This recipe was originally featured in The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter on Thursday, June 2, 2005.

Seared tuna Japanese-style

Here's one of the most luxurious easy dinners there is: Take a fine piece of sushi-grade fresh tuna and a compatible flavor mix. Sear the tuna just until the edges are cooked but the center remains sushi-rare. Put it on a plate and eat it.

Indeed, the last time I wrote about a variation on this theme, in the April 25, 2002 FoodLetter, I titled the article "The virtues of minimalism."

This time, without particularly trying to replicate the earlier recipe, I threw together something quite similar. I coated a block of yellowtail big enough for two with a red- and black-pepper mix, then seared it briefly in peanut oil with ginger and garlic and finished with a quick pan sauce of soy sauce and lemon juice with a dash of wasabi, the hot Japanese horseradish served at sushi bars.

But then, rather than serving it in one big piece like a steak, I tried a different presentation twist to make the dish a bit more like a sushi adventure: I carefully cut the tuna into attractive thin strips - rectangles of tender pink tuna sushi ringed with a brown seared edge crusted with a bit of the pepper rub - and arranged them in neat rows around a serving of steaming white rice, sauced with the thickened pan reduction. It was as pretty as a picture, and if it hadn't been so tempting that we dived right in, I would have taken one.

Here's how to put it together. It's a simple but delicious dinner that takes little more than 20 minutes from start to finish, and wouldn't take that long if you didn't have to cook the rice.

INGREDIENTS: (serves 2)

10- to 12-ounce (300-350g) fresh tuna steak
Black pepper
4 tablespoons (60ml) soy sauce
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon (5g) wasabi powder
1 garlic clove
1 thick slice fresh ginger
1 tablespoon peanut oil


1. Sprinkle the tuna generously on both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add cayenne to your taste. You may do this just before cooking or, if you like, an hour or so before dinner to allow the spices time to penetrate the meat.

2. Mix the soy sauce and lemon juice in a cup or bowl and stir in the wasabi until it dissolves. Taste-test as you go and use a little more (or a little less) wasabi to your liking. We're seeking a piquant edge here, not a sinus-clearing experience.

3. Just as in the earlier seared-tuna recipe, put a nonstick sautee pan or black iron skillet over high heat until it's very hot. Smack the garlic clove and ginger slice with your fist or the side of a chef's knife to break them a bit and release their juices, then put them in the hot pan with the peanut oil. (If nut allergies are a concern, substitute corn oil or other vegetable oil, but I wouldn't use olive oil in this dish - the flavor combination wouldn't work as well.)

Gently put in the tuna steak, and let it sear on one side without moving it for just 1 minute. Turn it and sear it on the other side for another minute. Holding it carefully, turn again and sear it briefly on the other sides. You want the surface crisp and brown but the center left cool and sushi-like. (OK, if you hate sushi, you can cook it through, about 3 minutes on each side depending on thickness. But it just won't be the same, and I would seriously question whether it's worth paying the price for sushi-quality tuna if you must do this.)

4. Turn the heat down to medium and pour the soy sauce mix into the pan. Turn the tuna once or twice to coat it on all sides while the liquid reduces to a syrupy consistency. Take out the tuna and cut it into thin slices, arranging them attractively around scoops of hot white rice on warmed plates. Drizzle the pan sauce around the fish, and serve.

I served this with the two German Rieslings featured in yesterday's 30 Second Wine Advisor, and it went well with both, although I liked it slightly better with the less-sweet Selbach 2002 Riesling Dry. It would go well with any crisp, grassy white - a Sancerre or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc would be fine - or if you prefer a red, your choice of Pinot Noir.

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