Tuna Fish Grilled  Palermo Style  


(“Tonno Arrosto alla Palermitana”

“Tunnina a Palermitana”)

In my family and on many tables in Palermo, tuna fish is mostly a simple preparation: the slices of very fresh tuna, ½ “ thick are dredged into flour and fried in a hot pan sprinkled with salt and some olive oil. The slices are fried 2 to 3 minutes on each side and served with lemon wedges.

Another well-liked way to prepare the tuna, it is to marinade and broil it or in the favored “Palermo style” which is to grill the thick slices on a very hot barbecue, blasting it with marinade and cooking it so it remains moist on the inside and golden, crispy on the outside.

The tuna can also be cooked in a variety of sauces, or it can be baked.

In any way you cook it, it’s a nutritious, healthy and a delightful dish.


The tasty flesh of the tuna ranges in color from white albacore, to the pink yellow fin and from the light red to the dark red of the bluefin tuna swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and caught in the Mediterranean Sea and in areas of the West Atlantic Ocean.

The red color of the tuna change after hours it is caught and although the fish is fresh if for some reason the color is not the perfect shade, then the ingenuity of a dedicated cook can transform this shortcoming into a gourmand and incomparable delicacy.

In fact the marinated “Tuna Fish Palermo Style” is kind of a remedy when tuna fish is slightly less than the ideal color or class.

When the tuna is marinated, it absorbs the flavors of the ingredients of the marinade which enhances its taste, also the acidity contained in it lightens the flesh’s color and it improves its appearance and ends up becoming an ideal candidate for grilling.

Do not marinate fish more than ½ hour, because the acidity of the marinade would break down the proteins and the tuna would become spongy and mushy.





  • 4 slices of tuna fish, 3/4 “to 1” thick 6 to 8 oz. each
  • 1 lemon cut into wedges for garnish
  • The Marinade
  • ¼ cup of boiling water
  • ¾ cup of olive oil
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • 2 large lemons squeezed, seeds removed
  • ½ teaspoon of oregano
  • 1 clove of garlic finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste




The Marinade
Whisk ½ cup of olive oil in a small bowl and while beating it, add the boiling water, a little at a time. Continue whipping for a few minutes, then add the lemon juice, lemon zest, oregano, garlic, parsley, salt and fresh milled black pepper. Check the seasoning and adjust accordingly. Cover and refrigerate. It can be made 1 day ahead.


The Preparation

Rinse the tuna steaks with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Place it in a glass or non aluminum pan and pour over ½ of the marinade; reserve the other half: it will be used to garnish and infuse extra taste to the cooked tuna.

Turn the tuna a few times to thoroughly coat it. After ½ hour, take the fish out of the marinade, pat dry with a paper towel and transfer into a dish containing the remaining oil; season with salt and black pepper to taste and turn the tuna a few times to thoroughly coat it. Cover and refrigerate until ready to cook it. Reserve the marinade to be used for basting when cooking the tuna.

It can be done a few hours ahead.


Take the tuna in the oil, out from the refrigerator half an hour before cooking, along with the marinade used to infuse the tuna, and the reserved marinade to be used for garnish.


The Grilling

Preheat the grill: cooking has to be done fast and at a high heat.

It is necessary to get the grill as hot as possible so the tuna won’t be dry on the inside. If using a charcoal burning grill, a heavy layer of ashy white coal is needed, if using a gas or electric grill, set it as high as it will go.

Use a pastry brush to oil the grill’s grate.

Turn the tuna onto the oil a few times to coat it thoroughly.

Place the slices into the grill and cook for 3 minutes; flip with a spatula and grill the other side for 3 minutes.


Use the pastry brush for continuously basting the tuna with the leftover marinade used to infuse it. Flip it again and grill for an additional 2 minutes on each side. Discard any leftover marinade used for blasting.


It is optional that as you are flipping the tuna the second time, to rotate each slice at a 45 degrees angle to get diamond marks from the grill’s grate; do it to enhance its presentation.


Transfer the tuna steaks to a serving platter; garnish with lemon wedges and spoon over some of the reserved marinade. Serve with the remaining marinade on the side; add an assorted salad and hot bread. Good wines to pair with the grilled tuna are the Sicilian Etna Rosso by Grace, or a California Zinfandel or a young Pinot Noir. 





  1. Grill the tuna for a total 5 minutes for each side for medium, add 1 or 2 minutes for each side for well done or cook it to your preferred doneness. It is advisable to cook the tuna steak for 5 minutes on each side for every inch of thickness.  
  2. If broiling the tuna use the same directions. Broil the steaks 4 to 5 inches from the heat source.  
  3. The Sicilian saying, “Cuoci a carne crura e pisci cottu” which translate, “Cook the meat rare and the fish well done”, does not apply to “Tuna Fish Palermitana” and in fact if the tuna being a lean fish if cooked behind medium (5 minutes on each side) it will be dry on the inside: so grill the tuna in as a brief time as possible to sear it on the outside and to get a moist and translucent inside.  
  4. In Trapani the sword fish is grilled “arianatu” with a simple marinade made with lot of fresh oregano, olive oil and garlic.  
  5. In Catania the preferred marinade is prepared with olive oil aromatized lemon zest, mint and anchovy fillets, finely chopped.