Cold Smoked Tuna

Post Tonno Affumicato

Citrus and Cognac Scented

Cold Smoked Salmon is now a great classic among Italian grillers and I was amazed at how many accesses received in recent days the post we had published just a year ago, a destination for those who want to prepare their personal version of one of the most classic Christmas lunch appetizers. The reasons are easy to understand:

  • A homemade cold smoked salmon will always have a more complex, intense, fragrant and rich taste than the same packaged product of the supermarket, as far as quality is concerned. I always say it: it’s like comparing the homemade bread, leavened 24 hours and kneaded with selected flours with the commercial one: there can be no match and the first time you try it you understand what you gave up until that moment.
  • Making a cold smoked salmon is a great fun and a great satisfaction, as well as a sure way to impress your guests who had never contemplated the hypothesis that it could be achieved at an amateur level. Furthermore, making it at home allows you to play on the recipe by personalizing it, putting your personal signature on it through that particular ingredient or selection of the raw material.
  • The cost of a whole salmon that except for the head is used almost completely, costs about € 8 / kg. The packaged smoked Salmon from the supermarket ranges from € 35 to over € 100 per kg depending on the quality you choose, which in any case is most of time about the raw material and not the process, which practically always deals with liquid smoke and not on natural smoking. In short, Cold Smoked Salmon is a very effective way to get a better product, saving, having fun and impress. What more could you want?

After several years, however, it is time to face new challenges and this Christmas I decided to double it, adding Cold Smoked Tuna on the cutting board. If the points we mentioned above are true, they are even more so for smoked tuna. If I REALLY want to buy a smoked salmon as it should and if I have no budget limits to devote to the purpose, there are specialized fishmongers or delis in which you can find a natural smoked quality salmon. Unfortunately the same can not be said for smoked tuna. Considering the cost of the raw material of departure, having a gastronomic correspondent would be like going to jewelry, and in fact the only existing alternative is the product in the envelope of the supermarket, even more depressing than that of salmon. It’s time to restore dignity to Cold Smoked Tuna and raise it to a new standard.

Ingredienti Tonno AffumicatoAs we griller commonly do with Salmon, even in this case it is however worth characterizing and personalizing the recipe. My Smoked Tuna will have fresh and aromatic citrus notes and the elegant character of Cognac. For the rest, I will refer to the Salmon recipe a lot, resuming its balance and phases. As we did then, we calculate the quantity of ingredients: we start from 1,745 kg of fresh tuna, which corresponds to half the weight in brine, then about 900 gr, divided in half into sugar (450 gr.), Just under half in Sea Salt and the remaining part in rub (50 gr). As a rub we will use a small part of T-Bone rub that I use very much as a “discrete” flavorer and most of Don Marco’s Wondergreen which will give a fresh and pleasant herbaceous note to the whole. In the Brine we will add the sliced or grated peel of an orange, a grapefruit and two limes and instead of the Brown Sugar used with Salmon, I will use a highly soluble cane sugar, in order to facilitate the release of their oils in a more humid environment essential. As about Instacure #1, we will proceed to calculate the usual 1 per 1000, then almost 2 grams. I will use this quantity but you feel free to round the gram if it makes you feel more relaxed. You know very well that we are used to apply a thick and greasy emulsion during the step after the brine, to get a better rehydration. In this case compared to the Salmon recipe, I preferred to the characterizing Maple Syrup, a more neutral Agave Syrup that does not modify in any way the aromatic content of Cognac.

Ingredients (appetizer for 6 people per piece):

1,745 kg Tuna fillet

(for Brine)

450 gr. fine cane sugar
400 gr. Marin Salt
5 gr. T-Bone Texas rub
45 gr. Don Marco’s Wondergreen rub
2 gr. InstaCure #1
1 Orange
1 Grapefruit
2 Limes
1 shot of Cognac

(for Rehydration)

10 cl. Cognac
10 cl. Extra Vergin Olive oil
5 cl. Agave Syrup

Ingredienti Tonno Affumicato


First we have to trim the tuna fillet. As is well known, its shape is conical, then starts from a section of a few centimeters of one end to get almost a span of the opposite one. To our purpose it serves both that the section is not excessively important in order to have slices of practical size for canapes or to serve, and that its thickness is homogeneous so that the brine can act uniformly along the whole piece. What we have to do is then divide the fillet into long, thin and as homogeneous pieces as possible. You can do it in the way that you think is most appropriate, but here I report you as I do. In addition, I often receive messages concerning problems in the lighting of the snail for cold smoking. Then I add a step-by-step explanation of how to do it correctly and in the fastest way possible.

Dividing Tuna Fillet in Pieces

Taking into account an entire fillet the usable parts are 4: the first goes from the fillet’s tail up to about 1/3 of the total length. The other 3 derive from the sectioning of the remaining part. Look at the front and you will be facing a Scalene triangle

Sezionamento Tonno Affumicato

Look for the sharpest vertex and cut that part along the body of the fillet so that its section forms an equilateral triangle. The remaining part should have the form of a sort of trapezium. Lay it on the wider side and divide it into two.

Sezionamento Tonno Affumicato

The shape of the fillet is not always so regular as to allow it to perfectly respect these proportions. If necessary, adjust the incision point to the shape of the fillet section. What you should find at the end is (in addition to the tail of the fillet), is a parallelepiped of triangular section and two of rectangular section

Post Tonno Affumicato

Lighting Correctly the Snail

First of all, naturally you must fill the snail with the wood powder of the essence you have chosen. My advice is to do this by placing the snail inside a foil pan and then pour the powder on the snail. With a spoon spread all over the snail so that it fills all the tracks. If necessary, of course add more. With the back of the spoon pass the rails until they are visible. In other words you have to have the tracks perfectly saturated but without dust that dig from one side to the other. At the end of the filling, recover the powder leaking into the pan, pouring it into its bag.

Chiocciola Tonno Affumicato

With the torch for brulée you start the combustion at the beginning side of the snail, the one where there is that sort of oblique step and the housing where in theory the candle should be placed. What you have to try to do is to get the combustion to the point where the step ends, or the one where the section of the track becomes the normal one, as it continues throughout the journey. Only when the ash burning will reach the full section, the smoke will start without interrupting. If you own a Weber snail, I advise you not to start combustion from the specific hole but to make the side containment net of the track become incandescent. The Weber snail tracks are curved instead of straight like those of the others and triggering the combustion before a curve is, in my opinion, more complicated. If you do it from the outside instead you will see that there will be no problems.

Chiocciola Tonno Affumicato
Chiocciola Tonno Affumicato

Continue until the wood catches fire even when torch is removed, at the starting point of the path you will see a stable flame. Place the snail on the combustion grid of your smoker or your kettle and close the lid. The degree of opening of the vents is not so decisive but if you want, place them in half.

Chiocciola Tonno Affumicato
Chiocciola Tonno Affumicato

After a very short time the flame will turn off and you will see the smoke starting to exit the device. In the correct quantity, the smoke will come out thin and fine but continuous. A full snail should last about 10-12 hours.

Chiocciola Tonno Affumicato

Cold Smoked Tuna

Flavored with Citrus and Cognac

Using the special cooking tool, grate the peel of the three citrus fruits taking care to avoid as much as possible to remove the white part and add it to the other ingredients in a bowl. It may happen that in our case, some of these have a gummy peel, difficult to grate without squeezing the essential oils. In this case peel the rinds with a knife and then cut the surface with light cuts.

Salamoia Tonno Affumicato

Brush the slices with the shot of Cognac. Then spread a layer of brine in a container of suitable size, place the fillets pieces and sprinkle with brine until completely covered with a thick layer.

Salamoia Tonno Affumicato

Then cover the container and place it at refrigerator temperature, which means either in the fridge or in an environment that has the same temperatures.

If you remember the salmon recipe I explained how there is no a precise time of permanence in brine, but how it depends from time to time on the thickness of the cuts and the characteristics of the raw material. The same is true for the Tuna. What you need to do is start checking from the next 24 hours. The moment to move on to the next phase is when the meat becomes firm and compact, meaning that there is a very limited “return” but present when you press it. In our case it took 40 hours.

Reidratazione Tonno Affumicato

Take some time to enjoy the moment when you will open the container: it will give off an incredible aroma of candied citrus, you will feel like you are in a Sicilian pastry. Remove the pieces of tuna from the brine and rinse them under running water until they are completely cleaned.

Reidratazione Tonno Affumicato

Mix the ingredients of the Rehydration in a glass with a teaspoon of mustard and emulsify them until a homogeneous and stable mixture is obtained.

Reidratazione Tonno Affumicato

Brush the pieces on all sides with the emulsion so that it coats with a thick layer and place them in the fridge without covering them. This will guarantee a slow rehydration of the meat. Despite this, periodically check the slices, if they appear dry on the surface, repeat the operation several times.

Reidratazione Tonno Affumicato

As for the stop in brine, there is no a precise rehydration time. When after spending several hours from the last application, the slices will still appear invigorated and “fat”, you are ready to go to the next phase of smoking.

Affumicazione Tonno

For the smoking we will use snail and as an essence The Fisherman’s Best of Axtschlag, a particular blend based on Alder and Beech powder, as well as Spices and Flavors specially created for the cold smoking of fish. Fill the snail and light it as instructed and proceed in the morning with the first 12 hours of smoking. In the evening we will proceed to renew the smoking that we will leave to act during the night.

Affumicazione Tonno

The maturation phase is for eliminating the alcoholis accumulated during long hours of smoking, through contact with the air, making the taste of smoked tuna, softer and more persuasive. To facilitate the process and at the same time further aromatize the meat, we proceed to brush it regularly during a stop in the fridge with an alcoholic substance. In the case of salmon we used the classic Rum, with a tablespoon of Maple Syrup to make it more viscous. In the case of the tuna we will naturally use Cognac but add the agave syrup to remain more neutral and preserve its aromatic nuances better. At the end of the smoking the tuna appears opaque and dull.

Affumicazione Tonno

The application of Cognac makes it immediately shiny and attractive and helps clean the surface by dissolving the last residuals of condensed oil left over from the Rehydration.

Maturazione Tonno

Place the pieces in the fridge and proceed to give a new brush of Cognac every time you see the surface return opaque. At the beginning the step will be of about two hours and then progressively lengthen. Proceed for approximately 24 hours.


The smoked tuna was very interesting and certainly worthy to accompany the salmon on the Christmas table. The consistency is certainly more compact, less buttery than Salmon. It looks much more like a salami, and recalls a fresh Bresaola for firmness. Taste is perhaps the most surprising part. Now I can say: when I opened the container after the brine step and I heard that pleasant but intense note of candied citrus fruits I feared I exaggerated. I must say instead that the citrus profile of the tuna is really thin, very elegant, precious. It feels, but it is there at the back, elegant and noble, without annoying. The tuna has proved to be an ideal companion of salmon: the latter is easier, panderer, immediate, in contrast to that, tuna requires a more careful tasting, focusing on the details. On both, however, I strongly recommend some toasted bread, with salted butter and a flute of classic method wine.

Tonno Affumicato
Tonno Affumicato

Tonno Affumicato

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