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Curried tuna is general name given to any dish that includes both tuna fish and curry powder or curry paste. The dish is prepared in various forms throughout India and Southeast Asia, where tuna grows wild and local cuisine is spiced with a great many curry preparations. In the West, curried tuna salads and curry-inspired tuna dishes are increasingly popular. Perhaps owing to the many variations, there is no universal recipe for curried tuna. Much of what the dish entails depends on local custom, available ingredients, and the cook’s own innovations and creativity.
As fish go, tuna is traditionally very mild. It tends to absorb and reflect flavors from sauces and marinades and is a flexible, flavorful addition to a number of dishes. Tuna grows in salt-water bodies around the world but are most prolific in the warmer waters of the South Pacific, beginning near the southern tip of Japan and descending down to Australia. Dishes made with tuna are an important part of many Asian cuisines.
Fish curry, a category that includes a great many tuna dishes, is a staple preparation throughout this part of the world. Most Southeast Asian curried tuna is a soup-like dish in which chunks of the fish float in a thick, spicy broth. This is traditionally served with rice. The fish can also be smoked or roasted whole after being rubbed with curry spices.
What makes a spice or a sauce specifically a curry is largely a matter of interpretation. The English word “curry” is believed to be an anglicized version of a generic Indian word for a spicy broth. During the British occupation of India in the late 19>sup>th century, the term became more widely applied and has since become ubiquitous. Many different dishes, from Thai soups to South Indian spiced meats, are considered “curry.” Any dish that combines both tuna and some version of this pan-Asian spice or sauce can be considered a curried tuna.
Curried tuna preparations in Europe and much of North America are often quite different from their Asian counterparts, even if cooks work from an established local recipe. Most of the difference is in the spice. Some curry powders and pastes are commercially available in the West, but most of these are heavily processed and are not nearly as hot or as fresh as those that are homemade.
The quality of the fish is another major difference. Few European or North American cooks work with fresh-caught tuna. Tuna steaks often come closest to the flavor of fresh tuna, but do not always replicate it. Many westerners also use canned tuna, which is not commonly used in Asian cooking.
A western curried tuna salad might not be something that would ever be served in India or Thailand, but it is nevertheless an example of a tuna curry dish. There are many ways of cooking with tuna, just as there are many ways of preparing and serving curry. While some preparations may be more strictly traditional than others, all are equally valid.