PAN-SEARED GULF TUNA This is a lighter approach to Cajun-style ``blackening,'' says Don Wexell, the Crescent Caf'e chef who concocted these recipes.
Tuna steaks (3/4- to 1-inch thick, about 6 1/2 oz. apiece; look for shiny-red flesh)
Olive oil (enough to coat pan generously)
Spice mix: (for six steaks)
2 teaspoons crushed hot red pepper flakes
20 whole black peppercorns
20 whole white peppercorns
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Grind spices using a spice mill or coffee grinder (mortar and pestle or even mincing with a chef's knife can also work). Generously coat pan (preferably cast-iron) with olive oil. Heat olive oil on high until it starts to burn. Smoke will start to rise; oil will be extremely hot.
Rub tuna with spice mix. Carefully place in pan and sear for 1 1/2 minutes (2 minutes, if steak is 1 inch thick). Turn over and sear for another 1 1/2 minutes. This will cook the tuna to a medium rare. Cook longer if desired. (Tuna medium rare is moist and juicy; longer cooking time results in drier tuna.)
Serve immediately on a bed of mustard grits (below) on warm plates. Garnish with fresh chives and diced tomato.
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons Creole mustard (substitute any other whole-seed mustard)
Salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste
Prepare grits to make 2 cups. Add Parmesan cheese, mustard, salt, pepper, and Tabasco. Stir well. Serve immediately. If grits are a little stiff, add hot water to loosen. Makes enough to bed up to six tuna steaks.