Sunday 24 September 2017

Perfectly in Tuna

Tuna blends well with so many flavours, says Brenda Costigan, but especially with those of the Mediterranean. Rich in protein, its meaty texture is also a vital source of omega-3 oils

MEDITERRANEAN TUNA
MEDITERRANEAN TUNA

We came across it quite by accident: an unpretentious little restaurant, situated on a corner, with tables and chairs along the tree-lined street.

It was not quite in the touristy old town of Marbella, but close by. Almost all of the customers were Spanish. Apart from some delightful little tapas-style starters and a wonderful selection of really fresh salads, the menu consisted of fish of all types, grilled or fried, and served with chips.

Wonderfully fresh, my favourite was the tuna. Interestingly, they cut it in wide, thin slices, quite unlike the chunkier steaks we generally get here.

Lots of people enjoy eating tuna because of its meaty texture, its mild taste, which isn't overly fishy, and because it cooks so quickly. Most tuna is bone-free and skin-free. There are many types of tuna imported into Ireland. The albacore tuna that's currently available in the shops is actually caught in the North Atlantic. It is a smaller fish and it's often sold in large cutlets with the bone in the centre. It is important to keep tuna at a low temperature, so get it into the fridge as soon as you get home from the shops.

Rich in protein, tuna is also a source of the all-important omega-3 oils. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) advises that if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, then you should limit the amount of tuna you eat to no more than one small, fresh steak, or two 225g (8oz) tins, per week. This advice is given because of the levels of mercury that accumulate in large ocean fish such as shark, swordfish, marlin and to a lesser extent, tuna. For further information, see www.fsai.ie

SALAD NICOISE

The combination of ingredients in this classic Mediterranean main-dish salad is excellent. They look particularly attractive arranged on a large platter rather than in a deep bowl. If it is cooked just before serving, the tuna will still be quite warm when it's placed on the salad. Serves 4.

You will need:

350-400g (12-14oz) fresh tuna steaks

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2-3 little gem lettuces

8-12 salad potatoes, cooked (or use about 5-6 larger potatoes and cut them into generous chunks when cooked)

110g (4oz) French beans, cooked then dipped in cold water to stop the cooking and retain the fresh green colour

3-4 tomatoes, cut in quarters

1 small red onion, thinly sliced

1-2 teaspoons capers, drained

12 black pitted olives, drained

2-4 eggs, hardboiled, shelled and quartered

Small tin anchovies (about 8 fillets), drained and cut in half

Small handful fresh basil leaves, torn (optional)

Crusty bread, to serve

For the dressing, you will need:

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1-2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the tuna steaks with some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and leave them to one side while you're preparing the salad.

To make the dressing, put the extra virgin olive oil, the white wine vinegar, the crushed garlic cloves, the Dijon mustard, the fresh, chopped, flat-leaf parsley and chives, and some salt and freshly ground black pepper into a screw-top jar. Shake it well to throughly mix all the ingredients together. It is important that the dressing is well seasoned, so taste it and, if necessary, correct the seasoning.

Arrange the leaves of the little gem lettuces on the platter. Toss the cooked salad potatoes in a little of the dressing and scatter them over the bed of lettuce. Do likewise with the cooked French beans and the quartered tomatoes. Scatter the thinly sliced red onion, the drained capers and the black pitted olives over the top. Arrange the quartered eggs and the halved anchovy fillets here and there.

Heat a frying pan until it is very hot, then brush it with a little olive oil and fry the tuna steaks until they are browned on both sides, but still rare in the centre. Cut the tuna into generous chunks before you place it on the salad. Drizzle more of the dressing over everything and scatter the torn, fresh basil leaves on top, if you are using them. Serve with the crusty bread.

SEARED TUNA WITH SALSA VERDE

Salsa verde is delightful with seared tuna. The salsa ingredients can be buzzed in a food processor or the parsley can be coarsely chopped and mixed with the other ingredients, giving the salsa a more salad-like appearance. Serves 2.

You will need:

2 tuna steaks, about 150g (5oz) each

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the salsa verde, you will need:

2 handfuls flat-leaf parsley

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 tablespoon capers, roughly chopped

Small handful green olives, stoned and roughly chopped

6 tablespoons olive oil

1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Juice 1/2 lemon

First, make up the salsa verde by mixing together, in a food processor, the flat-leaf parsley, the finely chopped shallots, the roughly chopped capers and green olives, the olive oil, the Dijon mustard, some salt and freshly ground black pepper, and the lemon juice.

Alternatively, coarsely chop the parsley and add to it the finely chopped shallots, and the roughly chopped capers and green olives. Then whisk together the olive oil, the Dijon mustard, some salt and freshly ground black pepper and enough of the lemon juice to taste. Pour it on to the parsley, shallot, caper and olive mixture.

Rub the tuna steaks with a little olive oil and season with some salt and freshly ground black pepper. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the tuna for about two minutes on each side, or longer, depending on the degree of doneness you like.

If you want a criss-cross pattern, use a cast-iron griddle pan and, after about one minute on each side, turn the fish 90 degrees. Cook until you achieve the degree of doneness you like. Serve with the salsa verde spooned over the fish.

ORIENTAL TUNA

This is a zingy sauce to pour over the fried tuna steaks in the pan. Serves 2.

You will need:

1-2 tablespoons soy sauce

1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons sweet chilli sauce

1-2 teaspoons ginger, very finely grated

1-2 small garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon sunflower oil or corn oil

2 tuna steaks (about 150-175g/5-6oz each)

Mix together the soy sauce, the lemon juice, the sweet chilli sauce, the very finely grated ginger and the small crushed, garlic cloves to make a sauce. Heat the sunflower oil or corn oil, whichever you're using, in a pan, and when the oil is piping hot, put in the tuna steaks and cook them for about 1-2 minutes on each side.

Reduce the heat, and pour the sauce over the fish. Cook for another 1-2 minutes per side, or until you achieve the degree of doneness you like.

Serve with the delicious juices spooned over the fish.

MEDITERRANEAN TUNA

(Pictured)

Photographer Tony Gavin, who loves tuna steak, shared this recipe with me. It's one of his favourites and it can be made in minutes. Serves 2.

You will need:

2-3 tablespoons of the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes (or use olive oil)

2 tuna steaks, about 150-175g (5-6oz) each

1-2 generous tablespoons of sun-dried tomatoes in oil.

2 garlic cloves, each slit in two or three

2 tablespoons black olives

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Small handful fresh basil leaves

Cooked pasta, to serve

In a pan, heat the oil from the sun-dried tomatoes -- or the olive oil, if you are using it -- until it's piping hot.

Put in the tuna steaks, turning them to brown the other side after about one minute. Then add in the sun-dried tomatoes, the sliced garlic cloves, the black olives and some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cook for a minute or so, then turn the tuna back to the other side. Fry for another minute, or until until you achieve the degree of doneness you like, throwing in the basil leaves for the last 30 seconds or so.

Serve the contents of the pan with the cooked pasta, spooning some of the juices on top.

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