For a girl who grew up on the Gulf Coast, I put off learning to cook fish way too long. My mom never liked any seafood beyond Red Lobster’s popcorn shrimp, so the only “recipes” I knew were handed down from Mrs. Paul’s. That all changed when I started cooking for myself. I began dabbling in white fish (tilapia, grouper and snapper), which are versatile and easy to cook. Then I moved up to salmon, which should never be cooked on a George Forman grill unless you want your whole house to reek of fish every time you plug it in. I finally discovered ahi tuna (a.k.a. yellowfin) after falling in love with sushi. Now I prepare ahi tuna two ways and when you see how easy and delicious it is, you will too.
First, ahi by the numbers:
According to Livestrong.com, a 6-ounce serving (a small steak) boasts a whopping 41.5 grams of protein, 90% of what a woman
needs daily, for relatively few calories and very little fat. (Albacore has more heart-healthy Omega-3’s – .2 grams in ahi versus 1.5 in canned albacore). Ahi is a good source of bone-boosting Vitamin D and phosphorus, as well as potassium, which helps beat stress and anxiety while strengthening your muscles and metabolism. It’s also a good source of B12, which is good for your mood, memory and immune system.
Be mindful of the mercury.
Ahi tuna has a relatively high mercury content so overdoing it can cause insomnia, difficulty concentrating, nausea, vomiting and mouth pain. The Hawaii State Department of Health recommends limiting your servings to twice per month. Huh. Did not know that. Still love it though.
Buy your ahi from a trusted fish source – and yes, the grocery store is fine. My grocer said look for cuts that are firm, dense with a bright coloring and visible grain. They shouldn’t have a strong fishy smell or moisture seeping from the flesh. Prepare that day or wrap the fish in paper towels, then plastic wrap, and store it in a cold part of the fridge to eat the next day. Choose sushi or sashimi grade if you’re eating it raw. It should have a mild flavor, not fishy.
Frozen is fine.
If you’re searing, frozen ahi steaks can be a perfectly acceptable substitute for fresh. They’re more affordable and often more convenient. Thaw in your fridge overnight or under running water according to package directions and pat dry before seasoning.
Preparing your tuna couldn’t be easier.
Let the fish come to room temperature. (Cold meats reduce the temperature of your pan or grill surface and make it hard to get a good sear.)
Heat a skillet or griddle to medium high.
Season both sides of your tuna steak with salt and pepper. You can add any other dry seasoning at this point but I keep it simple.
Pour sesame seeds on a plate (I used a mix of black and white) and press both sides on the steak into them. Repeat with the edges.
Add a little coconut oil to your heated surface and swirl around. When just smoking, place your fish on with tongs and sear for 11/2 minutes per side for rare or up to 3 minutes if you prefer your fish opaque but not overcooked in the middle.
Using your tongs, sear the edges for 30 seconds.
Let cool slightly and slice with a sharp knife. Enjoy over rice or salad or by itself dipped into the Sesame Ginger Sauce below.
Cold and naked doesn’t sound fun to me, but ahi tuna loves it. Toss raw, sushi grade tuna onto your rice bowl with cucumber, avocado, some lite soy sauce and some Sriracha mayo (recipe below) and you’ve got a filling, high protein lunch.
To make your tuna easier to cube, put it on a cookie sheet and stick in the freezer for 15-20 minutes till firm. Using a sharp knife and single, smooth strokes, cut into cubes. My steak was pretty firm and my knife really sharp, so I skipped this step.
Not ready for raw? Sear as above for your rice bowl or – bonus preparation #3 – toss ahi tuna and slivers of onion with lime juice in a glass or ceramic bowl. (Metal bowls and lime juice don’t mix.) Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, stirring gently a few times with a plastic spatula. The diced tuna will change color slightly and the onion will soften. This “ceviche” style tuna is now “cooked” by the acid of the lime juice. It’s delicious on your rice bowl or mixed with avocado, cilantro and cucumber and eaten with tortilla chips.
I threw together two sauces for my tuna. The first, Sesame Ginger Sauce starts with about a 1/4 cup of light soy sauce. Now put in two good shakes of rice vinegar, a splash of dark sesame oil, and about a half tablespoon of grated ginger. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and, if you like a little heat, crushed red pepper. Remember this sauce next time you make pot stickers or proscuitto-wrapped roasted asparagus – both great appetizer ideas.
The other sauce, Sriracha mayo, is almost as easy as it sounds. Light mayo mixed with a few shakes of Sriracha (more or less according to your heat tolerance) and a little lime juice. Delicious on your tuna rice bowl and or on a seared tuna sandwich. That might be my next culinary adventure.
What about you? What’s your favorite fish? Ready to try ahi tuna?