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In some parts of the country, the summer albacore run is in its prime. But even where tuna isn’t plentiful, this preserving technique is a must have. It falls somewhere between fresh and canned tuna, the Italians called it “conservata,” the old tradition of preserving protein in olive oil.

It is usually imported from Spain or Italy and sells for as much as $50 a pound, which is especially unnecessary given how easy it is to make yourself.

The flavor is rich the texture is meaty — not mealy the way commercial tuna can be. And because you’re controlling the process, you can flavor the oil any way you choose, giving it flavor you won’t find in regular canned tuna. You can add things like: garlic, red pepper, a bay leaf, a big piece of lemon peel, or any herbs. The tuna can also be cooked in water, though the fishiness will be stronger and the texture more dense. In oil the flavor is richer and picks up the flavorings more readily.

This tuna “consevata” is also versatile in the way you can serve it: perfect in the traditional French Niçoise salad, or a tomato based pasta sauce, or on toast with white beans and herbs.

It stores in the refrigerator for about two weeks and the technique is so effortless that it will work well for small batches.

The kind of tuna you start with of course has an effect on the flavor but I’ve found that even store bought frozen tuna, defrosted overnight produces a great result. The best cut is the fatty belly if you can find it.

It’s important to use a small saucepan that will hold the tuna snugly, and just enough oil to cover. The most important factor is the temperature. Start the fish in cold oil over the lowest flame and never let it get to even a simmer. Otherwise the tuna will turn tough.

You turn the heat off as soon as the fish is fully white and begins to flake. It will continue to cook as the oil cools.

Once the tuna is cool enough to handle, transfer it to a clean, lidded container like a mason jar, and pour the oil and flavorings over the top. Screw the lid on top and let it cool completely.

The one thing you can’t do is store the fish in the cabinet unless you seal the jar with a pressure cooker, because the fish doesn’t hold enough acid to store in the oil without refrigeration. It will keep in the refrigerator for two weeks, however, and it probably won’t last that long anyhow, given how good it is!

Want to know more about seafood? Join me and Jon Rowley, the man who changed the way America eats seafood, in Seattle this week. We’ll be at Elliot Bay Books on Thursday, August 26th at 7pm, for my book tour. He’ll be talking about his “rigor mortis theory” and we’ll even be tasting a little whiskey. You don’t want to miss it!

“Tuna Preserved in Oil”

Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time8 hours
Total Time8 hours 5 minutes
Servings: 2 servings


  • 1 lb tuna
  • 1 ½ cups olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic crushed
  • 3 sprigs thyme plus any other aromatics such as bay leaf, sage, rosemary, lemon peel, red pepper flakes


  • Rinse the tuna and pat dry. Cut into smaller 1-2 inch portions if necessary to fit snugly into a saucepan.
  • Put in a small saucepan with the oil, place over low heat until bubbles start to come to the surface.
  • Let cook for about 10 minutes, without letting the oil simmer or bubble too much.
  • Turn off the heat and add the garlic and herbs and any other flavorings.
  • Pour the contents into a glass jar. Let cool to room temperature, cover, and let infuse over night before serving.
  • Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.


  • Nicole
    Posted August 24, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I definitely want to give this a try!

    • Hdhd
      Posted October 10, 2018 at 5:17 pm

      Definitely put it in the fridge as soon as it cools, to avoid poisoning yourself!

  • Nicole
    Posted August 24, 2010 at 11:43 am

    Question: should it be refrigerated as soon as it cools, or left at room temp overnight?

    • Post Author
      Posted August 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm

      Howdy, I left it at room temperature overnight and then refrigerated it. I think the most important thing is to just make sure the jar is room temp when it goes into the fridge. If that means you do it a few hours later I think that's fine too.

  • P. Simone
    Posted August 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Do you know if this technique would be good for other fish such as Amber Jack?

  • Post Author
    Posted August 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Most fish will poach well in oil. The more delicate less "meaty" kinds don't need as much cook time. Give it a try!

  • heidileon
    Posted August 25, 2010 at 5:11 am

    beautiful. I will give a try to tuna preserved in oil.

  • aajay
    Posted September 3, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Absolutely delicious! Added to my repetoire. Thanks!

  • cookincanuck
    Posted September 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    This is a fantastic idea! So much more appealing than the regular canned tuna.

  • Kim McDonald
    Posted December 16, 2014 at 1:01 am

    Will be trying this definitely! Also if salt is added, would it prolonged the shelf life?

  • Joel
    Posted November 9, 2015 at 6:59 am

    I poached some yellow fin fresh caught tuna in grape seed oil and ever so delicately heated the oil in a small sauce pan. As soon as the filets began to turn a bit white, i turned off this very low heat and let the tuna just rest in this hot oil. Meanwhile i gather from my garden rosemary, thyme, a sun dried jalapeno, 3 cloves of garlic, Italian parsley, 6 cumin seeds, 3peppercorns, dash of salt and put all in mason jars, covered up to 3\8 with fresh oil, put lid on tight an left jars on counter top over night to completely cool. Early in morning i put in the refrigerator and let marinade three days. Major yum and next time i will experiment with salmon, Ahi, yellowtail, Ono, herring, and yellow fin with olive oils, sesame seed oils, walnut oils, and my many homemade infused oils that i flavor with herbs from my garden…..basil, fennel, lemon peel, lavender, etc. Add a serano pepper that was sun dried or even sun-dried tomatoes and eat the fish with smoked vegetables and pasta and creamy cheese with a light white wine to the slightly sweet side.

  • Britt
    Posted November 16, 2016 at 3:23 am

    Great article.

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