Plate by David Waltersherbs. Fresh, pungent oregano, in particular, is just lovely with almost-raw tuna, as are thyme and basil.
The trick here is to use the herbs quite sparingly so that they don't overwhelm the delicate tuna: I raided my recently planted herb-garden-in-pots and pinched off just the tiniest new leaves.
In this dish, tuna is rolled in crushed black pepper, seared in a blazing-hot pan, sliced, and combined with fresh herbs, a little chopped red chilli and crunchy radishes.
You can use any salad dressing you like - this is good, for example, with a zingy lemon vinaigrette - but I cut corners and dressed the tuna using a local bottled dressing: Verlaque Sweet Basil, Sundried Tomato and Olive Oil Spash.
I seldom buy bottled dressings (they are always too salty and creamy and they taste so... well... so bottled. And, besides, it's so easy to make your own dressings). My attitude has changed, though, since I asked my friend, Adrienne Verlaque, to bring me a few bottles from her Verlaque range.
I'd admired Adrienne's beautifully labelled bottles of balsamic reductions, infused olive oils and salad 'splashes' in my local Woolworths, but had thriftily (and rather snobbily, I'm afraid) passed them over.
After eagerly tasting my way through several bottles, I have learned the error of my ways (that is, don't judge a dressing because it's bottled). Adrienne is a wizardess in the flavour department, and has incorporated into her dressings a range of wonderful exotic ingredients that I don't have a chance of procuring locally: Persian pomegranates, Turkish figs, cranberries, white truffles and porcini mushrooms among them.
Exotic ingredients aside, it's Adrienne's clever use of distinctive South African flavours that really appeals to me: these include Cape gooseberries, Cape rough-skin lemons, guavas, passion fruit, mangos, marula, wild garlic, fynbos honey and Rooibos tea.
These ingredients are not merely waved over the dressings, either: using her particular magic, Adrienne has managed to distill the essence of each flavour, giving each product in the range a distinctive and authentic South African punch. Click here to find out where to buy Verlaque dressings.
This recipe serves four as a starter but is easily doubled.
Seared Peppered Tuna with Fresh Oregano, Radishes and Verlaque Dressing
one 400 g loin of fresh tuna
a little olive oil
2 tsp (10 ml) coarsely ground black peppercorns
8 little radishes
1 small red chilli [optional]
a few young sprigs of fresh oreganum, thyme and basil, or any combination of Mediterranean herbs
a pinch of flaky sea salt
For the dressing:
Verlaque dressing of your choice (see notes, above)
4 T (60 ml) fruity olive oil
4 tsp (20 ml) good vinegar, or fresh lemon juice
Heat a non-stick frying pan until it is blazing hot. Trim the tuna loin of all raggedy bits and coat generously on all sides with olive oil. Strew the crushed black peppercorns on a chopping board, and roll the tuna loin firmly over the pepper, pressing so that it is well coated on all sides. Open the windows in your kitchen - there will be some smoking. Place the tuna in the ferociously hot pan, press down hard with a spatula, and cook for 45 seconds on one side, or until about 1 mm of flesh on the cooking side turns opaque. Flip over, then cook the remaining three sides for 45 seconds each. The fish should be remain a rosy, raw pink in the middle, with a thin outer crust. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a minute.
Cut the tuna into thin slices using a very sharp knife (this is easiest if you squeeze the loin tightly to compress the flesh). Arrange the slices on a platter. Top and tail the radishes and cut them into paper-thin slices using a mandolin or sharp knife. Cut the red chilli in half horizontally, scrape out the seeds and cut into a very fine dice. Strip the baby herb leaves from their stalks. Scatter the radish slices, chilli and baby herb leaves on top of the tuna. Sprinkle the dressing over the tuna slices, and scatter over the flaky salt. Allow to stand at room temperature for 15 minutes, then serve.
Serves 4 as a starter.
PS: Have you noticed how foodie photographs of seared tuna show perfectly round or - ludicrous! - square slices of tuna? Cheffy cooks achieve this by wrapping the raw tuna in clingfilm - in a tight salami-like sausage for round slices, or pressed into a rectangular mould for square ones - and then refrigerating the fish until it holds its shape. I sincerely hope you won't be tempted to do this. Print Friendly