Grilled Tuna with Tomato-Mint Vinaigrette
By Wolfgang Puck
A Grilled Fish that is as Good as Steak
We're beginning to reach that point in summer when I regularly start telling people they ought to be grilling fish. As the days get hotter, it sometimes seems as if big burgers, hot dogs, and steaks take too long to cook for anyone to stand over a backyard inferno; and red meat, or even chicken, often feels just too heavy to digest at night when the temperatures hover around a hundred.
Fish fillets are another matter. With flesh less dense than meat or poultry, they cook quickly, especially when you observe the smart contemporary trend towards slightly undercooking fish so it stays deliciously moist at the center. Fish also sits so much more lightly on the stomach, not to mention the fact that it's a healthier, lower-fat, lower-calorie main-course choice at a time when many of us still worry about how we look in our swimsuits.
And meat lovers need not feel like they're missing out when fish stars on the menu. That's especially true with tuna. Whichever you choose, (yellowfin ahi from the Atlantic or bigeye ahi from Hawaii), you'll get fish that's sufficiently meaty and flavorful to satisfy carnivorous cravings.
Shop for fresh tuna at well-stocked supermarkets or specialty seafood shops that sell sustainable product and have a good reputation for quality and frequent product turnover. Look for fillets with a clean, bright, moist appearance and absolutely no fishy smell; they should only have the clean scent of a fresh ocean breeze.
With fresh fish that good, you really don't need to do too much. I like to marinate the fillets briefly with good, fruity olive oil and fresh herbs, then serve it on top of a simple vinaigrette sauce made from more olive oil and herbs, a little citrus juice and vinegar, and some sweet vine-ripened tomatoes.
When cooking fresh tuna, again, remember not to overcook it. Fortunately, I don't have to emphasize or explain that warning as much nowadays, thanks to the popularity of Japanese sushi. In fact, many cooks like to highlight the rosy underdone interior of the tuna by serving it sliced.
If you'd like to do that with my recipe, use a little trick I've discovered to ensure that the cooked fish slices neatly, without falling apart. With a sharp knife, score the raw fillets where you intend to slice them, cutting about 1/4 inch deep at intervals about 1/3 inch apart. After cooking, the fish will slice easily when you cut along the score marks. Then, place the slices overlapping on top of the sauce, and sit down to a meal that lets you and your family and friends taste summer at its fullest.
Grilled Tuna with Tomato-Mint Vinaigrette Recipe
1-1/2 pounds fresh tuna fillet, preferably ahi tuna from the Atlantic Ocean or Hawaii, cut into 4 equal pieces
Freshly ground white pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint or basil leaves, plus 4 sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 ripe Roma (plum) tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon good-quality red or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 medium shallots, minced
Sprinkle the tuna fillets all over with white pepper. In a shallow bowl or dish large enough to hold the tuna pieces side by side, stir together 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the mint or basil. Turn the tuna pieces in the oil and herbs to coat them. Leave them in the bowl or dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours.
Meanwhile, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice cubes and water and put it on the counter near the saucepan.
Meanwhile, use a small, sharp knife to core the stem ends of the tomatoes and to score a shallow X on the opposite end of each tomato. When the water boils, use a slotted spoon to lower the tomatoes into the saucepan. Boil just until the tomatoes' skins begin to wrinkle, about 30 seconds. With the slotted spoon, lift the tomatoes out of the water and transfer them to the ice water. Drop the garlic cloves into the pan of boiling water and boil them for about 2 minutes; then, with the slotted spoon, transfer them to the ice water to cool.
When the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off their skins. Cut each tomato in half. Use your fingertip or the handle of a teaspoon to scoop out and discard their seeds. With a small, sharp knife, cut the tomatoes into 1/4-inch dice. Set aside.
Drain the garlic cloves and pat them dry. With a small, sharp knife, cut them lengthwise into thin slices; then, stack the slices and cut lengthwise into thin julienne strips. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes and garlic with the remaining mint or basil, olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, parsley, and shallots. Toss well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until about 30 minutes before cooking time.
Preheat an outdoor grill. Meanwhile, remove the tuna and the tomato mixture from the refrigerator and leave them at room temperature until the grill is ready for cooking.
Lightly sprinkle the tuna pieces all over with salt. Grill the tuna about 4 minutes per side until medium rare, testing by cutting into the center of one piece. (If the tuna fillet is very thin, grill it on one side only.)
To serve, spoon the tomato mixture into the centers of 4 serving plates, spreading it evenly. Transfer the tuna pieces to the plates, centering them on top of the tomatoes. Serve immediately.
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Recipes: "Grilled Tuna with Tomato-Mint Vinaigrette "
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