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Pastel de Atún (Mexican Tuna Cake) Recipe

Why It Works

  • Pickled jalapeños ship a mouth-warming warmth that’s tempered by the addition of candy crimson bell pepper and dairy. 
  • Utilizing water-packed, fairly than oil-packed, tuna provides a delicate fish taste that doesn’t overwhelm the opposite substances. 
  • Skinny layers of sentimental white sandwich bread give the cake a light-weight, delicate texture.

I first tasted pastel de atún, or tuna cake―a dish manufactured from layers of white sandwich bread frosted with a creamy, tuna-based sauce―when a neighbor began promoting little pink slices of it at a nook retailer close to my house in Mazatlán, Sinaloa, on Mexico’s Pacific coast. Though pastel de atún might resemble a sugary, frosted layer cake, it is deeply savory by way of and thru, each creamy and spicy, chilly and candy.

Pastel de atún is a standard staple at kids’s birthday events because it’s an reasonably priced choice that appears like a cake and might be adorned accordingly. As a bonus, it doesn’t require an oven; in Sinaloa, which sits proper on the Tropic of Most cancers, baking in an indoor oven could make a house uncomfortably sizzling, so many kitchens don’t have one. The cake is often served chilly with a facet of frijoles puercos (a Sinaloa specialty of refried beans with lard, chorizo, and slightly chile). It’s additionally a well-liked make-ahead choice to convey alongside on household outings to the seashore or water park and eaten as “la comida,” or the principle meal of the day. It’s “like ceviche however cheaper,” one Mazatleca good friend instructed me. 

Seafood has been a mainstay in coastal Sinaloa since earlier than Spanish colonization. Many coastal residents nonetheless work within the seafood business, on tuna and shrimp boats, on shrimp farms, or promoting seafood in markets or to eating places. Consuming seafood each day is frequent, which suggests locals know their means round a fish. In consequence, artistic recipes that incorporate easily-available substances like canned tuna abound, particularly in house cooking. There’s a variety of tuna salads, tuna ceviches (made with both canned or recent tuna), and even protein shakes with canned tuna, that are offered at lots of Mazatlán’s widespread smoothie retailers. Then, after all, there’s pastel de atún. 

Severe Eats / Amanda Suarez

Although nobody I spoke with was fairly positive of the origin of pastel de atún, they commented that it intently resembles the sandwichón, a dish with alternating layers of bread and rooster salad or slices of ham that’s made in different areas of Mexico. Some consider that, because the identify suggests, the sandwichón is an adaptation of a normal deli sandwich, however with frosting and ornament so as to add a little bit of aptitude for events and different occasions. And, after all, the cake-like look is on-theme, particularly for birthdays. 

The truth is, for a “deluxe” model of pastel de atún, some Mazatlecos add slices of ham between the bread and sauce, as is typical in sandwichónes. For this recipe, I stored it easy and left the ham out. One other frequent native variation is the substitution of all or a number of the jalapeño within the sauce with chipotles in adobo. I did side-by-side style exams of the recipe with jalapeño, chipotle, and a mixture, and I personally favor all jalapeño, which lets the opposite flavors shine. This model, with jalapeño however with out ham or chipotle, is the way in which I’ve most ceaselessly seen the dish served, and it’s my private favourite. (I additionally owe an enormous due to my suegra Doña Esthela, my companion Lalo, and my volunteer taste-testers Hilda, John, Santa, Amialba and Hugo for taking the time to speak to me, attempt varied recipes, and reminisce about pastel de atún!) 

Severe Eats / Amanda Suarez

Since canned tuna comes packed each in water and oil, I needed to check each varieties to see what distinction, if any, there could be. (I used yellowfin tuna in my exams, however skipjack or chunk gentle can be utilized as effectively). I discovered that oil-packed tuna delivers a extra intense fish taste. Whereas a few of my taste-testers loved that pronounced fishiness, others, myself included, favored the extra delicate flavors of the water-packed model. For this recipe, I like to recommend water-packed tuna for a light-weight taste that received’t overpower the opposite substances.

I like to make use of media crema, a cream product with 20 to 25% fats and stabilizers, as the bottom of the sauce. It’s accessible in most grocery shops with a well-stocked Latin part, in addition to on-line. A bit of cream cheese helps thicken the sauce. I additionally embrace a pair slices of American cheese, a quite common pastel de atún ingredient that helps with thickening and rounds out the flavour.

For the cake layers, I favor crust-less white sandwich bread, which has a mushy, ethereal texture that retains the cake gentle; keep away from entire wheat bread, which can contribute a more durable, chewier texture. You’ll be able to preserve the crusts available as a fast snack to dip in any leftover sauce.  

Severe Eats / Amanda Suarez

Most variations of this recipe name for the usual canned sizes of substances accessible in Mexican grocery shops, which makes measuring straightforward and cleansing up fast. It makes use of, for instance, about one 200-gram (7-ounce) can of La Costeña–model crimson pepper strips (offered as “pimiento morrón en tiras”). Equally, the recipe requires roughly a 200-gram can of pickled jalapeños and one 225-gram (7.6 ounce) can of media crema. Whereas it could be interesting to make use of recent substances fairly than canned, and would seemingly make a scrumptious pastel, canned is what that you must obtain probably the most conventional taste profile.

Meeting is straightforward and fairly much like frosting a cake: Merely alternate layers of sauce and bread, ensuring the bread is totally slathered in sauce, which can start to soak into the bread however not all over. Adorn the highest with strips of crimson bell pepper: You’ll be able to spell out phrases like, “Completely satisfied Birthday!,” or go for a enjoyable ornamental sample. Don’t cease there―you’ll be able to add extra pizzazz with additional jalapeño slices and even strips of cheese. After a fast stint within the fridge to agency up the cake, dish up slices with frijoles puercos alongside; it’s a good way to beat the warmth.

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