The Piedmont, a rustic Italian restaurant in Durham, North Carolina – which emphasizes local food offerings – includes oil-poached tuna on its menu. When questioned if the tuna was Atlantic blue fin, the waiter did not know. So we avoided it and went for the fennel, celery, goat cheese and grapefruit salad – along with sweet potato rutabaga dish covered in a savory vegetable sauce  – all fresh, local and delicious.

But the tuna poached in oil got us thinking and exploring.

Canned tuna is a fish preserved in oil, and “Preserved tuna is an ancient art, perfected by the Italians thousands of years ago,” explains Hank Shaw for About.com. He also provides a recipe for making your own homemade canned tuna.

“Poached in oil” carries many meanings. The recipes provided here offer a range of cooking temperatures – high, low and no cooking at all.  What’s crucial – choosing a high-quality oil.

Martha Stewart offers an oil-poached tuna – that includes the flavors of bay leaves and lemon thyme.

More secrets on poaching seafood in olive oil are offered by the California Olive Ranch: “fish is perfect for poaching in a high-quality extra virgin olive oil,” notes Dory Ford, chef-owner of Aqua Terra Culinary in Pebble Beach, California.

And back to the Piedmont – don’t forget that thousands of diners have pledged to boycott restaurants that serve the endangered Atlantic blue-fin tuna. So, restaurants would be wise to get specific with their menus, so waiters don’t get peppered with questions from us Portlandia types. We’re sure that a restaurant as exquisite as the Piedmont would not serve an endangered species. But diners who see “tuna” on the menu, regardless of how it’s cooked, must ask questions, avoiding the Atlantic blue fin and seeking out more sustainable species – like albacore –  instead.

Durham is a fantastic food town – and we look forward to our next visit!

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