I’m not the world’s biggest fan of scoopable tuna salad.
When canned tuna was the only option in most grocery stores, I understand why we started to mix it with mayonnaise and pickles, maybe some celery and onions, to serve on crackers or between two slices of bread, but we have more possibilities these days.
You can find sushi-grade tuna in the frozen section of many grocery stores, and even canned tuna has enjoyed an upgrade in the past few decades. Now that we’re in the middle of the hottest month of the year, I wanted to share a few options for using up a nice tin of tuna you picked up at Central Market or a frozen tuna steak you might have taken home from a recent trip to Costco.
Rika Yukimasa’s method of dipping frozen tuna in heavily salted water to start its thawing process is a good one. It seasons the fish while also leaving it frozen enough to slice into even pieces for sashimi. Steven Mangleshot uses a gyoza sauce-based marinade to infuse his nuoc cham tuna with flavor, while Kelsey Preciado sticks with the technique of patting the tuna dry and seasoning with salt and pepper before briefly searing in sesame oil.
If you prefer using canned tuna, take Skye McAlpine’s advice and use high-quality tuna, preferably one that’s sustainably harvested. If it says “solid” on the can, the tuna will have nice flakes to it. “Chunk” tuna is the softer stuff that isn’t usually very high quality. I also prefer tuna packed in oil, which I find to have more flavor than tuna stored in water.
Sicilian Couscous Salad
If you were being pedantic, you would cook couscous in a couscoussiere, a Moroccan clay pot in which you slowly steam the grains over a bubbling stew. The way I do it is rather less romantic and utterly inauthentic, but it is quick and convenient without compromising either on the flavor or the delightful fluffy texture of the cooked grains.
You could of course serve couscous plain, dressed with a little oil and lemon juice, even a smattering of aromatic spice – cinnamon, nutmeg and so forth – to go with pretty much anything. But, inspired by the way they cook it in Sicily, I throw in salty caper berries, a good tin of oily, almost meaty tuna and sweet aniseedy fennel.
This makes for a vibrant centerpiece more than substantial enough to serve on its own. This is perfect picnic food alongside some good hard cheese, cold ham or salami and a loaf of bread.
— Skye McAlpine
1 3/4 cups couscous
1 2/3 cups boiling water
1 vegetable stock cube
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
10 to 12 caper berries, halved
A handle of fresh arugula leaves
1 3/4 cups good-quality tinned tuna, drained
1 small bulb fennel, thinly sliced
Scant 5 tablespoons olive oil
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Pour the couscous into a large heatproof bowl. Dissolve the stock cube in the measured boiling water, then pour the boiling stock over the grains, cover and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes to swell up.
When all the liquid has been absorbed, use a fork to fluff up the grains, then douse generously with one-third of the oil. Now add the almonds, caper berries and fennel and toss everything together well.
Add the tuna, breaking it up with a fork and mixing it through the salad. This will happily keep for a day in the fridge.
Lastly, throw in the arugula (if it sits in the dressing, it will wilt). Squeeze in the juice of the lemon and dress with what is left of the oil. Toss again and add salt and pepper to taste. Serves 6.
— From “A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty” by Skye McAlpine (Bloomsbury Publishing, $28)
Nuoc Cham Tuna
Nuoc cham is a Vietnamese-style dressing and has a sweet, sour and spicy flavor. We’ve used protein-rich tuna in this recipe, which is popular in Japan, and served it on a vibrant base of quinoa and vegetables. To get the right flavor, use Japanese 7 Spice, or shichimi togarashi, which includes chiles, sesame, orange peel and nori. A typical gyoza sauce will have rice vinegar, soy sauce, red pepper flakes, garlic, ginger and sesame oil, but you can use a bottled version of the sauce. If you don’t have any, use soy sauce.
— Steven Mangleshot
2 tuna steaks
1 tablespoon shichimi
2 tablespoons gyoza sauce (store-bought or homemade)
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into chunks
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1/2 cup dried quinoa
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons shichimi
1 red onion, cut into chunks
1 green pepper, cut into chunks
1 red pepper, cut into chunks
2 heaped tablespoons edamame beans
2 cups kale, roughly chopped
2 cilantro sprigs, leaves picked, to garnish marinade
Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the tuna in a shallow bowl and cover with shichimi and gyoza sauce. Cover and set aside in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, line a baking tray with foil and arrange the sweet potato chunks on top. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the oil and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until caramelized and soft to cut. Set aside.
Cook the quinoa according to the packet instructions and set aside. Combine the shichimi and rice wine vinegar to make the nuoc cham dressing and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a wok and sear the marinated tuna for 1 to 2 minutes on each side until slightly browned. Set aside on a plate.
Add the remaining oil to the same wok and stir-fry the red onion, peppers and edamame beans over high heat until nicely caramelized.
Add the roasted sweet potato chunks, kale and quinoa and stir-fry until the kale starts to wilt, then stir through 2 tablespoons of the nuoc cham dressing.
Divide the quinoa mixture between 2 plates, place a tuna steak on top and drizzle over the remaining dressing. Finish with a scattering of cilantro leaves.
— From “Wagamama: Feed Your Soul: 100 Japanese-inspired Bowls of Goodness” by Steven Mangleshot (Kyle Books, $24.99)
The perfect types of fish for this sashimi dish are red snapper, salmon, scallops or tuna. These are sold frozen online and are easy to get. Sprinkle colorful vegetables over thinly sliced sashimi. You can, of course, adjust the amount of chile pepper to suit your taste.
— Rika Yukimasa
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt
8 ounces frozen sashimi-grade fish (see suggestions above)
1/2 Japanese cucumber or 1/4 standard cucumber, peeled and stemmed
1/3 rib celery, peeled
1 tablespoon sushi vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
10 to 12 leaves baby arugula
1/2 dried red chile pepper, crushed
To thaw the fish, pour 3 cups warm water in a large bowl and add 2 tablespoons of the salt.
Put the frozen fish in the bowl. The frost on the surface will quickly disappear. Thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Wrap the fish in clean paper towels and then in plastic wrap.
Put the wrapped fish in the refrigerator to thaw until slightly pliable but still frozen, 30 minutes to 1 hour. Slice the fish into 1/4-inch slices with a sharp knife. Wrap the sliced fish in clean paper towels and plastic (you can reuse the plastic wrap), and return to the refrigerator until fully thawed, an additional 30 minutes to 1 hour.
If you are using a standard cucumber, cut it in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds out with a spoon. Cut the celery and the cucumber into pieces 5 inches long.
Thinly slice the celery and the cucumber into pieces 1/8 inch long. Stack several cucumber and celery pieces together and cut lengthwise again into a small dice and set aside.
For the dressing, place the sushi vinegar, soy sauce and the olive oil in a small bowl and whisk to combine well.
Arrange the thawed fish slices on a serving plate and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Leave small arugula leaves whole and tear by hand if large. Garnish the fish with all of the vegetables, and drizzle the dressing on top. Sprinkle on the chile pepper and serve. Serves 4.
— From “Rika’s Modern Japanese Home Cooking: Simplifying Authentic Recipes” by Rika Yukimasa (Rizzoli, $40)
Seared Ahi and Sesame Mango Avocado Bowl
Mango and avocado are a match made in my summer dreams! I bet you can agree with me on that — and adding them to kale with a delicious sesame dressing is the perfect side to some seared ahi. Eating this paleo-friendly dish feels like you are sitting at a beachside restaurant!
— Kelsey Preciado
1 pound ahi tuna
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon sesame oil for pan
2 tablespoons sesame oil for dressing
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
6 cups chopped kale
1 mango, chopped
1 avocado, pitted and chopped
4 radishes, sliced
2 cups chopped grape tomatoes
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
Dry off the tuna with paper towels, then sprinkle both sides with some salt and pepper. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, pour in sesame oil. Place the ahi tuna in the pan and sear it for 1 1/2 minutes per side. Set it aside.
In a small bowl, combine sesame oil, rice vinegar, garlic powder and ginger. Whisk to combine. Pour that mixture over the kale and massage it with your hands for 1 minute, or until the leaves are no longer tough. Add the mango, avocado, radishes, grape tomatoes and sesame seeds. Toss to coat.
To serve, divide the salad among 4 bowls and top each with sliced ahi tuna. Serves 4.
— From “Unbelievabowl Paleo: 60 Wholesome One-Dish Recipes You Won’t Believe Are Dairy- and Gluten-Free” by Kelsey Preciado (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)