Pan Seared Ahi Tuna With Cherry Tomatoes and Olives
This recipe is one of my favorites when I want to prepare an elegant and healthy dinner in a very short time, with ingredients that are readily available.
The secret is in the main ingredient, ahi tuna, that has to be of superior quality, or what people call “sashimi grade”. Even if there is no official sashimi grade, as far as I know, the intent is clearly to characterize a piece of fish loin absolutely clean from fat, skin, blood lines and so on, compact in texture and perfectly pink in color. And these qualities are found in a “saku block” – literally a block of tuna meat.
The most amazing fact that makes this dish so easy is that the tuna has to be frozen. I mean that it is actually better to buy it frozen! Tuna, as many other fishes, can have parasites often invisible to the human eye, that if eaten can provoke an array of side effects from very light discomfort to serious illness that requires hospitalization. And the best way to prevent any of these problems when consuming raw or undercooked fish is to freeze it to very low temperatures – a process which kills most of the potential parasites. The freezing should be done industrially, as the home freezer is not powerful enough to bring the temperature down to -35C or -31F in less than an hour.
So, for once you can feel really good about buying the frozen saku block at your preferred seafood store and storing it in your home freezer until you need it. In Los Angeles where I live, I find the saku in the Japanese groceries’ stores, sometimes in the Koreatown ones, and at Santa Monica Seafood.
Even if I love the taste of tuna in all the possible ways, I still limit the consumption to once a week at the most, as unfortunately tuna has generally a high content of mercury, that can also be harmful; it is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women, for children and people with a compromised immune system. Apart from that tuna is a perfect lean protein, rich in Omega 3 fatty acids and very versatile for different preparations.
Today’s recipe is my own take on seared tuna.
For 4 servings
20 oz tuna saku block (approximately)
1 pint of sweet cherry or grape tomatoes
20-30 black Kalamata olives, pitted
Some basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Salt and pepper
1. Remove the plastic wrap from the frozen Saku block; put it on a plate, rolled in kitchen paper, and move it to the refrigerator for thawing 2-3 hours before cooking time.
2. Cut the tomatoes in 2, put them in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and a spoon of olive oil, set aside.
3. Cut the olives in 2 and put them in a bowl.
4. Take the tuna out of the fridge, and cut in smaller pieces, approximately 1 to 1 ½ OZ each. I like to cut mine in the shape of triangles, very cute for presentation. Put in a large bowl.
5. Season the tuna with EVOO, salt and pepper. Stir gently.
6. Add the cut tomatoes to the tuna.
7. Slice or cut with scissors some dill and basil. Mix delicately.
8. Put a non-stick pan with a couple of tablespoons of oil on the fire until hot.
9. Cautiously transfer the tuna and the tomatoes to the pan, making sure to keep the pieces apart from each other. It might splash.
10. When the side is golden-brown in color, turn each piece with a pair of tongs. Repeat until when all sides are brown. Shake the pan to move around the cherry tomatoes as well.
11. Transfer the tuna and tomatoes to a hot ceramic oven proof plate. Drizzle some EV Olive Oil on top if necessary. Add the Olives. Serve immediately.
A Few Notes:
- The saku block does not need to be completely defrost in order to be cut in pieces. It is actually better when it is still a bit hard: the cut will be easier and cleaner. Also, if the fish is still slightly hard in the center it will be easier to keep it pink.
- Cook a few pieces at the time, always keeping some distance between them so that the temperature of the pan does not go down too much. If the temperature is not high enough you won’t be able to have the Maillard reaction!
- In my opinion this recipe is at its best when the fish is still a bit raw and pink in the center. If you do not feel like eating raw fish you can just cook it a little longer, knowing that the texture will become slightly chewier.
- There are some variants to the basic recipe: add some capers after cooking; add a dash of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add some grated lemon peel.
- Serve with oven roasted asparagus for a balanced dinner dish. Or with a wild arugula salad. Or with steamed brown rice or with a quinoa salad.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.