.
1 ounce sun-dried tomatoes, slivered (¼ cup)
8 ounces linguine, spaghetti or fettuccine
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced crosswise
Hot pepper flakes or sliced chile
1 heaping tablespoon capers
2 ounces thinly sliced mojama, cut into pieces
¼ cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Place slivered tomatoes in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Let stand 10 minutes. Drain.
Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.
Heat oil in a skillet. Add sliced garlic to cold oil. When garlic begins to color, add pepper flakes and sun-dried tomatoes. Cook 4 minutes. Add the capers.
Drain the pasta, reserving ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Swirl the liquid into the skillet. Add the cut-up mojama and the parsley. Add the drained pasta to the skillet and toss with the oil. Season with salt and pepper. (Salt may not be needed.) Serve the pasta into heated bowls and grate a little lemon zest over each serving.