Tuna lovers: It's time to kick the can

April 16, 1997|By Mark Bittman | Mark Bittman,EATING WELL MAGAZINE

We Americans eat more tuna than any other fish -- roughly 890 million pounds of it a year. That's about 3 pounds for every man, woman and child in the country. But almost all of that is canned and, until 10 or 15 years ago, even the best cooks assumed that's as it should be.

Ten years ago, however, in a moment of wild enthusiasm brought on by the taste of a perfect slab of yellowfin, I predicted that tuna would become the strip steak of the '90s.

I was wrong.

The decade is already heading toward the homestretch, and at least 80 percent of the tuna eaten in this country still comes from a can.

Granted, the tide is turning more slowly than I had anticipated, but more and more Americans are recognizing that eating tuna doesn't always require a can opener and a jar of mayonnaise.

My optimism, though perhaps cockeyed, was understandable, because fresh tuna is -- like the best steak -- rich, tender, marvelously flavorful and made for easy cooking. What's more, unlike steak -- or any other cut of meat, for that matter -- tuna is almost fat-free.

Most species of tuna contain just about 1 gram of fat per 3-ounce cooked serving; this helps keep the calorie count under 160. And, of course, it's high in protein and contains the omega-3 fatty acids found in many fish long thought to reduce the risk of heart disease, asthma and many other diseases.

Tuna burgers

Makes 4 servings

1 1/4 pounds fresh tuna, cut into chunks

1 shallot, peeled and minced

1/3 cup capers, drained, rinsed and chopped

1/3 cup minced fresh parsley

1/4 cup minced fresh chives

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon sherry vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

few drops Tabasco or other hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

4 crusty rolls, split

4 lettuce leaves

4 tomato slices

1/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise or 2 tablespoons black olive paste

Heat a grill or broiler.

Use a knife to finely chop the tuna. Place in a mixing bowl and add shallot, capers, parsley, chives, oil, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Mix gently until combined. Mix in salt and pepper. Gently shape into four burgers.

Grill or broil over fairly high heat, carefully turning only once, about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare, a few minutes longer to cook through.

Place burgers on rolls with lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise (or olive paste).

Serve immediately.

Per serving: 315 calories, 9 g fat, 37 g protein, 26 g carbohydrate, 575 mg sodium, 64 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber

Tuna Provencal

Makes 4 servings

3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 anchovy fillets, drained, rinsed and minced

1 clove garlic, minced

2 red bell peppers, cut into 1/4 -inch strips

1 large onion, cut into 1/8 -inch-thick slices

3 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped, or one 28-ounce can tomatoes, drained and chopped

1/2 cup pitted and coarsely chopped imported olives, preferably a PTC mixture of black and green

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 1- to 1 1/4 -pound tuna steak, cut into 4 pieces

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In a 10- or 12-inch nonstick skillet, heat 2 teaspoons oil over low heat. Add anchovies and garlic and cook, stirring and mashing, until anchovies liquefy and garlic colors, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add bell peppers and onion; increase heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion begins to soften and brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Stir in olives, 2 tablespoons parsley and the oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon vegetable mixture into a 1 1/2 - to 2-quart shallow baking dish.

Rinse and wipe skillet dry. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil and heat over high heat. Season tuna with salt and pepper. Sear on both sides, until nicely browned, 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Nestle tuna in vegetable mixture. Bake until cooked to desired doneness, about 6 minutes for medium-rare, a few minutes longer to cook through.

Garnish with parsley. Serve immediately.

Per serving: 280 calories, 8 g fat, 37 g protein, 16 g carbohydrate, 660 mg sodium, 67 mg cholesterol, 3 g fiber

Crisp tuna persillade with garlicky white beans

Makes 4 servings

2 sprigs fresh parsley

2 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

1 cup dried white beans, washed and picked over

3 cloves garlic (1 clove minced, 2 cloves whole)

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish

1 1/4 pounds fresh tuna, cut into 1 1/2 - to 2-inch cubes

2 tablespoons olive oil

Bundle parsley sprigs, thyme and bay leaf together in cheesecloth or a large teaball. Set aside.

Place beans in a large pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add herb bundle and reduce heat to low. Partially cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are very tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours; add more water if necessary. Drain. Immediately stir minced garlic into beans. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine bread crumbs, 1/2 cup parsley and whole garlic cloves. Process until minced. Place in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.

Toss tuna in bread crumb mixture to coat; reserve remaining bread crumb mixture.

Set oven rack 4 to 6 inches from broiler element. Preheat broiler.

Heat 1/2 tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add half the tuna and brown on all sides, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate; keep warm. Add another 1/2 tablespoon oil to the skillet and repeat with remaining tuna.

Toss beans with 1/2 tablespoon oil; place on an ovenproof platter. Arrange tuna over beans and sprinkle with remaining bread crumb mixture. Drizzle on remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Broil just until bread crumbs and tuna begin to brown, 3 to 5 minutes; tuna will be cooked through.

Garnish with parsley.

Per serving: 380 calories, 9 g fat, 43 g protein, 31 g carbohydrate, 120 mg sodium, 64 mg cholesterol, 7 g fiber

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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