I must admit I have always liked tuna mornay. My mother made a particularly good one that had this crunch on top, but as a young man I could not work out, nor was I particularly concerned about, what it was made from. On learning she had picked up a Country Women's Association “kitchen hack” to use cornflakes on top, I was mortified. Her using cereal on our dinner seemed like something I might get teased about at school, should this information ever make it to the schoolyard.
Now, of course, I see cornflakes for exactly what they are – crunchy corn kernels – and I’ve even started to question why they haven’t been used in more savoury applications. With the addition of butter, the cornflake can become the ultimate panko crumb of non-glutinous texture.
Cornflakes on top of tuna is not the only “crime” in this well-regarded and loved dish of many childhoods. If you were to place cheese on fish in Italy, for instance, you would very likely be run out of the country. But it seems you would be welcomed across the border in France, which is the loose origin of this dish. I am generally not a fan of using cheese with fish but have been seduced by the French love of using cheese with reckless abandon.
Most recipes I referenced in the development of this one had a much higher proportion of béchamel to the other ingredients. Much like in a lasagna, the ratio I prefer is closer to equal parts béchamel/tuna/other. I prefer to use curly parsley because, along with being period correct for this recipe, it also puts up with the rigours of heat and cheese with much more robustness and structure than continental parsley.
Feel free to confit your own tuna for this recipe, as I like to do. In this case, albacore and bonito tuna work as well if not better than the more premium yellowfin or bluefin.
Time: 20 minutes preparation + 30 minutes cooking
- 120g butter
- 50g plain flour
- 400ml milk
- 20ml olive oil
- 1 leek, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 2 corn cobs
- 500g tuna, preserved (tinned)
- 80g parmesan cheese, grated
- 60g cheddar cheese, grated
- 1 bunch dill, chopped
- 1 bunch curly parsley, chopped
- pinch cayenne pepper
- salt and pepper
- 150g cornflakes
- 50g polenta
- 5g smoked paprika
- 20g chives, chopped
- Melt 40 grams of the butter in a heavy-based pot, then toast the flour in the melted butter for a minute or so. Add the milk, then whisk and turn the temperature to low. Cook for about five minutes while whisking and stirring regularly to remove lumps and stop the béchamel sauce sticking to the pot.
- Heat the oil in another pot, then add the leek and onion and sweat this out until translucent.
- Boil the corn on the cob and, when cooked, cut the kernels from the cob and add them to the onion mix.
- Stir the béchamel sauce into this pot. Let it cool a little and then add the tuna, cheeses, dill, parsley and cayenne pepper. Taste this mixture and season with salt and pepper, making sure the cheese has melted through a little before seasoning. Tip the mixture into an ovenproof baking dish.
- Preheat your oven to 190ºC.
- Combine the cornflakes, remaining butter, polenta and paprika in a bowl. Mix with your hands until all is incorporated and the cornflakes have been crushed into smaller pieces. Sprinkle this over the top of the tuna mix and bake for 20 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before sprinkling the top with freshly cut chives.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on October 7, 2023 as "Mornay glory".
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