Tastes change. There was a time, well within living memory, when Durban ski-boat skippers would use fresh-caught tuna as bait or dog food. Thanks to the positive and varied influence of Japanese cuisine on international food preferences, tuna is now a prized catch, with the inevitable effect of a worldwide decline in numbers. Yet despite this decline, the seas around South Africa continue to provide a small but viable tuna harvest, now available at your local Woolworths.
To make seared tuna for 2, you will need:
- 1 box of Woolworths frozen tuna (mass 400g)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly-ground coarse black pepper
- Wasabi mustard
- Pickled ginger
This is going to be the simplest fish meal you’ve ever cooked. But first, some background. There are several varieties of tuna in the oceans, ranging from little 2kg Bonito to giant 600kg Atlantic bluefin. In the Tokyo fish market, freshly caught giant Bluefin – often flown in directly from ports in the US – fetch restaurant prices as high as R300/kg.
Tuna sushi delights the palates of fans around the globe and, ideally, the best quality tuna is eaten raw, as sashimi. This recipe takes tuna steaks in a different direction: seared over high heat and eaten rare. Tuna is red, like meat, and for those of us unmoved by fish the meaty flavour is a big plus. With little or no cholesterol you’ve got a meal so full of flavour and good health you’ll forget the ouch-factor of the price.
But enough of the hard sell: let’s get this meal out of the pack and onto the plate. Braai mechanics are going to love searing tuna, since burning coals are the best form of heat for this astounding dish. I turn to my trusty Cobb, whose unique design makes fire-based cooking my first choice.
So, first step: get the fire right. Alternatively, if you’re cooking on a standard kitchen hob, select a heavy-bottomed stainless-steel frying pan and bring it to a high heat. Thaw the tuna, allowing it to reach room temperature. This is important because the tuna is served seriously rare, and little if any cooking heat reaches the centre.
Lightly coat each tuna section with a little extra-virgin olive oil, then sprinkle with freshly-ground coarse black pepper and a little salt. What happens next is crucially dependent on time, so be aware of the second hand on your watch. Place each piece of tuna on the high-heat cooking surface of your choice and sear for two to three minutes per side. Remove the fish immediately and serve with a green salad, wasabi mustard and pickled ginger.
If your local supermarket lacks these fine condiments, hot English mustard makes a good substitute for the wasabi. For homemade pickled ginger, briefly boil thin strips of fresh ginger root in white vinegar and add a few drops of red food colouring. Like all pickles, these improve with time.