You know the stuff tossed carelessly next to the ground turkey at the regular supermarket—where there’s no fishmonger? A ten-buck package of tuna steaks, labeled “Ecuador: method wild,” but probably tortured—maybe even irradiated or laced with preservatives. Anyway, it looks like it won’t kill you if you eat it, so you go for it.
But what to do? Here’s the plan. Mask it a bit, but don’t smother it. I don’t want to dirty more than one pan and I only have fifteen minutes.
One (almost-past) sweet Vidalia onion
Some too-old garlic
Whatever’s on the shelf
Put a little too much olive oil in a skillet just big enough to hold the tuna steaks. Slice the onion into coarse sections and toss them in while the oil is still cold. Turn the heat up high, but a few moments after it starts to sizzle, turn it way down and let the onions cook in the oil. Meanwhile, briefly rinse the tuna, pat dry with paper towels, and plop them on a plate. Check the onions, and then leave them alone, or toss ’em if they look like they’ll stick (which means you didn’t follow the olive oil instruction above).
Pat on both sides of the tuna: freshly ground black pepper, sea salt (or better, good Italian herbed sea salt—but that’s hard to find), a pinch or two of good paprika (the Hungarian stuff that’s a little spicy is best), and some ground cumin.
Slice a lime in half. Squeeze it into a measuring cup. Really squeeze both halves to get all the juice. If you like lime, press it hard when it’s all squeezed out, nip a bit of pulp off, and toss that in, too. Use a garlic press and squeeze just one big clove into the lime juice. Okay—use two if you’re into garlic.
Put a swig or two of triple sec in the mix. Put a swig or two of marsala in, too. (You can’t really call it a kitchen without cheap brandy, cheap wine, marsala, and triple sec tucked away somewhere, could you?) Take a nip or two of the marsala, if you’re dry. But really, you should have been a bit toasted on good wine before even starting.
Okay, by now the onions are really working, a little caramelized, a little translucent, and a little not-cooked-all-the-way—all at the same time. Scoop ’em out of the olive oil and put them in your lime-garlic-booze goo. Stir them up a bit, but don’t mash them. Set aside.
Put the tuna steaks into the still-hot olive oil, flash the heat up a bit, and cover them. Wait about a minute-and-a-half, then use a wide spatula to flip them. After you flip them, put the whole garlic-lime-booze combo in the pan and mix it all up.
You’re about a minute from eating the fish.
And that’s it. Don’t overcook the tuna, but don’t go for some high-class, “really rare” approach, either. After all, you started out with cheap grocery store tuna.
Pile it all out onto a plate: tuna, onions, garlic, lime, booze juice. Screw garnish. Just have some starch nearby: spuds or fresh, flash-blanched corn; or chop the whole affair up for fish tacos, and put it in corn tortillas with some finely shredded raw cabbage, and a savory jar salsa.
Photo courtesy of Trudy Loosman