Why It Works
- Seasoning the tomatoes with coarse sea salt draws out juices to help form a no-fuss dressing with olive oil drizzled over the dish.
- Fatty oil-packed tuna belly complements the sweet acidity of peak season tomatoes.
Did you stock up on a lot of fancy canned tuna earlier this spring? Do you live for tomato season? Do you spend too much time daydreaming about the before times when you could daydream about traveling to places like Spanish Basque Country to eat every Cantabrian anchovy and burnt cheesecake in sight? Are you instead, like many others, in the midst of a stressful pandemic housing move, so you're trying to clear out your pantry and fridge for pre-moving day meals that feel like a contrived cooking show challenge? Or are you just a fan of simple, no-fuss, let-good-ingredients-shine salads? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you should make this Spanish-style tomato and ventresca tuna salad. If you're like me and answered in the affirmative to all of the above, hang in there—and also make this salad.
As with a good caprese, there isn't an "a-ha" secret component or technique to this tomato and tuna salad, which is popular throughout Spain. Put a few good ingredients together on a plate, then get out of their way. In this case, those ingredients are sliced ripe tomatoes, coarse sea salt, olive oil–packed ventresca tuna (fatty tuna belly), olive oil, and thinly sliced onion.
I fell in love with this dish in a windowless basement at Antonio Bar in San Sebastian, where it played the perfect opener—alongside a plate of salt-cured anchovies swimming in olive oil—to an outrageously flavorful txuleta de viejo (a giant ribeye from an actual old cow, not just an aged steak) with fries.
There is no vaca vieja steak cookery happening in my windowless studio apartment kitchen right now. The kitchen is a pre-move Marie Kondo nightmare, with the stove and counters covered with stacks of pans, utensils, and a Baking Steel that miraculously didn't break every bone in my foot when I tried to cushion its fall as if it were a soccer ball the other day. But I have made a couple tomato and ventresca salads for quick and easy lunches, with just a few farmers market tomatoes, a can of ventresca, and some ramps that I pickled a few months ago (thinly sliced raw spring onions, scallions, or yellow onion are traditional, but I like how vinegar tempers their raw bite, plus, there's no way all the homemade pickles in my fridge are making the move with me).
- 1 pound (450g) ripe beefsteak tomatoes
- Coarse sea salt such as Maldon or fleur de sel
- 3 ounces (85g) olive oil-packed ventresca tuna (from one 3.88-ounce (110g) can), drained and gently flaked into 2-inch pieces (see notes)
- 1 ounce (30g) quick-pickled onions or shallots, sliced pickled ramps, rapid-pickled onions, or thinly sliced raw onion (see notes)
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) extra-virgin olive oil (see notes)
- Crusty bread, for serving
Using a sharp chef's knife or serrated knife, cut tomatoes into wedges or 1/2-inch-thick slices, removing and discarding cores, and spread over a large serving plate in a single layer. Season with sea salt to taste. Arrange flakes of tuna between and on top of tomatoes, followed by pickled or raw onions (or shallots or ramps, if using). Drizzle olive oil over and around salad so that it pools around the tomatoes. Serve immediately with plenty of sliced crusty bread.
Because this dish is comprised of just a few ingredients, it's at its best when made with high quality products, and the quality of the tuna you use will make a difference here. We recommend oil-packed ventresca tuna, which comes from the richer, fatty belly; it's moister and more flavorful than other canned or jarred tuna. We like the ventresca from both Ortiz and Tonnino, two widely available brands.
Whether you use pickled or raw onion for this recipe comes down to personal preference and tolerance for the pungent bite of raw allium. Both work well in this dish. If you are using raw onion, seek out spring onions if they are in season. If using pickled onions or ramps, you can drizzle the salad with a little bit of the pickling liquid for extra acidity, along with olive oil.
Use the best olive oil you have. This is the perfect time to bust out that special bottle you were gifted a while ago and have been hoarding (or forgot about) in your cupboard.
Make-Ahead and Storage
This salad is best enjoyed immediately. Fortunately, it's so quick and easy to make that there's no reason to make it ahead of time.