Once upon a time, the oceans were filled with an abundance of fish, and we could have our fill any time we chose.
But all fairytales must end, and it’s getting harder and harder to find fish that is both at the peak of perfection (“fresh” in fish-speak) and on the SASSI green list – the most sustainable choice to make, as the fish are from well-managed populations and can handle the current fishing pressure.
Happily for tuna-lovers, there are three species of this magnificent gamefish on the list – longfin, yellowfin and skipjack. These migratory fish are among the fastest swimmers in the oceans, travelling vast distances on the way to wherever it is they are headed. The flesh is rich and flavourful but tends to be dry if over-cooked, which is why it is often served rare or medium-rare.
If there’s no fresh tuna about on the day you wish to make this dish, use another firm-fleshed fish such as marlin, swordfish, yellowtail or angelfish. Even humble snoek steaks will do, but watch out for the bones!
Just make certain your fish is fresh, which means just that – recently deceased and never having seen a freezer. Put another way, the terms “fresh” and “frozen” are mutually exclusive.
Charred Tuna with Spuds, Tomatoes & Green Beans
4 fresh tuna steaks, each about 100g
Salt and milled black pepper
12 new potatoes
150g slim green beans
1 red onion, finely sliced
4 anchovy fillets, drained and finely sliced
200g cocktail tomatoes or small Roma tomatoes
24 Kalamata olives
Mustard seed dressing (recipe follows)
Small bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped, for garnishing
Brush the tuna generously with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Boil the potatoes in their jackets until soft, then cut into half or quarters, depending on size. Blanch the beans in salted boiling water until tender but not too floppy. Refresh with a quick dunk in cold water and drain well.
Heat a good glug of olive oil in a medium frying pan and fry the onion until translucent. Add the anchovies and potatoes, and fry until golden.
Add the beans, tomatoes and olives and heat through. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat, pour over the mustard seed dressing, and mix gently.
Heat a ridged grill-pan or heavy frying pan, add the tuna and char well on both sides. Then continue to cook at a more gentle heat until done to your liking.
Then simply plonk the tuna on top of the vegetables in the pan, garnish with copious amounts of chopped parsley, and allow everyone to help themselves.
Both the vegetables and the tuna may be served warm or at room temperature, so don’t fret if they have to stand around for a while before serving.
Mustard seed dressing
¼ cup olive oil
2 T freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice
1 t wholegrain mustard
1 t clear honey
Salt and milled black pepper
Whisk the ingredients together in a jug until well combined.
Note: SASSI aims to improve the conservation status of overexploited seafood species through education and awareness. See www.wwfsassi.co.za
Plenty of flavour in this dish so go with an equally flavourful white wine like a wooded Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc-based blend.