Dad's Tuna Patties in Spanish Sauce

My favorite Lenten Meal from childhood is my Dad's Tuna Patties in Spanish Sauce. It's an easy weeknight dinner recipe served alone or over rice.

Lent always reminds me of my childhood. We didn't grow up eating fish. It's why I am, at 51 years of age, still learning to appreciate seafood. Even when we went fishing with Dad, we went for the one-on-one time we had with him, certainly not for any caught fish. If we did catch anything, Dad would clean it and cook it for him and mom to enjoy while us kids got hot dogs, which was fine by us.

The one exception to this "we don't like fish" rule was tuna. And every year at Lent, Dad would make his Tuna Patties with Spanish Sauce. It was the only time he made it and every year we looked forward to it. It's total comfort food, filled with the flavors of my childhood: tomatoes, onions, cilantro, bell peppers –– a classic mix of Mexican ingredients that are the basis for so many different dishes.

Over the years, I tried replicating Dad's recipe. And every year, I'd wind up with scrambled eggs with tuna. I simply couldn't get them to hold together. The flavor was pretty much there but obviously, my technique was lacking.

A few weeks ago, I called my Dad and shared with him my past fails. I told him I wanted to share the recipe on the blog but I've never been able to make it like he did. He agreed to teach me. So on a mid-Sunday morning the weekend before last, I stopped at the store to pick up some tomatoes and headed over to my parent's house. Dad already had the mise en place set, minus the tomatoes I had in hand. I quickly made notes of his quantities of ingredients (like most cooks, Dad doesn't measure, he just chops, slices, dices and adds a little of this and a little of that which makes jotting down his recipes challenging).

Then he got to the eggs. Here is what I was missing. I simply scrambled the eggs and added them to the tuna.

"No, no, no," Dad said. "You have to whip the eggs and yolks separately."

"Oh, you mean like chiles rellenos?" I asked.

"Exactly. You're making a batter so you also have to add a touch of flour to it to help it adhere to the tuna, " he added.

Of course! Lightbulb moment. Why hadn't I ever thought of that? We continued with the lesson. When the patties were all made and the sauce ready, he fried up some eggs. Mom came downstairs to join us in the kitchen and we each had a plateful, our heads swirling with memories, our stomachs satiated.

Thanks, Dad!

Watch me make it below:

Until next time, friends. May your memories be good ones and your hearts always filled with love. xo, ani.

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Tuna Patties in Spanish Sauce
Perfect for Lent, this recipe for tuna patties is bathed in a classic Spanish sauce filled with some of the classic flavors of Mexico.

For the patties:
  • 1 (12 oz) can chunk light tuna in oil or solid white albacore in water
  • 3 scallions, green stalks only, finely sliced
  • ½ small onion, finely diced
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped cilantro (¼ bunch)
  • 1 large roma tomato, finely diced
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt (or ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • Oil for frying
For the Spanish sauce:
  • ½ cup thinly sliced green bell pepper
  • ½ cup thinly sliced white onion
  • 1 large roma tomato, finely diced
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 ⅓ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon Knorr Chicken bouillon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon whole dried oregano
  • ⅓ cup finely chopped cilantro
Place the tuna in a fine strainer over a bowl to drain while you chop your ingredients. Once your ingredients are chopped, place the tuna in a mixing bowl. Add the scallions, onion, cilantro, tomato, pepper, salt and lemon juice to the bowl and mix well to combine. Set aside.In another bowl, using a hand mixer, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Add the flour and continue whipping to stiff peaks. In a small bowl, hand whisk the yolks until thickened. Add two spoonfuls of the egg white into the yolks bowl and carefully stir to combine well. This loosens the yolks and will make it easier to fold them into the whites. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the yolks into the bowl with the whipped egg whites until mostly combined. Fold in the tuna mixture. Heat a skillet on medium heat. Add ¼ cup of oil. Once oil is shimmering, carefully add about ⅓ of a cup of the tuna to the pan and spread out to form a patty about ½ inch thick by about 3 inches in diameter. Add no more than three at a time to the pan so as to not lower the heat of the oil. Fry until golden brown on both sides then remove to a paper towel lined plate. Continue until all patties are cooked, adding more oil as needed. Batter should yield 8 patties.To make the sauce, wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and return to heat. Add a tablespoon of oil. Once shimmering, sauté the peppers and onions for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and simmer for two minutes. Pour in the water and bring to a soft boil. Stir in the bouillon and pepper. Put the oregano in the palms of your hands, rub your hands together to crush the dried herb into the pan. Stir in the cilantro. Cook, stirring for 5 minutes. Taste sauce, add more bouillon if it’s not salty enough.To serve, either add the patties into the sauce or plate the patties and spoon sauce over them. Serve with rice, beans and tortillas, if desired.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 servings

I decided that instead of doing Meatless Monday posts during Lent like I have in the past, I would share Lenten-friendly recipes on Fridays. These will include completely vegetarian dishes to dishes like today's that incorporate some form of seafood (since fish is the only animal protein allowed during Lent). I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I enjoy sharing them!

In the meantime, here are a few more Lent appropriate recipes for you to try: (click on names to go to recipes)