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Tuna Tartare with Scallion


(serves 3, or 6 mini portions, or 9 canapes)
This tartare recipe using raw tuna and scallion is a nice fusion cuisine appetizer of my own creation. It merges the Western concept of marinated chopped raw meat with Japanese sushi where raw fish is sometimes served with scallion. I have 2 secrets to making raw tuna delicious.  Firstly, adding cooked tuna to your tartare gives it the right bite and texture. Secondly, a creamy frosting made with caramelized scallion and turmeric provides the right balance for the dish. 

Ingredients

  1. Fresh Tuna Fillet (160g)
  2. Chopped Scallion (1/3 cup)
  3. Mascarpone (60g)
  4. White Bread (2 slices)
  5. Turmeric 
  6. Hon Dashi Pellets
  7. Sesame Oil
  8. Port
  9. French Mustard

Preparation 

  1. Dissolve 0/5t of Hon Dashi Pellets in 5T of hot water to make some concentrated tuna stock. Allow to cool.
  2. Julienne your scallion (aka spring onion) into very fine rings. You are only using the bottom quarter of each scallion stalk, which is the fleshy light green to white part, so keep this in mind when you are buying the scallion. You can keep the leafy part for decoration if you like.
  3. Cut the tuna into small cubes and then proceed to chop it into a coarse mince. You want to get it down to the level where there are no large chunks but you can still make out individual pieces of fish instead of just mush. At this point reserve 1/4 of the tuna for cooking. Add 1/3 of the julienned scallion to the remaining tuna and finish off with one last round of chopping to mix them properly.
  4. In a bowl, stir together 2T sesame oil with 1t mustard, 1t port, 0.5t fined ground black pepper and a pinch of salt. Marinate the tuna scallion mince in this and then keep it covered with cling film in the fridge.
  5. Stir the reserved portion of the tuna into the cold tuna stock. This will stop it from clumping together when it is cooked.
  6. Fire up a frying pan with a few T of oil. Use a high flame. When the pan is hot, add the ‘wet’ tuna and stir fry. Press down with a spatula to break up the clumps as much as possible. When all the liquid has dried up and the tuna starts to brown, scoop out the tuna and allow it to cool. Mix the cooked tuna into the raw tuna after it has cooled.
  7. In the same pan, fry the remaining scallion on low heat in a few T of oil. When the scallion starts to caramelize a bit, turn off the heat but leave the scallion in the pan for a further 3 minutes so it can continue to brown. Finally, add 60g of mascarpone (1/4 of a small tub) followed by 0.5t turmeric and a pinch of salt. Stir till everything is evenly mixed and allow to cool in the fridge, also covered with cling film.
  8. Cut each slice of bread into 3 pieces and grill them in the toaster oven till they are somewhat burnt. Use a knife to scrape away the burnt layer and corners. This will give you a thin hard toast that can support the wet tuna. The scrapings can also be used for decoration if you like.
  9. Plate the tartare, the scallion cream at the last possible moment so everything remains cold. You can either arrange everything on the toast as I have done above, or leave that to your guests. 

Notes

  • The most important thing to ensure is you have sushi grade tuna, you are after all eating this raw. The translucent bright red cut (Maguro) is sufficient, there is no need to splurge on the fatty belly fillet (Toro).
  • The proper way to hand-mince tuna: use a heavy un-serrated knife. Repeatedly hammer down lightly on the tuna with the blade from left to right and then fold the tuna over on itself. Repeat, but at right angles to the first round of chopping. Repeat a couple of times.
  • Bread does not cut well after it is toasted so you won’t be able to use a regular toaster. Use the grill in your regular oven if you don’t have a toaster oven. You could also use commercially sold Melba toast I suppose.
  • You may also consider layering the tatare and scallion cream in a small glass, with the toast plunged in like a straw.
  • If you don’t have Hon Dashi, just make the stock the hard way, by boiling tuna and the left over leafy part of the scallion in salted water.    
 
 

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What is Hon Dashi?


Do you ever get the feeling that chefs leave out their secret ingredients when they publish their recipes? Or perhaps you bought the cookbook at the restaurant but even when you follow the recipes exactly, they come out short of what you tasted at the restaurant? I would hazard to say that it is not so much that the ingredient is secret. Rather, its probably just hard to come by. Hon Dashi is one of those inconvenient ingredients, since its not widely available outside of Asia. In my own recipes, I will usually just insert something generic like chicken stock cube even when I would actually be using Hon Dashi pellets.

Well enough of that. I guess I’d better explain what ‘Dashi’ is first. Dashi is a primary stock usually made from dried kelp (Konbu) and dried skipjack tuna (Bonito). It is used everywhere in Japanese cooking, and you can think of Dashi as the equivalent of bouillon in classical Western cooking.  How the stock is prepared is not crucial for our purposes, as all you need to know is you can make Dashi yourself by simply adding Hon-Dashi pellets to hot water. Please note that the ‘standard’ Hon Dashi does not contain the kelp component which makes it more flexible. You can use it on its own, boil it with Konbu, or use any other kind of vegetable to give it its second layer of flavour.

this scallop version is harder to find but works better as a generic seafood stock

‘Hon’ by the way means ‘the real thing’, which I believe is a well deserved prefix. In addition to having a salty taste as one would expect from stock, Hon Dashi boasts a unique sweet and mildly smoky undertone. You can practically use it in any recipe which calls for chicken or vegetable stock since it isn’t fishy. In fact it doesn’t even taste of  fish. There is also a newer variety of Hon Dashi made from dried scallops (conpoy) instead of bonito and it merits mention here. This scallop version has an intense shellfish flavour which is perfect for enhancing seafood dishes like Bouillabaisse and Seafood Risotto.

In my humble opinion, stock made from Hon Dashi is superior to any other type of instant stock that I have come across. Why does Hon Dashi have such a wonderful taste? I think it’s because of the double desiccation used in its manufacture. This is how I imagine it must be made: The key ingredients (i.e. the tuna or scallops) are first salt dried once over a long period, then rehydrated in boiling water to form a bullion. The solids are finally removed and the liquid is then re-dehydrated into pellets. This process extracts and removes the fishiness that sets in quickly when seafood is harvested, leaving a natural sweetness that is otherwise hard to isolate.

If you have the opportunity, do try using Hon Dashi stock in your cooking. Its perfect for making soups (check out my Consommé page). You can actually use it even if no stock is called for, as they come in small pellets instead of cubes. Try sprinkling on a pinch in place of salt. Either way, you will be adding that special hint of a flavour that will keep your dinner guests guessing as to what your secret ingredient is.

Notes

This variety contains kelp, which is what many consider to be the complete dashi.

This variety contains kelp, which is what many consider to be the complete dashi.

  • No, I do not own any Ajinomoto shares (manufacturer of Hon Dashi) or have any other ulterior motive for recommending this stock – pun unintended.
  • If you can’t find Hon Dashi, I have been told it is available at Amazon.com, in the grocery section.
  • Keep your openned hon dashi sachets in the fridge, I just fold and clip the sachets with a paper clip. They can last for years this way.
  • Sometimes the box is labelled Katsuo, which is just Japanese for dried bonito flakes.
 
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Posted by on May 26, 2010 in Ingredients, Japanese, Seafood, Soups

 

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Beef Carpaccio Tonnato


(serves 6)
This is a variation of Beef Carpaccio. It lets you enjoy carpaccio at home even if you can’t cut beef nearly as thinly as restaurants can using a commercial slicer. Instead of the normal carpaccio topping of vinaigrette, arugula and parmigiano, you substitute in the tuna mayonnaise of a Vitello Tonnato. Add in a slight searing of the beef and the result is a delightful fusion of two famous Italian starters.

Main Ingredients

  1. Beef Tenderloin (500g)
  2. Canned Tuna in oil (200g)
  3. Anchovy in oil (25g)
  4. Eggs (2)
  5. Mayonnaise (5T)
  6. Olive Oil (2T)
  7. Mustard (or wasabi)
  8. Balsamic Vinegar
  9. Rosemary
  10. Thyme

Preparation

  1. Hard boil two eggs ahead of time. (You won’t be needing the egg whites)
  2. Mix 0.5t of salt, 1t of black pepper, 1T of rosemary and 1T of thyme together and sprinkle this evenly onto a cutting board. Roll your fillet over the herb mixture to form a coating on the outside (excluding the ends).
  3. Preheat a frying pan with about 3T of vegetable oil and fry the curved portions of the tenderloin for six minutes. A pair of clamps would be helpful here. To leave a symmetrical rare core in the centre and sear the herbs into a crust, cook the fillet on four different sides for 90 seconds at a time, instead of rolling it about. When done, set the meat aside to cool.
  4. Now for the tonnato sauce. For the tuna, use the type that comes in oil to minimize water. Blend the tuna (including the oil) with the anchovy, the egg yolks, 5T mayonnaise, 2T olive oil, 1t  white pepper and 1t of (seedless) mustard. All the components are soft and you probably require only 5-10 seconds on high on the blender. Keep this covered and refrigerated if you are not using it immediately.
  5. Using a shaving motion, slice the beef as thinly as you can and arrange the discs of meat onto plates. I find that using a mildly serrated knife is the easiest. Since there is a cooked crust, it should be much easier than slicing a bone fide carpaccio.
  6. Spoon the tonnato sauce onto the beef, leaving the edges of the meat visible. Decorate each serving with a spot of balsamic vinegar. You first dip the vinegar into a central spot using a teaspoon and then using something small like the back of a toothpick stir it into a small amount of the sauce. Pull the darkened portion out into the spiral sun pattern as shown, or form any other design you please.

Notes

  • If you replace the pan fried beef fillet with braised veal loin or top round that has been chilled, you’ll get the real Vitello Tonatto, so this is actually a bonus two-in-one recipe. You can use the braising method described in this Braised Pork Ribs Recipe if you are unfamiliar with braising meat.
  • Traditionally you should serve vitello tonnato with capers (I don’t particularly care for them so I tend to leave them out). If you have some handy, you can plop them on as part of the decoration.
  • If you have chopped Italian parsley/coriander, which you can normally only buy fresh, you can use them instead of the thyme.
  • I strongly recommend using the green Japanese mustard called wasabi. It goes much better with this dish than French or English mustard.
 
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Posted by on April 13, 2010 in Appetizers, Italian, Recipe, Red Meat

 

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