I have a tendency to pick recipes for the weekly idea post that look fairly simple, but turn out to be way more involved than I realized once it’s actually 9 o’clock at night and I’m just starting to make whatever it is. This probably implies that I should read the recipes a lot more closely before picking them, but I blame all of the recipe creators who put “chopped/minced/grated/etc” into the ingredients list so that the recipe directions look really short. It’s a lie. This recipe looked really short, but between my slowness at chopping in general, the unfamiliarity I have with my current kitchen, and the tiny amount of counter space, it took me close to two hours to make Ottolenghi‘s seared tuna with pistachio crust and papaya salsa. And once I was done, I couldn’t even eat it, because it needs to chill for all the flavors to mingle. It was beautiful, delicious, and totally worth it, but a quick fish dish this is not.
Cooking the ahi (yellowfin) tuna is really simple. Cut the fresh fish into 2-3 equally-sized pieces, lengthwise, so they will cook evenly. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat, once it is hot add the olive oil-coated fish, and very quickly sear it on all sides. That took me less than 5 minutes start to finish. Put it on a plate, cover it loosely with plastic wrap if you want, and refrigerate it.
While the fish chills, work on the salsa. This recipe is time-intensive because of all the peeling and chopping into (mostly) evenly-sized pieces of the fruits and vegetables. It’s unlikely that it will take you as long as it took me, but you should be prepared for it to take a while. Mango and papaya are both really slippery once peeled, especially when they’re nicely ripened. Eventually, everything for the salsa is prepped and stirred together in a bowl. Now is your chance to taste it and adjust the seasoning if you like. When I tasted my salsa last night, I thought the heat level was excellent, but this morning I was disappointed to find most of the heat had somehow mellowed out. Next time, I will add another small pepper or two. Also, the original recipe calls for 4 tablespoons of olive oil, which to me seems like a crazy amount for a salsa. I used it, and it was fabulous, but I’d probably scale it back a tablespoon or two the next time I make this.
By the time you’re finished with the salsa, the fish will be plenty chilled and you can start the process of making the pistachio coating. This step would be much easier with a food processor, and it’s worth noting that shelling pistachios also takes a fair amount of time. You can do it while watching TV or something else, but it’s not a quick activity. To get the 1/4 cup I needed, I spent about 5 minutes shelling pistachios (and chasing flying shells across the floor…). Whether you have a food processor, a plastic bag and a rolling pin, or a willingness to use your (clean) coffee grinder to process the pistachios, hopefully you’ll find yourself with evenly-sized pistachio crumbs to mix with a little lemon zest. I accidentally used 1/2 the amount of lemon for my 1/4 amount of pistachios and I really liked the lemon flavor that came through, so depending on your love for lemon, you might want to use 2 lemons for zest instead of just the original 1 called for. The recipe in Ottolenghi shows the crust looking more like a paste, while my rolling pin-ground pistachio coating was more like a chunky nut butter.
I also diverged from the recipe a bit at the end and didn’t wrap my fish in plastic because I don’t have any… plus living in SF now I feel a little guilty about using plastic wrap. So, I accepted that my crust wouldn’t be as well adhered to my ahi and just placed my encrusted fish pieces in a tupperware container and stored them in the fridge overnight.
Ottolenghi’s seared tuna with pistachio crust and papaya salsa is gorgeous and it tastes exceptionally good too. The tuna is light and buttery, with a hint of Dijon, a little lemon, and great pistachio flavor coming through from the crust. As summer dishes go, I think this is pretty perfect. You have to do a very minimal amount of cooking and the ahi with salsa is really refreshing. It’s not fast and it’s not inexpensive, but I will certainly make this again (although probably not in this kitchen).
It’s also worth noting that since I’m feeding only myself and high-quality (you’re going to be eating the fish mostly raw) ahi tuna is wildly expensive ($29.99/lb at my local WF), I opted to make a quarter portion of tuna (1/2 lb) for myself, but made the full amount of salsa. That amount of tuna was enough for two portions for me, so this recipe is enough to very generously feed four people, probably with additional salsa leftover. The leftover salsa would be fantastic eaten with taro chips as well as grilled chicken, steak, or asparagus.
Seared Tuna with Pistachio Crust and Papaya Salsa
This recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi's eponymous cookbook isn't quick to make, and it requires planning ahead by at least half a day, but it's certainly worth the effort.
- 2.25 lb (1kg) ahi tuna loin
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- coarse sea salt and black pepper
- grated zest of 1-2 lemons
- 150 g (1 1/4 cups) shelled pistachio nuts toasted, if desired*
- 5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1-2 small Persian cucumbers (or half an English cucumber)
- 1 large (1 1/2 lb) ripe papaya (about 1 1/3 cups when diced)
- 1 large ripe mango (about 1 1/3 cups when diced)
- 2 small red chillies
- 10 g (1/2-inch piece) fresh ginger peeled
- 1 small red onion
- grated zest and juice of 2 limes
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons sugar superfine if possible
Heat a large grill pan or skillet over medium-high heat.
Cut the tuna loin lengthwise into 2-3 cylindrical pieces, using the natural divisions of the fish as a guide. Brush each piece all over with the olive oil, then season with a couple grinds each of salt and pepper.
Add the tuna pieces to the hot pan/skillet and quickly sear on each side, for no more than 3 or 4 minutes total. The tuna should be slightly raw in the center and just cooked on the edges (with about a 1/2-inch margin). Transfer the tuna pieces to a plate and refrigerate until well chilled (about 30 minutes).
Peel the cucumber, if desired. Slice in half lengthwise, remove any seeds, then dice the cucumber into 1/2-inch pieces. Transfer to a serving bowl or large tupperware container. Repeat the same process for the papaya and mango (definitely peel and deseed them!). Destem, deseed (if desired, and finely chop the red chili peppers. Finely mince the red onion. Grate the ginger into the bowl, then add in the lime zest and juice, lemon juice, fish sauce, olive oil and sugar. Toss everything to combine, season with salt and pepper to taste (about 5-6 grinds each), and toss again. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Using a food processor, blitz the pistachios into fine crumbs (be careful not to turn them completely into a paste. [If you don't have a food processor, place the pistachios into a sturdy plastic Ziploc, close the bag, and roll over it with a rolling pin to break the nuts into pieces.] Mix the pistachios with the lemon zest and spread out on a large plate or sheet pan.
Spread out 2-3 pieces of plastic wrap on your work surface (one piece for each tuna piece). Put a piece of the chilled, seared tuna in the center of each piece of plastic wrap. Coat the exposed sides of the tuna pieces with olive oil, then brush generously with the mustard. Drop each piece oiled & mustarded side down onto the pistachio-lemon zest coating. Coat the fourth side of the tuna pieces with olive oil, then mustard, and then roll the tuna pieces in the pistachio coating to fully encase it in the nut mixture. Return the coated tuna pieces to their piece of plastic wrap, roll the plastic wrap up tightly around each piece of fish, and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
To serve, slice the chilled tuna into 1/2-3/4-inch thick slices. Serve with the papaya salsa on top or on the side.
*Toasting the pistachios will bring out their flavor but you will lose some of their bright green color.
The papaya salsa will keep for about 5 days in the refrigerator.