Seared Ahi Tuna

After completing graduate school in the late 80s, I spent a year studying martial arts at Kyoto University in Japan. The school cafeteria served many things that one would never encounter in the states (natto spaghetti for example), but one thing they did serve that I couldn’t get enough of was seared ahi tuna, prepared fresh to order. It was usually served with white rice, a little shoyu, some radish sprouts, a few slivers of nori, and some toasted sesame seeds. One ample serving may have cost as much as 200 yen (~$2) but I think it was probably less. Seeing a recipe for seared ahi in the South Beach Diet Cookbook got me thinking again of this delicious fish, and I found some gorgeous steaks at Whole Foods. The South Beach recipe calls for the steaks to be seared with peppercorns. I was looking for a more Asian twist, so I made up my own marinade with tamari, sesame oil and ginger.

Ahi tuna is also known as yellowfin tuna. To make seared ahi, you need to start with very fresh, sushi-grade ahi, as you will only be lightly searing the outside, leaving the inside raw. Not even rare, but raw. The freshness and the quality of the fish make a huge difference with this dish, so don’t even attempt it with a lower grade of fish.

Seared Ahi Tuna Recipe

  • Prep time: 1 hour, 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 5 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 (6-8 ounce) ahi tuna steaks (3/4 of an inch thick)
  • 2 Tbsp dark sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce (or 2 teaspoons of wheat-free tamari for gluten-free option)
  • 1 Tbsp of grated fresh ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 green onion (scallion) thinly sliced (a few slices reserved for garnish)
  • 1 teaspoon lime juice

Method

1 Mix the marinade ingredients together and coat the tuna steaks with the marinade, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

2 Heat a non-stick skillet over medium high to high heat. When the pan is hot, remove the tuna steaks from the marinade and sear them for a minute to a minute and a half on each side ( even a little longer if you want the tuna less rare than pictured.)

3 Remove from pan and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. Sprinkle with a few green onion slices.

Can serve plain, with white rice, or over lettuce or thinly sliced cabbage or fennel. Shown served over sliced fennel salad.

Inspiration from The South Beach Diet Cookbook. The South Beach Diet Cookbook version seasons the tuna with salt, pink peppercorns and olive oil.

53 Comments

  1. The Chef

    Great sounding, and not too much acid in the marinade (a thing to be cautious of when dealing with tuna).

    By the way, AHI is Hawaiian for ‘tuna’ comprising Yellowfin, Bluefin and BigEye. Bonito and Skipjack tunas are not as common in Hawaii, and Albacore is not included in the common vernacular.

    When slicing raw tuna, it is easiest to work with the grain rather than across it. It will hold together better both while slicing and serving.

    Keep up the great work!

    Note from Elise: Thanks for the tips!

  2. Dave

    How do I know if I have “sushi quality Ahi Tuna”? I bought a couple of nice tuna steaks a couple of weeks ago and froze them. I want to try to make Ahi Tuna but I don’t want to get sick. Help!

    Note from Elise: You need fresh tuna, not frozen, for this dish.

  3. Jenna

    Delicious is all I can say! I used Bluefin Tuna and it was worth every penny. I served it along side your recipe for Kale with Seaweed. So yummy.

  4. D.T.

    The Seared Ahi Tuna was extremely delicious with the marinade. This was only my second time attempting to cook Ahi Tuna. It came out just right. Would highly recommend it.

  5. Shannon

    By law, a grocer may not call it “sushi-grade” for health reasons. Some still do so they can charge higher prices but if you buy at a quality market or store, the tuna should be of good quality and fresh anyway.

  6. dennis

    Absolutely fantastic. I got hugs it was so good. Thank you for this piece of culinary greatness. May I suggest dipping in a dish of soy and wasabi. Treat as sushi. Excellent.

  7. brian

    I just bought a couple of ahi tuna steaks from Trader Joe’s in SF and made this recipe – it came out great. Thanks!

    Btw the label on my tuna said “sashimi grade” which I assume is the same quality as sushi grade.

  8. Elise Lafosse

    Just want to say I love this recipe and this recipe as well as the steak salad recipe have become staples in my household. I have this recipe at least once every two weeks. It is easy and quick, and when I am not in the mood to figure out another meal to cook, I usually decide on the seared ahi tuna and/or the steak salad for the week.

    Thanks for making my life easier.

    Elise

  9. Maria L.

    Great recipe — so easy, too! I sprinkled some sesame seeds on the ahi steaks just before cooking. It was a hit!! I kept thinking how much $$ I saved too had we ordered this at a restaurant. Thanks again! :-)

  10. Ron

    This recipe was out of this world!

    My girlfriend is not a big sushi fan, I had all I could do to prevent her from eating my share! :)

  11. Eric

    This is a great recipe. My mother loves seared ahi, but it’s somewhat expensive in restaurants and you only get a few pieces per order. Having some ahi steaks in the freezer (about 20 I managed to get for free :D ) I decided to prepare this for her birthday. She loved it and asked me to make it again sometime. Delicious, healthy and light. I don’t really know what D.T is talking about law prohibiting labeling of grade. Most likely a state law I’m not familiar with. However, not all groceries will sell tuna suitable for such a recipe. You need to be careful when selecting your fish in the market. But when it’s sashimi/sushi grade ahi, you can certainly tell by the rich red color that is uniform throughout the steak.

  12. Gary Luce, Kingsport, TN

    Delicious! I served mine with a green salad of Romaine heart and spinach topped with purple cabbage, orange bell pepper, sliced pickled garlic, sliced pickled red chili pepper, Roma tomato and balsamic vinegrette spiced with Rice vinegar. Didn’t ask about the freshness of the tuna at my generally excellent grocer. The flavor told the story by itself!

  13. Nick

    Looks great! I usually coat my tuna with sesame seeds before searing, but I’m out of them at the moment and looking for something different to do anyway. I am going to try this tomorrow. Thanks for another awesome recipe, Elise!

  14. wasabipea

    Delicious! My husband is Japanese-American and is somewhat of a “food snob” especially when it comes to Japanese cuisine. We tried this tonight, using what we had at home (we didn’t have the green onions), and ate with plain Japanese rice, salad with Asian dressing, and Japanese pickles. It was divine! Very very tasty and my Mr. Picky loved it too ;) The combo of ginger and sesame flavors are really wonderful. It’s absolutely crucial to very mildly sear – it should be like sashimi on the inside. Thanks, Elise! Any other recommendations?

  15. Carla

    Thank you! I just came back from the market today with my first piece of ahi-tuna to be made at home. I confess I was quite shy looking at that beautiful red fish, but your recipe is wonderful! I served it with brown rice and sauteed asparagus.

  16. Heather

    My husband and I love sushi and like to make it at home. But we live in a smallish city in Indiana, which makes it difficult to find sushi-grade fish, including Ahi tuna. If it can be found, it’s usually frozen. Is that acceptable to use in recipes such as the above and how do you tell? And if not, what’s the best way to cook ahi tuna that isn’t sushi-grade?

    Sushi grade means that you will be eating some of it raw, and that the quality of the fish is so high it will taste good when you do so. Personally, I wouldn’t cook tuna this way unless I had very high quality, fresh tuna. I know some sushi restaurants in the US are required to use fish that has been frozen, as to kill any bugs that might give people trouble. But then they are getting restaurant-grade tuna that has been frozen, not typically available to the general public. If you do not have access to a high grade of tuna (the type that you can eat raw) then I would just grill the tuna steaks until just cooked through. ~Elise

  17. jake

    I made this tonight using a HUGE 1.5lb bluefin tuna steak from my local fish market. Absolutely amazing!!! I served it over the roasted fennel salad listed here. So cheap compared to the tiny appetizer portions one receives at a restaurant. Sure to become a weekly favorite.

  18. Weng Leong

    Thanks for the excellent recipe; this is my second use of the recipe. I use a small George Foreman grill and have found the optimum searing time for my tastes to be about 40-45 seconds (after pre-heating the grill for about 3 minutes). The Ahi was from Trader Joe’s and imported from the Philippines. Good stuff.

  19. Ashley V.

    Delicious! My boyfriend raved about this recipe. We both love ahi tuna and bought some sushi grade tuna at the market. I served it with plain white rice and some roasted garlic asparagus. Thank you for the recipe, I will be making this again and again.

  20. Brad Erickson

    The marinade’s garlic and soy flavors gave the ahi a heavy flavor that overshadowed the delicacy of the fish. I will go back to the using a dry rub using such ingredients as sesame seeds, salt, pepper and a little ground chile and/or star anise which add a bright note to the crust. A dipping sauce with ginger, mirin, soy sauce/fish sauce, and lime juice can be used in place of soy with wasabi for variation. Even simpler, seared ahi is also quite good sprinkled with furikake, particularly the one made from dried shiso leaves.

    Regarding “sashimi grade” fish, the FDA recognizes no such designation and although some sellers use the term there is no definition nor set standards. Like other fish, tuna is often frozen at sea then sold thawed in the market, appearing to be “fresh.” Some people say this compromises the texture but freezing is effective in killing parasites and in some cases is legally required. “Sushi grade fish” makes no sense since sushi refers to vinagered rice which may be topped with many foods other than fish.

  21. Jill

    There is no reason you couldn’t use thawed tuna for this recipe. Almost all tuna has been frozen before it reaches the public. Also, a deep red color is no indication of freshness. It’s usually an indication that the fish has been treated with carbon monoxide which is used to color the fish in a way that most people find pleasing. The FDA has decided that the CO treatment of tuna is safe for human consumption.

  22. Jonathan Blum

    I really appreciate all the comments about frozen tuna, as many places can’t get the good stuff all (or even some) of the time. Maybe a good recipe for grilled tuna is in order?

  23. William

    Great recipe! This was the first time I’ve ever seared tuna and it came out great. I just used tuna from publix. I drizzled some sauce I made from some of the ingredients from the marinade and some ‘iron chef’ teriyaki and garlic sauce. Turned out really well, thanks a lot for the recipe. I’ll be making this again soon.

  24. Thomas Lee Callahan

    So if people say ahi tuna, they are saying, tuna,tuna? I reference ahi = tuna in Hawaiian.
    I understand that some tuna is exposed to carbon monoxide gas to give it the vibrant pink-red color. Does anyone know anything about it?

  25. Travis Rodman

    @Thomas Lee Callahan:

    The CO is added to the meat (fish, beef) via atmospheric induction, with the intent of preserving the appealing coloration of the meat. This happens because CO binds more strongly to the myoglobin and hemoglobin in the meat than oxygen does. In fact so strongly, that it cannot be replaced by oxygen (this is, after all, how CO can kill you on substantial inhalation), and so, unlike the normal situation where the globins will exchange O2 with the atmosphere, and change colors accordingly, from red to brown and back again, as the O2 is exchanged, the CO induced meat does not, and preserves the deep super-fresh looking red color as a chemical effect of the CO binding.

    As an additive to food though, CO is harmless as it is strongly bound to the globins, and will not poison you via consumption. The only possible harm would be if you were to open the packages and direcly breathe the gas as it escapes the container. Then free CO could bind to your hemoglobin, rendering it useless. But this is in relatively small amounts, and you would most assuredly inhale more CO around a campfire or your outdoor grill, than from opening a package containing CO imbued meat.

    My wife strongly dislikes the practice though, since the meat will stay fresh looking, even if it is not good, because it will not change color, no matter what state of decomposition it is in.

    So, you have to be more careful in selecting the meat, and buy according to the recommend/expiration dates, as the visual appearance can be deceiving.

  26. Susan

    Making this tonight in celebration of just seeing the movie Julie and Julia… although there’s nothing French about Ahi Tuna. However, Elise, although Julia (and my sweet grandma) taught me how to cook, you are my regular and trustworthy source of culinary inspiration! (Hey, I wonder if I cook through your recipe blog and blog about it myself that we can have our own movie, too. Hmmm…)

  27. Robin

    Excellent! I overcooked slightly the first time (still good) but the next was perfect. After searing I reduced the remaining marinade and drizzled over the arugala / ahi for a warm salad. Yum!

  28. Fi

    My husband will not eat ahi tuna any other way. Thank you for this great recipe.

    I like to top the dish off with some sesame seeds.

  29. Emily Swift

    I really like hearing abut your experiences in Japan. The dish looks delicious I love japanese cuisine and hope to travel there one day. Did you learn Japanese before you traveled or did you just pick it up? If you don’t mind me asking :]

    I started studying using the Japanese series by Yale scholar Eleanor Harz Jorden and listening to tapes while I was in Japan. It’s an excellent linguistic series. Best I’ve encountered of any language course of any language. ~Elise

  30. Tim

    CO treated tuna is an unreal shade of bright fluorescent pink. Most (if not all) tuna from Indonesia and the Philippines is treated with CO. Fresh ahi (which has been frozen and thawed, unless you buy it from a wholesaler who supplies high-end sushi restaurants and specialty Japanese groceries), who has it flown in right off the dock the day it is caught or the day after) is a bright red color that is hard to mistake. Fresh ahi is usually around $20/lb or more. If you find it any cheaper it is guaranteed to be frozen then thawed. Old ahi is a dull bloody red to gray-brown (yuk). Go to a good (expensive) sushi restaurant and look at their ahi (heck, order some, maguro is the best sushi anyway). Some sushi restaurants use the CO treated ahi, when I stumble on one I don’t order it nor do I go back. And ahi indeed is a generic term for, among other species, yellowfin and bluefin (by far the most common species). I sincerely doubt that any of you were using fresh ahi.

    In Portland, OR (my hometown) exactly two groceries sell fresh ahi: Uwojamaya in Beaverton and and Anzen on MLK Drive in town. Occasionally Tony’s fish market in Oregon City gets some (very rarely) as well as (I am sure) other fish markets like Pacific Seafoods on Powell Blvd.

  31. Jamey

    Wow – this looks amazing! Though – can you please tell us more about the natto spaghetti? I LOVE natto!

    You know how in Japan they serve natto over rice? They also serve it over spaghetti noodles. Straight. ~Elise

  32. Marti

    I was looking for a recipe for seared tuna that had an asian flare. This turned out fantastic. I recommend it to anyone who loves seared Tuna

  33. Yoko

    What you had in the cafeteria was probably a ‘zuke don’ (‘zuke’ refers to sashimi, particularly red meated fish, marinated in soy sauce + sake + wasabi; ‘don’ is any dish that is served over a bowl of rice) 

    @Jamey
    Natto spaghetti is one of the more popular Japanese-style spaghetti dishes, and there are tons of variations. The standard one consists of natto mixed with soy sauce or noodle dipping sauce & scallions, served over hot spaghetti tossed with a little oil, garnished with slivers of nori. examples: http://cookpad.com/category/567

  34. OnePin

    A good recipe for light dining, but a little on the bland side. I refired mine on a pat of butter with some fresh cracked peppercorns and crushed sea salt that fixed it right up.

  35. Ashley

    Thank you so much for this recipe. Initially I was a reluctant to sear ahi tuna at home, but I am so glad I did. This is now my husbands favorite. Instead of scallions for the marinade, I use shallots, only because I always have them on hand. I also add a tiny bit of rice vinegar. It comes out great and it’s so easy. I am pleased to say that we are having this for dinner tonight.

  36. Jennifer B.

    I made this today for the first time… didn’t have any sesame seeds, and only ground ginger, but it turned out fantastic! My tuna was sushi grade yellowfin but I bought it two days ago, so it wasn’t as fresh as it could be… I cooked it through. I also coated it with panko before grilling it.

  37. Clad

    Grateful for this recipe. The first time I cooked tuna, it was tough and fishy. So I didnt cook one for a long time. I tried it again with this recipe and it was surprisingly delicious and perfect! I like the Asian twist marinade, it has feel of a sushi to it.

    I used a frozen one, says premium grade, and in the package picture is a seared one and raw inside. So I thought it’s good for such cooking. I thawed it first before marinating.

  38. Leah

    I am a BIG FAN of Ahi Tuna, and I plan on making this recipe soon, but I am also a big sauce fan. I’ve had ahi tuna at two restaurants, one was served with two dipping sauces and the other had what I think was a balsamic reduction drizzle over it. I was wondering if you had any recipes for sauces to either dip this in or drizzle over?

    We don’t have one here yet, but you can search for one you like at Food Blog Search. There are plenty there. ~Elise

  39. minmin

    Utterly amazing! I’ve been trying out various seared fish recipes to surprise my mother for her birthday. My ahi sat in my fridge for the evening as I was missing some ingredients. As a result over it’s overnight stay, I decided to cook it all the way through, especially as it was packaged the day before I purchased it. I marinated it for 2 hours, but next time I think I’ll only do 1 hour since the sesame oil can be a bit overpowering after that amount of time. I can’t wait to try it seared!

  40. James Lujan

    Made this for my girl friends birthday. Easy to make and taste so good. It lets the true flavor stand out. New favorite dish.

  41. George Denzo

    First off, great recipe! Cooked to perfection just like in any upscale Japanese restaurant.

    ***DO NOT SEAR FISH IF IT IS NOT SUSHI GRADE***

    Reading some of these comments were frightening! It seems many of our readers don’t understand and realize the purpose of “Sushi/Sashimi-grade” fish. The grade is not for freshness, texture, or taste, but rather for safety reasons. Sushi grade fish is “flash-frozen” or frozen for an extended amount of time to ensure all harmful bacteria and worms are killed in the process. Even if a fish is caught and cut into sashimi 2 minutes later, it is still at great risk of containing harmful bacteria and worms. Please be sure to purchase sushi grade fish if you plan on searing fish or eating it raw! Searing merely cooks the surface, but the core is the same as just easily sashimi! See source below.
    Source:
    http://www.sushifaq.com/sushi-grade-fish.htm

  42. Terry Alber

    I love this recipe. Very excellent. This last time I also put a nice calimari steak in the marinade. AWESOME! Thanks for the recipe.

  43. Nancy Deane

    Excellent recipe…yours are always outstanding. I go on Foodily to look for recipes for different food items. Quite often, the one I pick turns up to be one of yours. Out of all the 7471 tuna recipes, I picked (unknowingly) yours. I made it twice this week wonderful, If I get some more Ahi Tuna (beach-side here in mid-coast Florida), I’ll make it again this weekend. Better them beef filet Mignon.

  44. Helju Macartney

    Such a most incredible fresh and tasty tuna !! Would recomend this to anyone !!

    Ahhh….so very yummy and easy to digest !

    With rice and steamed vegetables….like almost any vegetable…maybe sqash….yum !!

    Thank you. Enjoy :-)

  45. jen maiser

    This is probably against all kinds of safety recommendations, but I really like to take my tuna out of the fridge for a bit before cooking — it sears so briefly that the inside can be totally cold if it is taken right from the fridge into the pan.

    I love ahi tuna at home … it has become such a cliche in restaurants here (being one of Michael Bauer’s favorite dishes and thus on every menu in town) but it’s such a treat when made correctly. We usually serve it with cold soba noodles, but that salad looks delicious.

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