Two Years Ago: Pan Bagnat
We try to eat seafood once or twice per week because it's light, healthy and a good change of pace. The whole key is to find whatever is fresh and fabulous at the store. This week we found some beautiful wild-caught fresh tuna; I was particularly excited to find small thick steaks rather than larger thinner steaks because they're much easier to cook without over-cooking. I learned that lesson many years ago from an avid Vermont fisherman who told me never to cook tuna any more than medium-rare because it gets dry and tough. I'm still not a sushi person but I do like tuna with a very pink center.
It's a good idea to ask the person at the fish counter whether the fish you're looking at was previously frozen - the label doesn't always say, and freezing/thawing does affect both texture and taste. Always go for fresh when you can.
Although I love most foods grilled, I prefer meaty fish steaks such as tuna and swordfish pan-seared because that's the only way to get a uniformly caramelized crust. A cast-iron skillet is your tool of choice for getting that beautiful crust without sticking - just be sure to let the fish cook for the first two minutes over high heat without touching it. Then carefully try to lift it with tongs, and if it's ready it should release without any problems. If not, let it cook for 30 seconds or so and try again. If you don't have a cast-iron skillet use a regular skillet instead - just don't use a non-stick pan because the browning will never happen.
The other benefit to cooking indoors (in the height of summer) is air conditioning - it's never attractive to bring in a plate of grilled food when you're dripping with sweat. My rule of thumb is cook outdoors when it's nice (60-90d-ish) and cook indoors at other times. The Lawyer has been known to grill in weather as cold as -25d or as hot as 110d; proof that intelligence and common sense don't always go hand in hand.
Plating is a matter of stacking/assemblage. You could put everything side by side on the plate but that wouldn't be nearly as cool.
This recipe is very Italian and would go beautifully with a soft red wine such as a Pinot Noir or Merlot. Interesting fact of the day - tannic red wines can make fish taste metallic or fishy. Who knew?
Pan-Seared Tuna with Capers and Red Wine Sauce
¼ cup capers, drained
2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
1 small shallot, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Four small tuna steaks, 1 ½ inches thick
2 teaspoons anchovy paste
1 cup dry red wine
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 2 pieces
4 cups packed baby arugula
Hot mashed potatoes
In a bowl, mix the capers with the oregano, shallot and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Start cooking the mashed potatoes. Pat the tuna steaks dry and season with salt and pepper on both sides.
While the potatoes are cooking, heat a large skillet (preferably cast iron, but not non-stick) over medium-high heat. When the pan is good and hot, add one tablespoon of olive oil and quickly swirl the pan to coat. Add the tuna steaks and let cook undisturbed for approximately two minutes, until the bottom is nicely browned and releases easily from the pan. Flip the tuna steaks and cook for approximately 2 minutes more, until rare to medium-rare (cook time will vary with the thickness of the steaks.) Remove and let rest. (Note: there will be some carry-over cooking while the tuna rests; do not overcook in the pan. The inside should still be red when they’re taken out.)
Add the anchovy paste to the same skillet over medium heat and mash around with the back of a wooden spoon for approximately 30 seconds. Add the wine and boil until reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Remove the skillet from heat and swirl in the butter, one piece at a time, until smooth. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
In a medium bowl, toss the arugula with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt. Finish the mashed potatoes.
To plate: divide hot mashed potatoes between plates. Place arugula on top of potatoes, then add a tuna steak on top. Sprinkle caper mixture on top of tuna steak and drizzle red wine sauce around the side of the plate.