March 11th, 2013
On the Southwest coast of Spain, tuna is cured and preserved in a similar way to making ham. Fresh tuna loins are washed then salted for for several days. Next, they are washed again before being hung up to air dry slowly. The loins hang for between 1 – 3 months (depending on weather and their size), shrinking and becoming hard like ham. This process can also be applied to large mackerel.
The process dates back to the time of the Phoenicians, perhaps three thousand years ago. The name mojama comes from the Arabic musama – to dry. Like Jamón Serrano (Spanish air dried ham), the point in drying is to preserve the ham or tuna, so that it will last for a long time without spoiling. Nowadays we have refrigeration to keep food fresh, but the salting and drying gives the meat and fish a distinct flavour and quality, therefore the ancient methods have continued.
I bought this piece of mojama in Barcelona, back in December, from the Brandada Lady at the Boqueria – it’s on top of the pile at the front. It was shrink wrapped so I took it home and put it on the kitchen table, thinking I’d eat it within a week or two… Suddenly it was March and I did wonder if 3 months in plastic was OK? I wasn’t worried about the age, the whole point of curing food is to make it last for a long time. Good jamón is, after all, aged for several years before eating and years ago people took dried fish and meat on long voyages because it doesn’t go off. Salt is remarkably good at inhibiting bacteria.
I talked to several Spanish friends who assured me that once cured it lasts for years, even in plastic, though it would probably be best hung in a cool larder or wrapped in muslin. I was told to open it and smell it – it smelled normal, mildly of tuna. I waited for a sunny day before opening it, in order to show the way sunlight passes through it, as if it were a precious stone.
Mojama should be sliced thinly and served on bread or toast with a drizzle of olive oil. To me, served this way, it really brings out the flavour of the olives. The fish itself has the texture of Jamón Serrano and tastes of slightly salty tuna. Some people suggest soaking the slices in olive oil for a couple hours before serving on bread – I tried it like that but prefer it dry with the oil on the bread. It can also be chopped up and sprinkled on salad. Serve as a tapa with a glass of chilled Fino sherry.
Mojama costs about 45€ per kilo in Spain – expect to pay more in Britain. Mojama and bacalao can be purchased from R. Garcia and Sons in Portobello Road.
We had this as a tapa in Valencia and it was delicious. My daughter took some home to Wales, shrink-wrapped like yours, but I think she ate it well within three months!
I really don’t know how I managed to keep it for so long, but I also came home with a kilo of Manchego and a three foot Chorizo de Bellota. Next thing I knew it was Christmas and my fridge was full of things that would go off quickly and needed eating. Fast forward to March 🙂
Well, it’s a nice treat for March!
Absolutely! next time I should buy a bigger one 😉
I love mojama and manchego with a chilled fino. Whenever I go to Spain (not often these days) I always try to bring some home and really like slithers of it with capers.
Me too and while it’s lovely to have it as a treat here, there’s nothing quite like Fino and tapas on a balmy evening outside 🙂
Now that’s an interesting ingredient! Can’t believe I’ve never heard of that before. Thanks for posting this, I’ll have to look out for it.
Thanks Phil. It is one of the lesser known Spanish delicacies, but once you’ve noticed it, you’ll find it all over Spain. I suspect it’s also made in other Mediterranean countries, under different names, since the Phoenicians colonised most of the coastline before the Greeks, Romans and Moors.
It can be quite hard to find in Britain, but there are quite a few online Spanish shops 😉
I love the unusual stuff you bring to the blog party MD. I now have to watch out for this and buy some to try some. I love tuna and suspect that I would be very impressed with this on some sourdough with good olive oil.
Thanks Conor! It’s definitely worth trying – if you like tuna and air dried ham, I’m sure you’ll enjoy mojama. Sourdough bread definitely goes very well with this 😉
I guess my next trip to London will also include a visit to R Garcia on Portobello Road, sadly I don’t think I’ll be in Spain first, Mojama is delicious and despite it being many years since I’ve eaten it, the distinctive flavour stays with me. Thanks for a slice of food nostalgia – again! Tracey
Thanks Tracey – there’s another Spanish deli just above the Westway (same side as Garcias) which I suspect sells mojama too. I can’t for the life of me find the name of it, but it does stock a lot of good things 😉
That is also now engrained in my memory for future reference, thanks 🙂
I love it when you introduce stuff like this, MD. I may never find it over here but I sure will keep it in mind for when I get back to Spain. On 2nd thought, I better start writing this stuff down. I lost those short-term memory brain cells ages ago.
Thanks John! I was vaguely thinking of trying to make mackerel mojama…
New one to me also! Love the idea! Hmm: I can certainly get mackerel [tuna perchance too expensive to ‘muck up’ :)! ]. After a wee bit more homework may just try to make myself! Our long autumn should suit temperature-wise . . .
Thanks – I was thinking along the same lines with regard to mackerel 😉
You know i might like it.. I really have never much liked fresh tuna, is that something i should not admit?.. c
It’s more ham like than fish in texture but the dwindling tuna population might be pleased to hear that it’s not your kind of Scombridae 😉
I really like it but it is quite a unique taste and not for everyone. Love the phots, beautiful. Where did that sunshine come from?!
True, but that means there’s more for us! The sunshine was last week, before the winter came back, although it is sunny today and freezing 😉
I love mojama. There’s a wonderful Spanish shop in La Rochelle that sells it. I buy a few slices now and then, when I can afford it. Great that you’ve brought it to peoples attention. I have fond and food memories of Garcias.
Me too – my taste buds needed no convincing 😉
Looks delicious! I would never have guessed that it was dried. A must try!
Thanks Tessa – it’s almost as dry as beef jerky 😉
I have never heard of it, even from my years living in Florida where there is a large Spanish population. I know that I will never find it in New England but will look for it if we are in Spain again.
I didn’t notice it for a couple of years while I lived there – I had to read about it, then go and find it. It’s on the bacalao stalls, next time you go there 😉
I’m quite keen to try air drying a large mackerel…
¡Qué interesante, MD! Nosotros vamos todos los veranos a Cadiz, pero nunca he probado la mojama… a ver si este verano lo remedio 😉
¡Nunca! Increíble – Espero que les guste. Estoy seguro de que usted puede conseguir en el mercado en Madrid … 😉
Now served just like that with a bit of sherry would be fantastic. I’ve never tasted this, but you’ve really described it so well, I’m able to imagine it. I’ll have to look for this!
I think if you can taste it in your imagination you are likely to enjoy it 😉
wow, I haven’t tried it before…it makes me want to jump on a plane to Spain!
With that reaction I’m sure you’ll love it!
This looks fantastic. I might have to try and interest my dad in this project…I know a bit about Spanish food, but I love how much new stuff I learn from you!
Thanks Natalia! The process sounds simple and definitely worth trying on mackerel before the much more expensive tuna 🙂
Very interesting.. I’ve not heard of that before. It looks and sounds delicious!
Thanks, it is, or rather was 😉
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