Simple Things II: Pan-Seared Tuna

I feel quite certain that Rowan and I are not alone in having busy evenings which are not at all conducive to making meals requiring more than 30 minutes to prepare.  Does this mean that our food should [always] be pre-packaged or pre-prepared?  No indeed!

What I share with you now is a favorite preparation of fresh yellowfin tuna.  Freshness is the first key to gastronomic success in all cases, but most especially when working with seafood.

Let’s start with the fish.  Selecting your tuna (or any other type of fish for that matter) steak or fillet:

Look for vibrant flesh. All fish fade as they age.  Should you select a cut with skin remaining, look for shiny, metallic skin.

Smell it. The smell test is especially important with fillets. They should have no pungent aromas.

Is there liquid on the meat? If so, that liquid should be clear, not milky. Milky liquid on a fillet is indicative of decay.

If the fishmonger lets you, press the meat with your finger. It should be resilient enough so your indentation disappears. If your fingerprint remains, move on.


  • Tuna steaks
  • black sesame seeds
  • mustard seeds (either brown or white)
  • cracked black pepper
  • dried tomatoes, finely chopped
  • kosher salt
  • fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • garlic
  • NOTE – Do experiment with spices that make you happy.  I generally vary the spices each time I prepare this dish.


  • rinse fish lightly in cold water and pat dry
  • combine mustard seeds, pepper, garlic, and finely chopped tomatoes & cilantro
  • rim the outer edges of the tuna with the spice combination
  • place a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat; the pan is ready for the oil when a hand hovering over the pan (about 1 or 2 inches) feels warm
  • add the black sesame seeds to one side of the steak along with the kosher salt
  • place enough olive oil in the pan to coat it and allow to heat;  your pan is ready for your fish when a hand hover over the pan feels so hot that it is uncomfortable.  Note: Be mindful of olive oil’s low smoking point. You will want to watch the pan carefully once the oil is placed.

Place fish with sesame seeds down in the hot pan.  WATCH closely!  The goal is to sear the tuna without cooking through.  As it cooks you will see the pink flesh begin to turn brown.

    Once you have achieved the searing level you desire, turn the fish and sear the other side briefly.  Ensure that a line of pink remains visible to you on the side in order to achieve a nice rare-medium rare preparation.

      Last night, I served the tuna with a long grain brown rice, some cilantro puree, and a simple arugula salad (lightly dressed with D.O.P Monti Iblei olive oil and celtic fleur de sel)

      As Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett might have said of this meal:

      Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,

      ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
      And when we find ourselves in the place just right,

      ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
      When true simplicity is gain’d,

      To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
      To turn, turn will be our delight,

      Till by turning, turning we come round right.

      Cail Bruich!




      Filed under Quick, Seafood

      2 responses to “Simple Things II: Pan-Seared Tuna

      1. Ok, this is DINNER TONIGHT!

        Thanks so much for the tips on the fish! Even though I grew up seaside, we didn’t eat it much growing up, and I’m still quite a novice. I do love tuna steak though (hate it in a can!). I think I’ll pick some up from the Fishmonger, but I think I’ll make some wasabi mashed potatoes to go with mine!

      2. The only thing I’d add about the fish is that the eyes should be bright and clear. The foggy eyes means it isn’t fresh. And the foggier they are the older it is.

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