This week I tasted the most divine new fish, or at least it was new to me, Blue Fin Tuna. When Tim was shopping in the Cork Market he spotted a crowd of people clustered around O’Connell’s fish stall. The extra buzz of excitement was generated by the arrival of a truly magnificent Blue Fin Tuna.
It weighed 240kg and took several strong men to lift it onto the huge block. Irrepressible Cork chef Seamus O’Connell of Ivory Tower and Yumi Yuki bounded in to stake his claim to some of the catch for his new restaurant Pi. He and Denis O’Connell set about carving up the tuna and apparently broke three knives in the process. The fish which was landed at Union Hall was in immaculate condition. The Japanese according to Seamus, go crazy for Blue Fin Tuna for sushi and sashimi but there are lots of other ways to serve it also. Sprinkled simply with sea salt and freshly ground pepper and pan-grilled with a little dash of olive oil, it tastes sublime.
Whichever way you decide to serve it, beware of overcooking. Treat it like a fillet steak and cook it medium rare. It will continue to cook after it leaves the pan and will be moist and tender. If you overcook it you will wonder what all the fuss is about, it will be dry and dull. Blue fin tuna is juicier and more gorgeous than any other tuna I’ve tasted.
Pat O’Connell told me that they sold every scrap of the huge fish in one day. It is rare for them to get a blue fish but yellow fin tuna is more common and sells in the fish market amazingly well.
Pat told me that people have become astonishingly more adventurous in recent times. After years of trying to tempt people to taste what many considered to be poor man’s food or penitential fare, fish has suddenly become hip and cool. Its ironic that this new interest coincides with many of the common species becoming scarcer and consequently jolly expensive.
People are according to Pat ‘going mad’ for the many new species being landed. Black Scabbard, Swordfish and Grenadier are hugely popular. Louvar is landed occasionally at Castletownbere and is a divine fish with snow white flesh and a fabulous flaky texture. They can weigh about 20 kgs, the biggest swordfish they sold this year was 500 lbs in weight and is apparently hugely popular with Cork people.
Pi, Courthouse Chambers, Washington Street, Cork Tel. 021-4222858
Seared Tuna with Piperonata and Tapenade
The secret of cooking tuna is to undercook it like a rare steak otherwise it becomes dry and dull. The sweetness of Piperonata and the gutsy taste of Tapenade are great with it.
6 x 175g (6oz) pieces of tuna
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Piperonata (See recipe)
Tapenade (See recipe)
6-8 leaves of flat parsley
First make the Piperonata and Tapenade.
Preheat the pan- grill. Brush the tuna with oil and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Sear the tuna on the hot grill pan, first in one direction and then the other. Cook on both sides for 2- 3 minutes. The centre should still be ‘pink’. Tuna is moist and juicy if served rare but becomes dry and dull if well cooked.
Meanwhile reheat the Piperonata if necessary, put a few tablespoons onto each plate, place a piece of sizzling tuna on top. Put a little Tapenade on top or dot irregularly around the edge of the Piperonata. Add a few sprigs of flat parsley or basil and serve immediately.
The strong gutsy flavour of Tapenade can be an acquired taste – however it becomes addictive and has become a “new basic”.
2 ozs (55g) anchovy fillets
3½ ozs (100g/½ cup) stoned black olives
1 tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) capers
1 teaspoon mustard
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Freshly ground pepper
2-3 tablespoons (37ml/scant ¼ cup) olive oil
Whizz up the anchovy fillets (preferably in a food processor) with the stoned black olives, capers, mustard, lemon juice, and pepper.
Alternatively, use a pestle and mortar. Add the olive oil as you whisk and process to a course or smooth puree as you prefer.
1 onion, sliced
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe)
2 tablespoons (2 American tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) olive oil
Salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
A clove of garlic, crushed
A few leaves of fresh basil
Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the garlic and cook for a few seconds, then add the sliced onion, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then into strips across rather that lengthways. Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.
Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.
Grilled Tuna Nicoise
This recipe is from The ABC of AWT by Antony Worrall-Thompson published by Headline.
3 tablesp. balsamic vinegar
135ml (4½ fl.oz) extra virgin olive oil
2 tablesp. chopped parsley
2 tablesp. snipped chives
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ teasp. salt
½ teasp. ground black pepper
4 tuna steaks, 2.5cm (1 in) thick
2 Little Gem lettuce hearts
16 black olives in oil, halved
3 plum tomatoes, quartered
115g (4oz) extra fine French beans, topped
1 red onion, finely sliced
6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
8 cooked new potatoes, halved
3 hard-boiled eggs, quartered
8 basil leaves, ripped
Make a marinade for the tuna by whisking together the vinegar, 7 tablespoons of the olive oil, the parsley, chives, garlic, salt and pepper. Pour half of this over the tuna in a non-reactive bowl, and chill for 2-4 hours.
Heat a ridged griddle pan on the hob for 5 minutes. Drain the tuna. Cook the tuna steaks for between 1-3 minutes each side, depending on how rare you like your fish.
Toss together the lettuce, olives, tomato, beans (cooked for 4 minutes and refreshed in cold water), onion, anchovy and potato, and add the remaining marinade plus the remaining extra virgin olive oil. Toss to combine.
Arrange the salad on a platter; place the tuna on top and garnish with the hard-boiled eggs and ripped basil.
Japanese-style Tuna Brochettes
This recipe is from ‘Cook at Home with Peter Gordon’, published by Hodder & Stoughton.
This is a great way to eat fish on a picnic as the tuna stays delicious for up to 12 hours once cooked, so long as it’s kept cool. Swordfish works well too.
100ml (4 fl.ozs) light soy sauce
50ml (2 fl.ozs) sake or dry sherry
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
2 teasps. Demerara sugar
800g fresh tuna loin, sinews and skin removed, cut into 2cm cubes.
1 tube instant wasabi paste, to serve *
8 satay sticks
Mix together the soy sauce, sake, ginger and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the tuna and stir gently. Leave it to marinate in the fridge for at least 6 hours. Drain the marinade from the tuna and discard the liquid. Divide the fish into 8 equal amounts and skewer it on the satay sticks. Heat either a grill or a heavy pan and cook for just 45 seconds on 2 sides – you want the tuna to remain rare inside. Leave it to cool before putting it into your picnic container. Serve with a little wasabi, squeezed on at the last minute.
* Available from Asian shops or shops selling Asian ingredients.