As the albacore tuna fishery off the coast is now in full swing, many anglers will be bringing home plenty of pounds of this fine tasting fish to prepare for a wonderful seafood dining experience.
Seattle chef and restaurateur Tom Douglas will contribute some of his tasty cooking advice and recipes for the Reel Time Fishing NW blog in our Catch of the Week each Wednesday through October. Catch of the Day will also include recipes from other local chefs, tackle shop owners and fish-market owners.
Douglas is owner of Lola, Palace Kitchen, Dahlia Lounge, Dahlia Bakery, Etta’s, Serious Pie Downtown, Seatown, Brave Horse Tavern, Cuoco, Serious Biscuit and Serious Pie Westlake. Another new Douglas restaurant that just opened is Tanaka San at the Via6 Apartment Complex in downtown Seattle.
Here are some suggestions by Chef Tom Douglas on how to serve albacore tuna:
Albacore tuna has a softer texture than its firmer, bigger cousin, the bluefin or yellowfin tuna, and albacore’s raw flesh is grey-pink in color, but it is equally tasty and less costly. Here’s another more important reason to eat albacore: American or Canadian North Pacific troll or pole caught albacore tuna gets a “Best Choice” rating for sustainability from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood watch.
In my restaurants, we typically prepare albacore tuna “seared rare,” meaning we put the chunk of tuna in a hot pan with a little olive oil and turn it to get a good sear around the outside, but remove the fish from the heat before it has the chance to cook all the way through. When you slice the tuna the inside of each slice is pink and “rare,” which really means raw. Since this takes only a few minutes, be sure you’ve prepped everything else for your dish, and sear the tuna at the last minute right before you’re ready to eat. (Keep in mind, that when buying fish, and especially fish you plan to serve raw or “rare,” be sure to buy from a purveyor you trust who has a high turnover of fish.)
Albacore tuna has a mild flavor that makes it a versatile companion to a wide range of flavors. Some people might find it strange to partner this mild fish with a full-bodied pasta sauce, but the charred tuna with pasta puttanesca that I put on the menu in the early days of the Dahlia Lounge was a big hit with our customers. The tuna was seared rare and sliced, then the rosy slices were laid across a plate of pungent, garlicky linguini, heavily laced with chopped anchovy and red chili flakes.
Another way I like to eat albacore is in a one bowl lunch or supper of steamed aromatic rice topped with creamy coconut curry sauce filled with chunks of pan-seared eggplant, Napa cabbage, red bell pepper strips, carrot slices, and seared-rare slices of albacore tuna.
You don’t have to sear albacore. You can serve it like sushi- raw and thinly sliced. I like to season the raw tuna with a sauce of sake, soy, and rice wine vinegar, toss it with kiware radish sprouts, cilantro leaves, and toasted sesame seeds, and drizzle it with sesame oil and chili oil. I serve this with wedges of green onion pancake hot out of the pan. This “Tom’s Tasty Tuna” is still on the menu at my seafood restaurant, Etta’s.
If you are lucky enough to have an abundance of albacore, you can even make an old-fashioned tuna salad. Gently poach the tuna in a court bouillon (white wine, water, and aromatics), then chill it. Flake up the tuna and combine it with good mayo, sliced chives, and a bit of finely diced preserved lemon peel, split some soft baguettes, and voila!- the best tuna sandwich you ever tasted.