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Marmitako (Basque Tuna Stew)

Seafood Recipes

marmitako, basque tuna stew recipe

When I first came across Marmitako, a Spanish tuna stew recipe from the Basque region, I cringed a little bit. Not because of the recipe itself, but because I’d claimed in my recent cookbook, New England Soups from the Sea, that tuna is a poor choice in soups and stews.

I was confident in that statement from a United States-based culinary perspective. After all, there are no tuna chowders, tuna bisques, tuna stews, or any sort of regional seafood soup recipes that include tuna.

But I wasn’t as confident in this statement from a global perspective. So I researched far and wide to find examples of traditional tuna stew or soup recipes around the world. I could not find any. Somehow, Marmitako eluded me. And now, my statement, in print forever, is perhaps not as accurate as I thought.

Or maybe Marmitako is an outlier so both can still be true. Meaning, there’s a reason tuna is not used very often in soups and stews. After all, as I said in my cookbook, tuna is much better suited to light and quick searing on a hot grill or served raw as sushi. I think that’s still accurate. But, it can also be true that in the right recipe, tuna can actually work as a stew or soup.

Marmitako is that recipe.

What is Marmitako?

Marmitako roughly means, “from the pot” in the Basque language. As a recipe, Marmitako is a traditional Basque tuna stew (Marmitako de Atun in Spanish) made with fresh tuna, potatoes, peppers, garlic, onion, wine, fish stock, fresh herbs, and spices. There are, of course, many variations, but those are the basic ingredients. Tomatoes are a common ingredient too.

marmitako recipe

Like all native and traditional fish stews and soups, be it Bouillabaisse, New England Fish Chowder, Zarzuela, Zuppa di Pesce, Fiskesuppe, etc., Maritako was originally created by fishermen as a rustic, simple meal made with freshly-caught fish and seasonal vegetables.

Over time, the recipe became more refined and varied.

But there are three things to emphasize that make any Marmitako recipe both unique and incredibly delicious. The first is two key ingredients. The second is a method of slicing potatoes known as breaking potatoes. And the third is choosing a good species of tuna.

More Seafood Stews to Try

The Two Key Marmitako Ingredients

fish broth and pimientos choriceros

That’s a high-quality fish broth on the left and a paste of pimientos choriceros on the right. Let’s discuss the latter first.

What are pimiento choriceros?

Pimientos choriceros are a type of dehydrated red pepper that is popular in Spanish cuisine. They add a distinctive sweet and smoky flavor to sauces, soups, stews, and even sausages. And they’re a defining ingredient in Marmitako.

Now, it may be difficult, if not impossible to find them in markets in the US. It’s fine to substitute some tomato paste instead as the texture and flavor are somewhat similar. But if you’re as obsessive as I am about creating recipes as close to the authentic versions as possible, well, there are a few options.

First, you might try a Spanish specialty market, if there’s one in your area. I don’t have one near me so I opted for the next option — buying it online.

For this recipe, I purchased Rajope Choicero Pepper Paste (pictured above), the only jarred version in paste form available on Amazon. It’s a bit pricey because it’s shipped from Spain but I didn’t care. Like I said, I’m a little OCD about getting things “right” sometimes.

And it really was worth it. Without the pimientos choriceros, I could easily tell just from looking at the ingredients what this recipe would taste like. I knew it would be really good. But it wouldn’t be anything too distinct from other similar Mediterranean-esque seafood stews I’ve made in the past. The pimientos choriceros truly gave it a flavor profile that is unique to Spanish cuisine.

It’s not a big deal to use tomato paste instead. Again, your Marmitako recipe will still be outstanding. But there is a difference between the two. Pimientos choriceros are not quite as rich as tomato paste. It also has more of a peppery taste (obviously, since it comes from peppers and not tomatoes) with a slight hint of spice (but by no means is it remotely spicy).

I should also mention that for this reason, I don’t include a red bell pepper in my recipe. Too much pepper flavor, especially from bell peppers can contribute too much of a sour flavor, in my opinion. I’ve learned the hard way to tone down the bell peppers in stew recipes!

I also loved the pepper paste because it was so darn simple to use. Just open the jar and add the peppers to the stew. So easy! That said, if you do find yourself with the whole dried pimientos choriceros, you’ll need to rehydrate them before adding them to the stew.

Just add hot water and let them soak for about a half hour until they expand. Then scrape off the inner parts (called the pulp or the meat of the pepper) and discard the skin. This pulpy inner part of the pepper is essential the same thing as the jarred paste.

There are some other online specialty Spanish retailers that sell pimientos choriceros. A quick Google search will reveal some other options. Be prepared to pay a lot for shipping though as it will be shipped from overseas.

High-Quality Fish Broth

Man, I feel like a broken record sometimes. If you know this blog you know I’m always promoting real homemade fish broth (also called fish stock) in seafood soup and stew recipes. I kind of say the same thing over and over. That being two things. First, homemade is always the best option. You can see how to make it in my comprehensive fish broth post.

Please don’t use water or chicken stock (a common recommendation) as a replacement for fish broth. Homemade fish broth is the perfect complement to any fish-based stew or soup as it contributes a subtle but not-so-subtle background seafood flavor.

Second, I understand homemade fish broth is not always doable. After all you’re going to need some fish frames or fish carcasses and they’re not always available. It’s also an extra step that not everyone is prepared for. In that case, there is one suitable store-bought option. Aneto Fish Broth.

In fact, Aneto’s company headquarters is located in Spain! They make not just fish broth but a wide variety of high-quality stocks and broths. You can find all of them on their website.

I cannot recommend one comparable seafood broth or stock product in US supermarkets. I honestly can’t. I wrote a post comparing all the store-bought seafood broth options. You can check it out but I’ll save you the time and just say that with the exception of Aneto, store-bought seafood broths are all pretty lousy.

Breaking Potatoes

Yes, you read that right. Cool band name, don’t you think? Anyway, breaking potatoes is a method of preparing potatoes so that they release a good amount of their starch in the stew, thus negating the need for a thickener.

Breaking potatoes is like a hybrid of chopping and dicing. Basically, you slice into the potato with a knife and then twist the knife so that rough pieces break off. You don’t want neatly sliced pieces or evenly chopped cubes. Here is a quick video I made to show you exactly how to break potatoes…

Tuna Choices for Marmitako

When it comes to tuna, there are many species, each with its own culinary characteristics. But for the most part, there are 5 species that we consume as food, at least here in the United States.

Skipjack Tuna and Albacore Tuna are primarily used for canned tuna. Yellowfin Tuna can also be canned but also found sold as steaks and for sushi.

Bluefin Tuna is considered the prize culinary species. Its high-fat content means great flavor and texture. Bluefin Tuna is sold almost exclusively as sushi. For that reason, it’s extremely pricey.

The one I would recommend for Marmitako is Bigeye Tuna. It has similar characteristics to Bluefin Tuna but is not nearly as expensive. It’s a colorful, fatty fish, full of rich flavor. It’s the fat that will keep the fish moist and tender, even in a hot liquid, like a soup or stew. Therefore, it’s an ideal choice for Marmitako.

That said, Bigeye Tuna is not exactly cheap either. Yellowfin Tuna is a good choice too. It’s leaner than Bigeye Tuna, lighter in color, and generally speaking, a little cheaper.

Depending on where you live, you may only have one choice for fresh tuna steaks at your local seafood market. Sometimes you can find them in the frozen seafood section too.

I should also mention that other species of fatty fish can be substituted for tuna, such as salmon, mackerel, and my personal favorite here on the East Coast of the United States…bluefish.

OK, now that we’ve covered the two key ingredients, breaking potatoes, and the best choices for tuna, we’re finally ready to learn how to make Marmitako!

Marmitako Ingredients

marmitako ingredients

Those are all your fresh ingredients. Not pictured are the packaged items which include olive oil, white wine, the fish stock, and choricero pepper paste. Here’s what you’ll need for a serving size of about 4 people:

  • 4 TBSPs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion or white onion
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1.5 pounds (about 2.5 to 3 cups) Yukon gold potatoes (4 to 5 medium-sized)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 TBSPs pimientos choriceros paste (or substitute tomato paste)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 4 cups fish broth
  • 1 to 1.5 pounds of fresh tuna steaks
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Fresh parsley

How to Make Marmitako (Step-by-Step Visual Guide)

1: Prepare the vegetables

Roughly chop the onion and pepper into 1/2-inch or so pieces. Dice the garlic. Peel and break the potatoes (see video above).

2. Saute the onion and pepper

saute onion and pepper

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large stockpot, add the onion and pepper, and saute for about 5 minutes or until the onion becomes softened and fragrant.

Step 3: Add the potatoes and garlic

add garlic and potatoes to the tuna stew

Saute for another 5 minutes, stirring every so often.

Step 4: Add white wine, optional

Add 1 cup of a dry white wine like a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Simmer for about 4 minutes until it reduces by about one-third to one-half and the alcohol evaporates. This step is totally optional. Personally, I always love the light acidic boost that white wine gives to seafood stews.

Step 5: Add the pimientos choriceros and smoked paprika

add pepper paste and smoked paprika

Mix well and saute for one more minute.

Step 6: Add the fish broth

add fish broth to tuna stew

Turn the heat to high and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Step 7: Prepare the tuna

cubed tuna pieces

While the potatoes are cooking, slice the tuna into rough cubes. You can see the nice fatty streaks in the Bigeye Tuna!

Step 8: Turn the heat OFF and add the tuna to the stew

This is so important! This is why, generally speaking, tuna is a rare choice in soups and stews. Tuna will easily overcook, lose its delicate flavor, and turn a bit tough. So right before adding the tuna, turn the stovetop/heat off entirely.

Add the tuna and cover the pot for 2 to 3 minutes. The tuna will cook in the hot broth. Immediately, the deep-colored red flesh will turn whitish gray, like so…

That is normal, of course. But the idea is to keep some color and tenderness on the inside. The longer it sits the more it will cook so be ready to serve it soon after adding the tuna.

Step 9: Serve and season Marmitako, to taste

Ladle the Marmitako into individual bowls. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, and freshly chopped parsley. Enjoy!

Marmitako Printable Recipe

Marmitako (Basque Tuna Stew)

This Marmitako recipe…
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
CourseMain Course
CuisineBasque, Spanish
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time50 minutes
Servings4 people
Calories489kcal
AuthorCraig Fear
Cost$40

Ingredients

  • 4 TBSPs olive oil
  • 1 onion yellow or white, coarsely chopped
  • 1 green pepper coarsely chopped
  • 1.5 pounds Yukon gold potatoes broken (see video for instructions)
  • 2 cloves garlic diced
  • 1 cup white wine optional
  • 2 TBSPs pimientos choriceros paste or sub tomato paste
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 4 cups fish stock
  • 1 to 1.5 pounds fresh tuna
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • fresh parsley chopped, to taste

Instructions

  • Roughly chop the onion and pepper into 1/2-inch or so pieces. Dice the garlic. Peel and break the potatoes (see video above). Set them aside.
  • Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large stockpot, add the onion and pepper, and saute for about 5 minutes or until the onion becomes softened and fragrant.
  • Add the potatoes and garlic. Saute for another 5 minutes, stirring every so often.
  • Add 1 cup of a dry white wine like a Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc. Raise the heat and simmer for about 4 minutes until it reduces by about one-third to one-half and the alcohol evaporates. This step is totally optional. White wine is a nice complement to seafood stews. It gives a background boost in acidity.
  • Add the pimientos choriceros paste and the smoked paprika. Mix well and saute for one more minute.
  • Add the fish broth. Turn the heat to high and bring it to a boil. Turn the heat down, cover, and simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
  • While the potatoes are cooking, slice the tuna into cubes.
  • Turn the heat entirely off. Add the chopped tuna to the stew. Cover the pot for 2 to 3 minutes. The tuna will cook in the hot broth. The idea here is not to overcook it. Serve immediately while the tuna is still tender.
  • Ladle the Marmitako into individual bowls. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper, and freshly chopped parsley. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Serving: 2cups (1 bowl) | Calories: 489kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Cholesterol: 43mg | Sodium: 838mg | Potassium: 1345mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 2846IU | Vitamin C: 60mg | Calcium: 120mg | Iron: 4mg
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Marmitako (Basque Tuna Stew)
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About the Author

Craig Fear is the creator of Fearless Eating and the author of three books, The 30-Day Heartburn Solution, Fearless Broths and Soups and The Thai Soup Secret. After years helping clients with digestive issues, Craig decided to pursue writing full-time. He intends to write many more books on broths and soups from around the world! Click here to learn more about Craig.

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