Fish and Shellfish The Book

163. Grilled Tuna with Warm White Bean Salad p.299

The recipe in the book is similar to this one on Epicurious, except that the book calls for larger (6 oz) tuna steaks.

This dish was a triumph. As I’ve mentioned before my dining companion isn’t a fan of fish, and the book has 95 Fish and Shellfish recipes for us to get through. While she’s open to trying new things, and always tells me she’ll try whatever I make, I want to make her happy, so I’ve been staying away from fish when she’s around for supper. I decided that barely seared tuna would probably be an easy way for her to dip a toe into fishy waters without being overwhelmed. We’ll work our way up to mackerel and cod, but this was a successful baby step.

The dish has two components, grilled tuna steaks seasoned with lemon juice, olive oil, crushed fennel seeds, salt, and pepper, and a bean salad. The salad is made with soaked great northern beans, which are simmered with garlic for an hour. Some of the beans are mashed and combined with the beans’ cooking liquid to hold the salad together, fresh garlic is added in, along with chopped arugula, onion, parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. The tuna is served on top of the beans, and some of the remaining arugula.

I was really happy with this dish, it was simple, clean, and very tasty. Mostly I was happy that my dining companion was happy though. Our grill heats quite unevenly, so some parts of the tuna steaks were more done than I would have liked. My dining companion liked the barely cooked parts of the tuna, but found the overdone bits too fishy for her taste. I thought the fennel worked exceptionally well with the tuna, and I’d absolutely grill steaks like this again. I’d probably try to sear the steaks over an extremely hot flame for just a couple of minutes though, if you’re using high quality tuna, and paying high quality tuna prices, getting a seared exterior, and a barely warm interior is important. The bean salad wasn’t as successful, but not bad at all. The beans needed more garlic, and more salt or lemon juice, they were a little on the bland side. The texture was nice, with just barely firm beans, in a thick sauce. The decision to put chopped arugula into a warm dish is mystifying though. Arugula’s claim to fame is it’s peppery crisp flavour, and that completely disappears the second you heat it. A few of the Epicurious comments suggest that the dish would be better with spinach, and I’m inclined to agree.

I thought this was a really nice dish, it came together easily, tasted good, and managed to do it without dousing everything in cream and butter. It’s the kind of dish that begs to be eaten outside on a beautiful spring day with people you really like. I’ll always remember this dish as the first time my dining companion ate and enjoyed fish for dinner.

Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

72. Tuna Empanaditas p.37

The recipe

These bite sized party favours are built with the duct tape of the home entertaining wold: puff pastry. A filling of oil-packed tuna, pimientos, capers, and onion is added to rounds of puff pastry, which are folded into semicircles and crimped. They can be frozen at this point, and baked whenever your heart desires.

The filling was very salty, and didn’t really taste like tuna. As I mentioned yesterday I don’t have much love in my heart for pimiento-stuffed olives, and they failed to impress me again here. The capers were really the saving grace, they contributed to the salt problem, but they brought a lot of flavour along with them. With more tuna, and better olives I think this could have worked out really well though. The ideas are sound, but I get the feeling they tried to make the dish too easy. Asking us to pit a quarter cup of olives isn’t an unreasonable demand, and they certainly don’t shy away from it in other sections of The Book.

The puff pastry section of the recipe was trickier than I would have guessed. The recipe calls for a round cookie cutter in the special equipment section. I didn’t have one and tried to make do with the edge of a wine glass. This isn’t a good idea, both because my glass couldn’t cut through and it took forever to go around the edges with a pairing knife, and because using a blunt instrument on puff pastry interferes with the puff. Puff pastry is made by layering butter and pastry, and when it hits the heat the water in the butter creates steam, thus puffing the pastry. Smooshing the pastry too much can compress the pastry layers, and displace butter messing with the puffing. In any case, this recipe makes 50 hors d’oeuvres, and the cutting, folding, crimping process takes quite a while. The recipe suggests it should take one hour active time, but I’m sure it took me two. I was quite late to the dinner party I was bringing them to, which is pretty bad form when you’re bringing the appetizers.

Before you’re ready to serve the empanaditas are baked on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees. The recipe says this should take 20 to 25 minutes. Mine were overcooked and dry within 15. As I was cooking these at a party, I had no way of checking that the temperature I set the oven to was really the temperature inside the box, but that’s a pretty big discrepancy.

In the end these didn’t come out too well. A few changes to the lineup in the filling, and more attentive baking on my part might have improved them dramatically. As is, mine were dried out and heavily salted. I like the concept of an empanadita, people might feel sheepish admitting it, but everyone likes mini versions of regular sized food. In this case the execution left something to be desired though.