For this ragu sauce recipe, we're swapping the traditional beef, pork and veel for ground Opah (Moon Fish), which makes a delicious pescatarian version of bolognese. When you taste it, you will swear there is meat in it. Opah is one of the most delicious fish available, that you might never have tasted.
Opah ragù alla Bolognese utilizes the Opah's abductor muscle, which is an extremely underutilized beautiful piece of protein, that is usually just thrown away. The reason for this because there is such little demand for it from the consumers, and that comes down to education. If people knew how delicious and diverse it is, people would be asking for it everywhere.
One of the amazing things about Opah is it has multiple usable parts like a farm animal does. There is the filet (loin) which is the most sought-after. Its texture is a mix between Tuna and Swordfish.
Delicious Parts of the Opah
The Opah belly is super fatty (the good kind) that is great for smoking, and I've heard you can even thinly slice and deep fry it to make Opah bacon. I can't wait to try that!
The Opah abductor muscle is known as the "tri-tip" can be tough, but if cut against the grain or ground (like we do for this recipe), it is super tender and flavorful. It has a very similar look and texture to beef, and it even smells a little like beef when it is cooking.
This bolognese recipe is very similar to my original pasta bolognese sauce, but it is made with fish instead of beef and pork. It's a seafood pescatarian version of bolognese.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, Opah that is caught in California, Hawaii Eastern, Western and Central Pacific (Including vessels landing in California) with deep-set longlines has a "Good Alternative" recommendation.
Opah caught in the North, South and Western and Central Pacific with drifting longlines is on the "Avoid" list. As a good rule; only buy domestic Opah from California or Hawaii.
Where to Buy Opah?
In San Diego, Opah is pretty easy to find. Boats bring fresh Opah in every week down at the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market. I have seen whole Opah for $3.50 per pound, which would get you a whole lot of fish for not a lot of money. The filet and belly are also sold in individual portions. I'd say there's a good chance you can get the Opah abductors for free (or super cheap) if you ask when they are unloading the boat. Be sure to give them a nice tip. 🙂
Outside of San Diego, it can be a little more difficult to find Opah. It is available online from Catalina Offshore Products, and they sometimes have the abductor muscles labeled as tri-tip. You definitely want to avoid imported Opah.
How to Grind Opah
Ground Opah is an essential part of this bolognese sauce, and it's really easy to do with the right equipment. Any meat grinder will do, but I use the KitchenAid Food Grinder Attachment on a Kitchenaid Stand Mixer (affiliate links).
To make grinding easiest, first dice the fish into 1" cubes, then partially freeze it for about 30 minutes on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Partially freezing will help keep everything cold and allow it to easily pass through the grinder.
Push the Opah cubes through the food grinder into a chilled bowl. That's all you have to do to make ground Opah.
Uses for Opah Bolognese
While Opah bolognese is typically served with pasta (either tagliatelle or pappardelle noodles), but it will also make for an amazing lasagna, with gnocchi or with arancini. Because it's such a meaty sauce, it's best paired with wide noodles that can hold the sauce.
Equipment Used to Make Opah Bolognese
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- pasta or gnocchi
- 3 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 diced onion
- 1 diced celery stalk
- 1 carrot peeled and finely diced
- 1 lb Opah abductor muscle (ground)
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup milk
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 tablespoon tomato paste
- 14 oz crushed San Marzano tomatoes
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
- grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add in the onions, celery, carrot and a pinch of salt. Sauté until translucent and soft but not browned, about 8 minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and add a drizzle more olive oil and the ground Opah. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and break up any large pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Cook until the fish is just cooked through and is no longer red, about 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the wine and bay leaf and reduce heat to medium. Cook down until the wine is mostly evaporated.
- Add the milk and cook down until it is mostly evaporated. Stir in the ground nutmeg.
- Add tomato paste and cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the crushed tomatoes.
- When it comes to a simmer, turn the heat down to very low and cook uncovered until the liquid is reduced and the sauce is thick, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Stir every once in a while.
- Taste for seasoning, and add more salt & pepper as needed, then set aside or refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
- Before serving, add the sauce to a 12” skillet and warm through. Swirl in 3 tablespoons butter, then add the al dente cooked pasta to the sauce. Stir to combine and cook for about 3 more minutes. If the sauce is too thick, add a little reserved pasta water.
- Serve with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese.