We have to admit, if we have a “crutch” as cooks, it’s our love of serving tacos. They are fun, easy, and you can please a crowd with very diverse tastes. And kids simply love them. They choose what goes in the taco (up to a point), they build it the way they want and they can eat with their hands. Come to think of it, that’s why adults enjoy them, too. But if we are going to serve tacos as often as we do, we at least try to mix things up a bit. And that is where tacos like these come into play. Still simple, still good, but with a few extra flavors that, we hope, elevate the dish.
And what makes this taco recipe somewhat special is the use of seared tuna (Yellowfin, in this case) the wasabi-lime crema, and quick pickling of some of the veggies. This adds a bit of Japan to an otherwise Mexican dish. The flavors are a bit lighter and brighter, so they don’t hide the flavor of the fish. But make no mistake, these are still fish tacos. And if you don’t have access to tuna steaks, or just don’t like their cost, this recipe will still work with any firm-fleshed fish, just don’t serve it rare like tuna.
As for searing tuna on the outside and still being rare on the inside, there are a few tricks. Firstly, your pan needs to be rocket hot, and cast iron works best. A very hot grill also works. Secondly, the exterior of the tuna should be free of moisture, you need the tuna to sear, not steam. Use a high-temp cooking oil like peanut or safflower or it will break down and hurt the flavor. And finally, you need to stop the cooking quickly, or the tuna will continue to cook from residual heat, even when out of the pan. Many chefs will plunge the tuna into an ice bath, and that does work. The easier way is to simply slice the tuna when it is cooked the way you like it, letting the heat escape the fish and stop the cooking. This works both ways. If the tuna is a bit too rare, just wait 30 seconds and look again- it will have cooked quite a bit in its remaining heat. (FWIW, taking the photos cost us a few extra seconds and we got a bit more of the cooked outer layer than we like- that is how quickly the tuna cooks in its own heat.)
Making the crema for this dish is as easy as it gets. A crema combines sour cream, heavy cream and your choice of seasonings. In this case we add some wasabi powder, prepared horseradish (it amps the wasabi), rice wine vinegar, lime juice, lime zest and salt. Blend the ingredients, taste and adjust seasoning and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors meld. Great on almost any fish, and tasty on veggies. Hard to go wrong here.
As for the other parts of the dish, we serve on corn and flour tortillas with a bunch of condiments. Cotija cheese, avocados, limes and salsa are all good, but we suggest you use the taco condiments you like. (We even use some celery root remoulade, yum). But one key extra step is that we “quick pickle” some of the radish and shredded cabbage in a sugar and salt mixture for 10-15 minutes, then add a dash of rice wine vinegar (recipe here). It softens the veggies a bit and adds a delightful sweet and sour tang that plays very well with the fish and crema. An extra step, but a good one. And since it only takes a few minutes to cook the tuna, you will have plenty of time.
Notes Before You Start:
- You can use any tuna steak, but since these are tacos, the more affordable Yellowtail or Tombo tuna are good choices.
- You can substitute any firm white fish for the tuna, just be sure to cook it to the desired temperature.
- Wasabi powder or paste is available in most gourmet or Asian markets.
What You Get: Fast, flavorful tacos with a bit of Mexico / Japan “fusion”.
What You Need: No special equipment required.
How Long? About 30 minutes. The tuna only takes a few minutes, the rest of the time depends on how you assemble you condiments.
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 2-3 teaspoons wasabi powder
- 1 teaspoon prepared horseradish
- 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
- Zest of one lime
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons high-temperature cooking oil, like peanut oil
- 1 pound tuna steak(s), about 3/4 inch thick
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Corn tortillas
- Flour Tortillas
- 1 avocado, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup shredded cabbage (optionally quick pickled)
- 6 red radishes, thinly sliced (optionally quick pickled)
- Salsa, red or green (optional)
- 1 lime, cut into 8 pieces
- Hot sauce (optional)
- Cilantro or microgreens, for garnish
- For the crema, place all the ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until well combined. Taste and adjust flavors and seasoning. Cover and place the crema in the fridge.
- For the tuna, dry the tuna steak of any external moisture and then lightly coat with 1 tablespoon of the oil and a light coating of salt and pepper. Heat a heavy and/or cast iron skillet over high heat until very hot. Add the tuna steak and cook on one side until seared and brown, 1-2 minutes (for rare) and then flip and cook another 1-2 minutes.
- Remove the tuna from the heat, cut into the steak to test for doneness. If the tuna is cooked enough, slice it immediately. If not, let the tuna steak rest and test again for doneness every 20-30 seconds, it will continue to cook in its own heat. Slice immediately when the tuna reaches the desired doneness. Set aside.
- Heat the tortillas on a 250 degree oven or in a large skillet over low heat. When warm and slightly toasted wrap in foil. Set aside.
- To build the tacos, set up an “assembly line” of tortillas, tuna, veggies, cheese, salsa and the wasabi-lime crema. Garnish tacos with cilantro or microgreens. Top with a squeeze of lime juice and/or hot sauce. Serve.
- Ahi tuna tacos (wmur.com)
- Mahi Mahi “Baja-Style” Fish Tacos (click2houston.com)
- Seared Ahi Tuna with Wasabi Cream (02.26.13) (fox13now.com)
- Spicy Tuna Tartare Tacos (sports-glutton.com)
- Fresh and Tangy Tacos (discoverharmony.wordpress.com)
- Cactus Salad and Tacos at Taco Grill in Cancun (notjustvegetarian.com)