In Andalucia the sun provides all the power of preservation necessary to produce some of the tastiest treats you will find, like Mojama, which is naturally dried Tuna or Bonito. Meat and fish are dried by the sun and the wind, so are pimientos,grapes, and other foods.
For centuries fishermen in warm climates have turned to drying or curing fish to preserve their catch. The fishermen off the southwest coast of Spain would pack fish in sea salt, and then hang them in the sun to dry. Even though it is not necessary to preserve fish this way with today’s advances in refrigeration and on-board freezers, people still love to eat salted fish.
Mojama is an Andalucian delicacy of dried fish. It is produced in the provinces of Huelva and Cadiz in the Atlantic, as well as Valencia, Murcia and Almeria in the Mediterranean. Fresh tuna is cut into strips, rubbed with salt and left to dry in the sun. The winds coming off the coast aids the drying process. When cured, the mojama has a dark reddish colour.
Mojama is a Roman invention. They salted bluefin tuna loins and left them to dry in the sun. The Arabs, when they ruled Andalucia between the 8th and the 16th centuries developed the sun curing of tuna in this way. They named it “mussama”, a word from which its present name, mojama, derives.
The flesh of the loin of tuna or bonito is used to make mojama, although sometimes mackerel and other species are cured through the same process. The most highly prized flesh comes from the bluefin tuna.
How to Make Mojama
Traditionally every house would have a washing line and hooked metal arrangement on its flat roof where the soaked fillets of mojama would be left to dry in the breeze. Today you can see every sort of fish from mackerel to octopus hanging on washing lines along the beach, drying in the sun. These Andalucian delicacies began as the food of the poor.
How to Dry Tuna
Take one blue fin tuna. With a knife, separate the tuna loins.
Wash the fillets in running fresh water.
Cover in coarse sea salt.and leave for two days
Place the fillets in “soaking tanks” running fresh water over and around them for 12 hours. Tie the fillets with wire clamps and leave to dry in a well ventilated place.
Today the fillets are dried artificially in cold storage rooms that blow cool air to maintain a temperature of 14 degrees
After three weeks in the drying rooms, the mojama will have lost half its weight, its colour will have deepened to dark garnet, and its flavour will be deep, rich and intense.
The appearance of small white spots are due to the salt content in the flesh, not to poor condition.
The coasts of Andalusia, Murcia and Valencia are well positioned to play host to this process, because the climate is dry and windy.
Drying makes tuna loins suffer major changes in their appearance. The colour becomes reddish-brown and its size decreases as the flesh shrinks and loses water, and its texture becomes firmer.
The dried flesh has organoleptic properties – taste, colour, aroma and texture all of its own. It is quite different in taste and texture from fresh tuna. The aroma and flavor of Mojama is more intense, it has a darker colour and firmer texture, which is much more uniform
The preparation process causes modification to some of its nutritional properties. There is a much higher salt content. As for other nutrients; proteins and fats, this process offers a much higher content compared to fresh tuna, due to water loss that occurs during processing, ie, nutrients are more concentrated.
As the tuna dries, it shrinks. The pale red fish turns a dark reddish-brown and has a firm consistency. You can buy mojama in markets all over Spain. It is sold in chunks by weight. If you do not live in Spain, buy mojama in vacuum-packed packages at gourmet or ethnic food markets, or over the internet. Enjoy!