Thursday, April 03, 2008


Atum means tuna in Portuguese. My friends and almost everybody I know call me Costa do Atum. With time it became my full name. I tell you the story.

One day, when I was a young sailor, some friends from Cabo Verde presented me with a tuna. Not a slice of tuna, not a big can of tuna, but an entire tuna. Back home, I didn’t know what to do with the animal.

First of all, I thought about making steaks of tuna. Nothing is as delicious as a good steak of tuna. If you know how to make a steak, you know how to make a steak of tuna, I have always been told.

I was not much of a cook by then, and even cooking rice involved an intricate alchemic process for me. So, I left the tuna in the coolest place I could find at home, and went looking for recipes.

From an old cookbook I learned that I could make it either with butter or olive oil, or even both. In the olive oil version I had to let the thin slices of tuna during at least three hours in a marinade of vinegar, white wine, parsley, laurel, garlic and paprika. I noticed they forgot to mention salt, and I also wondered what I should do during those three hours. Then I would have to dry them with a cloth, fry them in olive oil and join the marinade mixed with flour.

By that time I was starting to get nervous. I was young and all of this seemed too much trouble for a steak. When I read that I should serve it with a salad of avocado pear, I gave up. I jumped to the next recipe.

The next one looked more interesting. It mentioned thick slices of tuna and that appealed to me. And it also had onion and pepper, and they did not forget the salt. I should fry the steaks in butter and olive oil, on an earthen frying pan, with all of that and garlic. They did not say how much garlic, I thought an entire bulb would suffice, skin and all, because peeling garlic is a nuisance. By that time I did not know how to take the skin out in just three firm movements. I will tell you some other time.

The detail of using both butter and olive oil fascinated me. I wondered if I should also use lard.
But the best part of it came in the end. It should be served in the frying pan with chips. Although I noticed there were other receipts worth studying, I could not concentrate in anything else than on the steaks and the chips swimming in bubbling fat. I ran back home.
The tuna was gone.

I asked Idalina if she had seen a tuna walking by, or somebody carrying one.

“Idalina,” I asked her, “have you seen my tuna?”

Idalina lived, and still lives, up the street in an old house. The house looks as old as ever, except that now it has plastic window frames. By then, she was married with a distant cousin of mine embarked in the codfish fleet. She is much older by now, she is a widow and she did not give up the idea she will marry again, this time with me. But I like mysterious women, and Idalina is an old acquaintance. Not that she lost her charms with time.

“No,” she retorted gaily from the patio, “but if he belongs to your family I’m sure you won’t be able to keep him at home for a long time.”

I went down to the river bank and looked everywhere. There were enough patios and dark alleys to keep me busy searching for quite a while. Nobody had seen a tuna. I searched in the market, and then I searched in the tascas.
Tascas were small dark places where you could drink wine and eat fried sardines, snails, frog legs, and all those delicious things. Most of them are now expensive seafood restaurants.

“Hey, Costa,” someone called me from inside one of them, “come here and look at this!”

And there he was, in the darkest area of that dark place, the area where you could sit and drink with your friends without being bothered by the world outside, discreetly hidden from curious people, creditors, priests or policemen. My tuna was sitting with a group of my own friends, and they were drinking red wine by small glasses, thick and turned yellow by use.

For a certain time the tuna proved to be a good company but, you know, tunas cannot stop in one place, because then they die. So, one day he vanished for good.

And this is also the reason you are not going to hear any more recipes of tuna from me.


No comments: