The best way to cook tuna

Posted on June 4, 2006 by Aun

Don’t. Don’t cook it. Because tuna, I believe, should be eaten raw. Cooked tuna, for the most part, to me at least, isn’t appetizing. A grilled tuna steak, while popular in many places, turns me off. Cooking tuna usually turns this succulent, soft, and delicious fish into a hard, tough and tasteless thing. Searing tuna is a trendy attempt by chefs to reach a compromise between serving the fish raw, as it should be, and cooked, which is how far too many of their guests expect their fish to be served. I’m not one for seared tuna. For one, it’s far too chi-chi. And more importantly, unless you’re searing an incredibly fatty piece of toro, I don’t really think the process adds any additional or necessary flavor to the fish.

The best way to eat a great, fresh and fatty piece of tuna is raw, with some wasabi and soy sauce — sashimi-style. Another good way, albeit also very trendy these days, is to have it in a tartare. The method of preparing tartares dates back to the Mongols, who brought the dish to Russia during the 13th century (when they invaded). Later, the German port of Hamburg received ships that visited Russia. The sailors brought back with them what they began to call “tartare steak”. Even later, ships from Hamburg brought a cooked version to New York. This, as you can guess, is where hamburgers came from.

A tartare is essentially a mixture of a finely chopped raw meat and a number of other ingredients. Sort of like really yummy baby food.

Ever since my wife S and I got a copy of Nancy Oakes’ cookbook Boulevard, I’ve wanted to make her Trio of Tuna Tartares. They sounded and looked delicious. The first one is a jalapeno and ginger tartare (pictured at bottom left in the photo). The second is what Ms Oakes calls a spicy red chili tartare (top left). The third is a shiitake and white soy tartare (the one on the right). While relatively easy to make, I discovered a small problem with Ms Oakes’ recipes. Basically, the quantity of other ingredients she calls for is far too much for the amount of tuna she requires for each tartare. I found myself tweaking each recipe substantially, cutting back on some ingredients while substituting a few others.

The end results, fortunately, were very good. We used a combination of toro (fatty tuna) and normal tuna. S enjoyed the shiitake and white soy tartare best. I liked them all. If asked to choose a favorite, I’d probably say the jalapeno and ginger tartare. I liked the combination of jalapeno peppers, ginger, sweet chili sauce, lime and avocado. We served the tartares with deep-fried wonton skins. These tartares are excellent as starters or canapés. The leftovers are also fantastic served over a bowl of piping hot rice.

Trio of Tuna Tartares
Serves 8

Jalapeno and ginger tartare
170g sashimi-grade tuna, diced finely
3 small jalapeno peppers, seeded, deribbed and diced
1/2 tablespoon grated young ginger
4 tablespoons grape seed oil
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
1.5 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 ripe avocado
juice of half a lime

Combine the tuna, jalapeno, ginger, oil, chili sauce, soy and vinegar in a bowl. Mash the avocado in another small bowl and add the lime juice. Stir this into the tuna mixture.

Spicy red chili tartare
170g sashimi-grade tuna, diced finely
2/3 cup Japanese mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Chinese garlic chili paste (we used a chicken rice chili sauce)
1 sac of mentaiko
1 teaspoon spicy cucumber oil (optional)

Cut the mentaiko sac open and scrape all the roe into a bowl. Combine all the other ingredients in the bowl and mix well.

Shiitake and soy tartare
170g sashimi grade tuna, diced finely
150g fresh shiitake mushroom, stems removed and diced
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon grape seed oil
4 teaspoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
1 tablespoon mixed black and white sesame seeds, toasted

Put the grape seed oil in frying pan and heat. Mix the diced shiitake with the soy and sesame oil. Pour the shiitake, soy and sesame oil into the grape seed oil and cook for 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are soft and tender. Set aside and let cool. Stir this together with the tuna, scallions and sesame seeds.

I found that prepping the tartares ahead of time and letting them sit in the refrigerator for an hour or two before serving really helps the flavors come together.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Vanessa June 5, 2006 at 12:06 am

    i completely agree, cooked tuna is just a waste! those sound delicious, the jalepeno ginger and shitake get to me. i think it’s the idea of the spice with the nice mellow flavours of tuna that spike it just right. delicious post.

  2. ern June 5, 2006 at 2:24 am

    Hi, chanced upon your blog last month and it makes me wanna give up the fight to stay skinny ;)

    Two questions: I get allergic reactions to seared tuna, but not to cooked or raw tuna. Any idea why?

    Also, when we say scoop, we think round. What’s the term for the football shaped scoops of anything (ice cream, tuna tartare, clotted cream…) as shown in your pic. Have been googling to find out, unsuccessfully…

  3. Chubby Hubby June 5, 2006 at 7:49 am

    Vanessa: Hi, all three are excellent. But, yeah, the hint of spice really does lift the tuna.

    Ern: Thanks for the kind words. :-) I have no idea why you get that reaction. My brother is allergic to certain fruits, like grapes. But he can drink wine. Sometimes, how a body reacts is odd. The term you are looking for is “quenelle”. You can make quenelles using two spoons; that’s what creates the football shape.

  4. rob June 5, 2006 at 9:43 am

    Aun, I’m with you almost one hundred percent. I agree that a cooked tuna steak is a waste of a beautiful piece of fish, but I do believe that a brief sear over scorching heat does add some interesting flavours to tuna. I would add, however, that searing doesn’t accentuate any of the tuna’s own flavours, it merely adds that charred, grilled taste that many enjoy.

    Of course, given the choice, I’d take the freshest piece of tuna sashimi I could find and happily devour it.

  5. deborah June 5, 2006 at 11:26 am

    mmm sounds divine. i have never had tuna tartare with the flavours you have here but would definitely try it over cooked tuna as i too agree tuna is best served in its natural state. i’m abit like that with oysters too – although the fried ones at the pearl oyster bar in new york were a enjoyable suprise.

    another one to add to ‘saw it at chubby hubby list’!

    p.s. i also wanted to say that the best resto list sounds like such a good idea, and i look forward to reading the results. wish i could have added a few of my own, but im afraid i dont feel like i have dined at enough resto’s to say which one is the best. perhaps for the next round :)

  6. Andrea June 5, 2006 at 7:24 pm

    The tuna recepies sounds great, but… where can I buy good sashimi quality in Singapore? Can I trust the one sold at the supermarkets or should I go somewhere else? And where else?

  7. Matt Armendariz June 5, 2006 at 8:55 pm

    It’s tough when you live with someone who cannot eat raw tuna. It’s painful to see a beautiful hunk of raw fish cooked to high heaven as you enjoy it raw. But I guess that’s life. :(

    But yes, I am with you 150%. I don’t enjoy it unless it’s raw. Which probably explains why everytime I make Hawaiian poke it never lasts longer than 5 minutes!

  8. lobstersquad June 5, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    I agree with all of you that raw tuna is by far the best. But I love it so much, that I´ll eat it seared, grilled, even in the shape of tuna burgers. And canned, of course, in sandwiches.

  9. Chubby Hubby June 5, 2006 at 10:45 pm

    Rob: I agree with you if the tuna is really fatty. Then the scorched fat takes on a nice flavor.

    Deborah: I hope you try the tartares. They’re excellent. No worries on the best restaurants list… and thank you for the kind words.

    Andrea: I trust Meidiya and Isetan.

    Matt: That must be tough. Hawaiian Poke sounds good. You going to post a recipe some time soon?

    Ximena: Wow, you really are a tuna lover.

  10. Scott June 6, 2006 at 8:54 am

    You said it!

    What’s up with people taking a great piece of tuna and turning it into a piece of…well…canned tuna.

    May as well make tuna salad with it or put it into a casserole at that point.

  11. J June 6, 2006 at 2:04 pm

    hiya, yummy yummy yummy! tried the same recipe but using salmon belly instead of tuna – worked nicely, but like you, had to “tweak” seasonings to taste – just had a thought; wouldn’t it be cool to do a bunch of cornets a la keller with different flavous ;)

  12. Hijackqueen June 6, 2006 at 2:09 pm

    Salmon and Tuna has the same testure after cooking. Both the fish are best eaten raw.

  13. fiordizucca June 7, 2006 at 4:09 pm

    great idea and as usual wonderful composition. bravo :) i wonder if the recipe works as well if using fresh mackerel?

  14. Chubby Hubby June 8, 2006 at 12:44 pm

    Scott: Now that you mention it, tuna casserole does have an odd boarding school appeal. Forgot that it’s one of the few cooked tuna dishes I’m willing to eat.

    J: Good idea. You make the cornets and I will prep the tartares.

    Hijackqueen: Agree that both are best raw. But I think cooked salmon is easier to eat than cooked tuna. Or at least it tastes a little better.

    Fiordizucca: Um, I’m not sure about using mackerel. I think it would be too strong a flavor for the tartares.

  15. Danielle June 8, 2006 at 9:17 pm

    I agree – cooked tuna is a waste of perfectly good fish. The canned stuff makes me nauseous by smell alone, and even lightly seared tuna always feels wasteful and disappointing.

    Your tartares, on the other hand, look beautiful and delicious! The jalapeno ginger one looks like it would be my favorite, too.

  16. su June 12, 2006 at 11:16 pm

    They all sound delicious, must try them! So where do you get the jalapeno peppers from?

  17. Jeanne June 16, 2006 at 6:06 pm

    I agree – why mess with perfection and cook tuna? Having said that, I have been known to be extraordinarily fond of seared tuna but equally, in the hands of a less than competent chef, this can go disasterously wrong! Having read the three tartare recipes I am now drooling uncontrolably! ;-)

  18. nardac June 27, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    What’s with everyone turning up their nose on canned tuna? Canned tuna can rock it and sock it with the best! Get them packed in olive oil and do a salade nicoise (which will never work with a freshly cooked piece), flake them over sweet tomatoes, smash em up and mix with lemon thyme for a fancy sandwich filler… It may seem pedestrian but with a little know how, canned tuna still knows how to pop out.

    I have cooked tuna once with success. It’s was kind of an extreme cooking thing after I discovered how much I liked mole (Mexican). You slow cook the tuna with chocolate mole and leeks. That’s right! Chocolate and tuna. If anyone wants the recipe they can just drop a line.

  19. Anonymous June 28, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    hi,

    i prepared this tuna dish for my sister and she really loved it. Thanks for the receipe!

    oh, but i couldn’t squash those diced avocado, so i ended up having small chunks of them in that very tuna serving..

    TC

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