Remember when tuna was named Charlie, and came in a can? When tuna meant tuna-salad sandwiches on white bread (dill pickle and chips on the side, please) and was the peanut-butter-and-jelly alternative in a kid's lunch bag?
Back then it was canned tuna - good. Fresh tuna, bad, or at least, unheard of. In the US anyway. Even the late James Beard, father of modern American cuisine, commented that tuna "is a fish that I think is better canned than fresh."
How surprised Mr. Beard would be to see what today's restaurant menus reveal.
Well Charlie has grown up, and gone big time. He's fresh, more colorful (no longer just bleached and canned). He's become quite sophisticated and is slowly moving upstream from school cafeterias to the top restaurants.
Today fresh tuna is almost always bought as steaks. And, indeed, it is much like beef in texture and appearance.
When grilling or broiling tuna, remember that it is a fish often served raw in sushi bars. It is far better cooked rare to medium than well-done.
Seared over high heat and turned but once, it can convert a beef lover to this popular fish in one bite.
Let that be your guide when it comes to cooking; Less is more, simple is best.
Grilled Italian-style tuna
2 1-inch-thick tuna steaks (1-1/2 to 2 pounds, total weight)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary, or 1/2 teaspoon dried (crushed)
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Chopped flat-leafed Italian parsley
Start a wood or charcoal fire, or preheat broiler or gas grill. Set rack about 3 to 4 inches from heat if using a grill.
Marinate tuna steaks in olive oil, herbs, salt, pepper, and lemon juice 15 to 20 minutes, turning occasionally.
When fire, broiler, or grill is very hot, place tuna steaks on lightly oiled grill. Cook about 3 to 4 minutes, turn once, and cook another 4 minutes. Steaks should be rare or medium.
Serve garnished with lemon wedges and parsley. This dish may be served accompanied by gnocchi topped with grated Parmesan cheese, and sauteed mustard greens, as pictured left.
Broiled Tuna Steaks
6 fresh tuna steaks, 1-inch thick, about 4 ounces each
6 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fennel seed, finely ground
1 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary needles
Zest from 1 orange
1 small head cauliflower
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and ground pepper, to taste
4 tablespoons capers
4 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
1 hard-boiled egg, chopped, optional
Lightly brush tuna with some of the olive oil.
Combine fennel seed, rosemary, and orange zest. Sprinkle both sides of tuna steaks with most of the mixture; set steaks aside for 20 minutes.
Separate cauliflower into bite-sized florets; blanch in boiling salted water for about 5 minutes, or until cooked to your preference; drain.
Whisk together the red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and remaining mixture of fennel, rosemary, and orange zest to make a vinegarette.
Toss cauliflower with half the vinegarette and the capers and parsley.
Broil tuna over high heat for 4 minutes on each side, or until rare to medium. Top tuna with remaining dressing, and serve cauliflower, sprinkled with egg, on the side.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society