Tuna fish muxama is a gastronomic treat, which origins go back to the Arab occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, served mostly in the Algarve
Muxama is a delicacy typical of the south region of the Iberian Peninsula, consisting of filleted salt-cured tuna.
The Arabs developed this salt curing technique and the term muxama comes from the Arab word musama which means “dry”. However, Phoenicians and Romans also used a similar process to preserve the fishes caught until the return of the fishing boats ashore.
Nowadays, in Portugal muxama is produced in the Algarve region, following a technique used for more than 1000 years almost unchanged.
Nowadays, the noblest parts of tuna, the loins, are carefully chosen, cleaned, stacked and smothered in sea salt for 24 hours. Then they are washed with fresh running water and placed to dry under relative humidity and temperature controlled conditions. After 10 or 12 days, depending on the size of the loins, the muxama is ready to serve.
In ancient times, the loins stayed in salt for 2 days and were dried outdoors, hanged out in the sun. As the process depended on favorable weather namely the sun and high temperatures, the muxama was only produced during summer time.
The entire process makes the tuna shrink, turns the red color of the fish into a dark reddish-brown and it provides a firm consistency to the fish meat.
It is not easy to find Muxama even in the Algarve. Nevertheless your chances rise when going towards the border with Spain. In fact, in the east part of the Algarve there are some canning factories that produce this truly delicious titbit. I advice you going to Santa Luzia, a small fishing village near Tavira, famed for being considered the octopus’ capital, where local restaurants serve the Muxama finely sliced as an appetizer. Yet, it can be also used as ingredient for salads with tomato and queso blanco.