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Wednesday 3 December 2008

Cotton’s Tastes of Cadiz – Atún Encebollado

I first tasted Atún Encebollado, literally ‘Onioned Tuna’, about twenty five years ago. It was served as a tapa with a glass of chilled fino in a small bar tucked away in a little side street in Cadiz. I must have looked hungry because the bartender gave me a particularly generous portion. It was so delicious – like fresh, comforting Spanish home cooking – that when I was feeding Cotton in The Maze of Cadiz, I had to include this. Fortunately, I asked the bar owner at the time how to make it. This was his version – and, as far as I know, the traditional way it is made in Cadiz:


  • ½ kilo fresh tuna cut into largish chunks (Do not be tempted to make this dish with tinned tuna.)
  • a large onion
  • a clove of garlic
  • some strips of green pepper (optional)
  • a bay leaf
  • a little grated nutmeg
  • a glass of dry white wine/ dry sherry
  • black pepper
  • salt
  • some chopped flat-leafed parsley/ the finely chopped green part of a couple of spring onions
  • some good quality olive oil


  • Heat a little oil in a pan and add the sliced onion (and slices of green pepper if used), garlic, bay leaf, nutmeg, black pepper and a little salt
  • Cook gently until the onions are soft and just beginning to take colour. Very gentle cooking is essential here to develop the flavour of the sofrito.
  • Add the chunks of fresh tuna, and turn up the heat. Shake the pan and stir the tuna gently from time to time until it is sealed and beginning to take colour.
  • Keeping the heat high, add the white wine/dry sherry. Shake the pan to distribute and evaporate the alcohol.
  • Add the parsley/ finely chopped spring onion stalks. Simmer for about five/ten minutes, depending on the size of the chunks – no more or the tuna will go dry. Add a little water if necessary. Then turn off the heat and leave covered for a few minutes. This will complete the cooking process and keep the tuna moist.
  • Taste and adjust seasoning.

    To be really authentic this should be served with fried slices of potatoes – which are sometimes then added to the pan of tuna. But it can also be served simply with a dressed green salad.

Atún Encebollado con Tomate

This is an alternative version of the above recipe.

  • Make the sofrito as above, including the strips of green pepper, and adding a pinch of cumin instead of the nutmeg. Instead of the onion you can use a handful of spring onions, reserving some of the finely chopped green part (This works particularly well with this version)
  • When the onion mixture is beginning to take colour, add two medium-sized chopped tomatoes (not from a tin) and continue to cook gently, stirring, until the sofrito is of a saucy consistency and has developed flavour.
  • Add the tuna and turn up the heat. Cook, throw in the green spring onion choppings, and leave to rest as above.

    This is great to eat hot or cold.


Richard said...

Why do I only ever read recipes when I've had a less than adequate meal? I'm now officially hungry.

Aly Monroe said...

Hi Richard! Glad you like the sound of this. Have you bumped it up on your to-be-cooked list?

Anonymous said...

Sounds delicious, what would compliment this for a side dish? Or, do you eat alone?

Aly Monroe said...

Hi Nancy!This is sometimes served as a small tapa to accompany a drink but when it is a meal, it is traditionally served with fried potatoes or sometimes just a simple green salad (including dark leaves like watercress), dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Hope you enjoy it!

Aly Monroe said...

- and that should be white wine vinegar!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Aly. I will try it.

Chris Webb said...

Great dish this Aly. In fact, like you, I first enjoyed it also in a small side street bar in Cadiz. As you say, best eaten with glass of manzanilla. However, the city's summer delicacy - snails or caracoles - are rather an acquired taste!

I have been to this wonderful city several times and Cadiz is one of my favourite Spanish cities. In fact, like Peter Cotton, I last travelled there by train from Madrid to Cadiz. Luckily it only took us five hours rather than a day and a half

Your book beautifully captures the cityscape that I know so well and made me long to be back there.

A great book on Cadiz is - out of print - The Flamencos of Cadiz Bay by Gerald Howson. All about an Englishman's journey there in the 1950's is seeking to learn flamenco guitar. Have you read it?

Aly Monroe said...

Thanks Chris. Glad the book - and the recipe - brought back memories for you. I must say I feel the same way about the caracoles. But I do remember calling in at a Spanish friend's house in Cadiz once. The house was filled with the most delicious smell ... yes, caracoles. I couldn't hang around to taste them, but perhaps it's a question of meeting the right cook!
No, I haven't seen the Gerald Howson book. I shall look out for it.
I shall be posting more recipes for the food Cotton eats - so look out for them!