Thursday, December 27, 2007

Seven Seafoods 2007: Recipe for Tuna Tartare with Mint, Sesame Oil, and Hot Peppers (Ταρτάρ Τόνου)

On an eating trip to San Francisco, we enjoyed a meal at San Francisco’s Aqua restaurant when Michael Mina was still the chef. Everything we ordered was delicious; there was not a single false note among the dishes we devoured.

Tuna Tartare Ready to MixAt the time, Tuna Tartare was one of Aqua’s signature dishes, and rightly so. It was beautifully presented: a pile of chopped sashimi grade ahi tuna in the middle of a white plate, surrounded by piles of spices, perfectly ripe pears, mint, and habanero chiles, topped with a quail egg and dressed with sesame oil. With two spoons, the server mixed all the ingredients together tableside, and gracefully created a mountain of tuna tartare in the center of the plate, accented by toast points.

The flavors of tuna, pears, mint, sesame oil, and hot peppers were perfectly balanced in this single dish. After the tuna tartare was gone, we were left wanting more.

Shortly after returning to Alaska, we recreated Aqua’s tuna tartare. I make it regularly for special occasions; my husband wants it every year on his birthday and we often have it as part of our Seven Seafoods Feast on Christmas Eve. I’m always happy to make it; Aqua’s Tuna Tartare is delicious.

Tuna TartareTuna Tartare with Mint, Sesame Oil, and Hot Peppers (Ταρτάρ Τόνου)
Serves 2 as a main dish, or 4 as an appetizer
Adapted from Aqua Restaurant, San Francisco
When buying tuna to be eaten raw, as it is in this dish, buy the highest grade big-eye tuna (also called ahi) available. Make sure your fishmonger trims off any skin or dark flesh before you buy it. We prefer making Tuna Tartare with habanero chiles, as at Aqua. However, habaneros are very spicy and not always available at our markets. If you prefer less spicy food, or can’t find habaneros, substitute jalepeno or serrano peppers. To toast the pine nuts, put them in a dry frying pan over low heat and cook just until the pine nuts are lightly brown. Pine nuts burn very easily, so watch them carefully. Because the yolks are eaten raw, I use the freshest, free range, vegetarian, organic eggs I can find.

1/2 pound sashimi grade bigeye tuna
4 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 – 1 tsp. minced habanero chiles, or 4 tsp. minced jalepeno or serrano peppers
1/4 cup diced ripe pear, 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. minced fresh mint
2 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. chile powder, preferably New Mexican
2 Tbsp. dark sesame oil
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 small chicken egg yolks, or 4 quail egg yolks
8 thin slices of bread

Wash and dry the tuna very well. Cut it into 1/2” dice, and arrange half the tuna in the center of each of two plates (or a quarter of the tuna on four plates, if making appetizer servings). Use a measuring cup or ring mold to shape the tuna into attractive rounds. Make a small depression in the center of each tuna mound deep enough to contain an egg yolk.

Divide the remaining ingredients by two or four, depending on the size of the servings, and arrange them in small piles in a circle around each tuna mound. Drizzle the sesame and extra virgin olive oils over each tuna mound, and top with an egg yolk.

Toast the bread; cut large slices into cracker-sized pieces. Serve two spoons with each plate, so guests can mix their own tuna tartare.


BaL said...

Hi Laurie!

You surprised me with your profile info much more than my lavender cookies! :))

This is sooooo nice to meet a "far away neighbour" !

When I read your surname oo comments of my page I guessed you were my Greek neighbour, but I wasn't supposing you living that far away :)))

Really happy to meet you, and found your book interesting... I will be checking your blog, too :)

Thanks for your visit dear :)

Best wishes from Istanbul :)


Peter M said...

I love tuna tartare and you're fortunate to have eaten Mina's food.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Wow, that looks so interesting. I have had lots of tuna sashimi in the past, but never served like this with a quail egg. It does look beautiful though.
I love the Feast of the Seven Fishes. We used to have it every Christmas eve when the oldr generation was still around, funny thing is, I made a ploan to ressurect it for next year! So this series of posts of yours confirms that I MUST do it!

Laurie Constantino said...

Hi Banu - Thanks for visiting my blog. I was really happy to visit yours and only wished I could read Turkish! I've always wanted to go to Istanbul -- you live in a very beautiful city. Nice to "meet" you!

Peter, indeed I was - he is a very talented chef.

Jenn, you really MUST restart the tradition -- and, if you're like me, you'll never stop once you do. It's fun and it's delicious - a winning combination.

Lannae said...

Lovely and delicious! The quail eggs may be hard to get here in Nashville, but are so good! I am looking at the photo, and I just had a dish similar to this from Nemo Restaurant in South Beach Miami. The tuna and other flavorings was very good. I really enjoy having the richness of the raw quail egg kind of melting in my mouth.

Laurie Constantino said...

Lennae, I love quail eggs and, as you say, they go really well with tuna. My favorite sushi is uni (sea urchin roe) with a quail egg on top -- so good!

ThreeTastes said...

Are you familiar with Hawaiian style tuna tartare, called poke (POH-kay)? This is like poke at the next level. Will definitely try this while we're in a place where sashimi grade tuna is relatively cheap. Though it did go from $12/lb to $25/lb before new year's, I think it's back to normal now.

Speaking of Hawaiian fish, if the fishmonger at your Asian grocery carries parrotfish, do try that — it's sometimes called the poor man's lobster because its meat resembles the shellfish.
Season inside, wrap in foil or banana leaves and bake or grill. Like you said about Dungeness, the less you do, the better.

Laurie Constantino said...

Yes, Manju, I've had poke and love it. The Asian store where we buy all of our fish and most of the produce that doesn't come in my csa box makes their own and sells it. You're right, its similar to poke but taken to another level.

And, yes, the store generally has parrot fish, which I've never bought becaje I hadn't yet figured out to do with them - interestng to know they don't need flavor added. If you bake the wrapped parrot fish, what temperature and how long would you cook a whole fish? So jsut season with salt, peper, and perhaps so lemon slices, is that right?