There are some times when the greatest of culinary plans can only reasonably give way to an absolutely brilliant ingredient.
We had a wonderful soup planned for the starter of our dinner party when the offering for our “Fishscription” CSA from Poppa’s Fresh Fish Company was presented to us: a gorgeous (and enormous) block of utterly gorgeous ahi tuna. All thoughts of the soup vanished quickly
Having done a poke style tartare so recently I wanted something a bit different…and yet wanted to fully honor the integrity of the ahi…something that required eating it close to its most basic state. Having played around with Southeast Asian flavors so much of late, the idea of inserting Tataki-style ahi in place of the beef in a Thai Beef Salad was close at hand.
N.B. As will be pointed out in the recipe below, one key to cooking a block of ahi Tataki-style is to notch the tuna on what will become the cut lines before searing the block. This greatly eases the process of cutting the seared tuna without destroying its texture and appearance.
Thai-Style Seared Ahi Tuna Salad
Serves 4 – 6
For the Dressing
- 4 red jalapeno chile peppers
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup warm water
- ¼ cup fish sauce
- ½ cup lime juice
- 1 stalk lemon grass (white part only), finely minced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
For the Salad
- 3 Japanese cucumbers (or 4 Persians or 2 English cucumbers)
- 20 cherry tomatoes
- 1 red onion
- Persian Cucumber (or about half an English Cucumber)
- 2 pound block of Sushi-grade Ahi Tuna
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
- 1 head lettuce of your choice
For the Garnish
10-15 leaves of fresh mint
Prepare the Dressing. Seed the red jalapeno peppers. The best bet for doing so involves surgical gloves. Failing that, be sure to wash your hands carefully after seeding them. A rinse with rubbing alcohol followed by a good washing works best. Slice off the bottom of the peppers (the stem end). Using a paring knife cut out the seeds and veins (it is the veins, not the seeds, that has most of the capsicum in it). Cut the red jalapeno peppers into thin rings and combine with the remaining dressing ingredients.
Make the Salad. Slice the Persian Cucumber into thin one-inch slices using a mandolin or chef’s knife. Slice the red onion into very thin half moons and separate. Combine the cucumber slices, tomatoes, and onions in a large salad bowl and set aside.
Prep the Fish. Fabricate the block of tuna into an appropriate size to slice into attractive portions such that you can serve two to four per salad. Using a very sharp knife cut ¼ inch notches into the tuna all along one ridge of the fish before searing it in order to make slicing easier. Begin preheating a sauté pan, adding the canola oil. Season the fish blocks with salt and pepper. When the pan is very hot (the oil will ripple visibly) add the fish, laying it flat on one side. Sear for 30 seconds to one minute until you can just see a cooked ring no more than a ¼ inch wide. Using a spatula or wooden spoon turn the fish to an uncooked surface and repeat until the tuna is seared on all surfaces. Remove to a cutting board and rest.
Complete the Salad. Combine all of the salad ingredients (except for the fish and lettuce) in a bowl, add in all but about ½ cup of the dressing and toss well. Place a large leaf of lettuce on each plate and spoon a healthy portion of the salad on top of it.
Slice the Tuna. Place the notched side of the fish upwards on the cutting board. Using the notches as your guide, slice the fish into individual portions.
Plate the Dish. Place two to three slices of the tuna on top of each salad. Drizzle each with some of the remaining dressing. Garnish with two to three mint leaves for each plate.