Thursday, June 19, 2014

Quite a Catch

Ahi tuna, coated with toasted sesame oil, then sprinkled with dried orange zest, chili pepper, ginger and toasted sesame seeds, before being quickly pan seared and finished with a sake pan sauce.

Want the recipe?
It’s at the bottom of this post.

Want the wine pair?
Next Thursday’s post will have all my food and wine pairing tips.

Want the beer pair?
It’ll be following the wine pair post, so be sure to check back.

If the only tuna you've ever tried was found in the dry goods section of your grocery store, then it may be time to think outside the can.

Tuna.  And I should know all about it, because it was a nickname given me by my friends in school.  For back then, many moons ago, I was one of those brown bagger kids trudging wearily into the cafeteria, crumpled bag in one hand and milk money clasped in the other.  And the lunch that awaited me, hidden deep inside that bag, usually contained just one of the following things: leg of lamb, vichyssoise, foie gras, tuna fish salad.

All right, I'll confess.  At that age, the last item was the only one that held any allure.  And besides, it was easy.  Fire up the can opener, drain out the liquid, pile in some mayonnaise and if there was time (and often there wasn't), add a bit of chopped scallions followed by a handful of sliced celery.  And in my household, although there might not be time for scallions and celery, a dollop of sweet pickle relish was de rigueur.

And it's an attraction, that I’ll tell you, I still have today.  But it's just that I've channeled it into new directions.  I no longer add sweet pickle relish to my tuna fish salad.  Dad, I hope you'll forgive me, but one day, I ran out, of pickle relish, that is, and found that I really liked it better that way.

And then came the day that I ran out of canned tuna fish. 

Although I'd like to tell you it was a day that will live in infamy, it was only a little bit less dramatic, as I scurried off to the grocer's on a tuna run.  And as often happens to me as I strolled through the market, I was distracted, on purpose, by a display.

Positioned between the meat and fish sections, was a short man wearing a small hat perched atop his bowed head.  As he leaned into his work, I saw that he was all dressed in white and intent on preparing sushi and sashimi for the store that day.

And that's when I noticed the deep red fish meat.  It glistened as he sliced through it like melting snow.  I approached and nodded questioningly as the light danced off his chef's knife and he glanced up and uttered only a single word –


I wouldn't quite say I was hooked, for that would come later.  But that's when I first met tuna outside the can.  Hurrying home with my catch, I was ready to experiment, but not before pouring through my cookbooks on a hunt for inspiration.

And between my books and cupboard, I did a little improvisation and Double Sesame Seared Tuna is what flowed out.

With the tuna’s high fat content and firm, dense flesh, I knew it could support some deeper, darker tastes.  So I drizzled on the toasted sesame oil before sprinkling on toasted sesame seeds, but it still needed something special to accent its flavors.  Preferably something spicy and citric, yet with the flavor of the sea.

The Japanese spice blend, Nanami Togarashi, came to me in a flash.  With chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, ginger and seaweed, it would perfectly fit the bill.  It's a spice blend introduced to me on Chef Ming Tsai’s cooking show, “Simply Ming,” and I was itching to find a use for it, again, ever since.

But I wasn't yet done, for I needed a unique ending, and have found that pan sauce reductions are flavorful and quick.  So once the tuna was seared atop the stovetop to a medium rare, it was plated and the sauce was ready to begin.

Once the sake hit my hot pan, my work was almost done, for all the flavor bits left in the bottom of the pan (called fond) just needed to be released.  So, as the sake heated, I hummed the classic song, "Please, Release Me," and I swirled and scraped, as the essence of my tuna's flavors spilled into my sauce.

And once the sauce was bubbling, I cooked it away (or reduced it) to intensify its flavors, and when the liquid was half the original, let it spill atop the fillet.

So that's my story of ahi discovery and with its double hit of sesame, I think you’ll find that it's meaty and it’s toasty, and accompanied by a sauce that is earthy, slightly citric and sweet.  And if you taste it, you might become hooked, so don't be shy, for if you're willing to think outside the can, you'll be glad you did.


Serves 2

2 Ahi tuna steaks
4 tablespoons sesame seeds (toasted)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper (fresh cracked)
⅛ teaspoon Nanami Togarashi
¾ teaspoon toasted sesame oil, divided
¾ cup sake

Toast sesame seeds in skillet placed over low heat, stirring occasionally till lightly browned.
Transfer to plate to cool.

Apply ¼ teaspoon sesame oil to both sides of steaks, then salt and pepper and sprinkle with the Nanami Togarashi, before pressing them into the sesame seeds, coating well to adhere to all sides.

Add ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil to skillet placed over medium heat.  Once oil is heated, add steaks and cook about 1 – 1½ minutes per side (seeds will be toasted interior will be rare).

Transfer steaks to plate.  Return skillet to heat and pour in the sake.
Deglaze the pan well, scraping up all the fond on the pan’s bottom.
Cook the liquid until it is reduced by half.
Divide the finished pan sauce equally among the steaks.

Serve accompanied by white rice sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Now, here's a peek at the pairing that's coming up next

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