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.
Inspired by a recipe for seared ahi in the South Beach Diet Cookbook, I found some gorgeous ahi tuna steaks at Whole Foods. The South Beach recipe called for the ahi tuna steaks to be seared with peppercorns, but I was looking for a more Asian twist, so I made up my own marinade with tamari, sesame oil and ginger.
The Best Tuna to Buy
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.
How to Cook Tuna Steaks
This recipe follows a very basic method:
- Marinate the tuna at least one hour.
- Sear over medium high to high heat.
- Slice and serve.
This preparation leaves the tuna raw in the middle, which is why buying high-quality tuna is crucial. Overcooking results in tough, dry tuna.
What's in the Marinade?
The marinade for this tuna is made with dark sesame oil, soy sauce, fresh ginger, garlic, green onion, and lime juice. If you're gluten-free, it's fine to substitute tamari.
Swaps and Substitutions
So many of you have made this recipe over the years (thank you!) and added your own spins. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Add something spicy to the marinade, like sambal oelek, gochujang, wasabi, or even hot chili oil
- Sprinkle the tuna steaks with white sesame seeds for some crunch
- Serve with aioli (garlic-infused mayonnaise) drizzled over top
- Add some pickled onions as garnish
- Grill your steaks instead of searing!
Pro Tip: Make Extra Marinade for Dipping
Several of you suggested this over the years, and we agree! Make some extra marinade, set it aside before you add the fish, and then serve it as a dipping sauce with the seared tuna.
More Ideas for Fresh Fish
Seared Ahi Tuna
- 2 (6-8 ounce) ahi tuna steaks (3/4 of an inch thick)
- For the marinade:
- 2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (or 2 teaspoons of wheat-free tamari for gluten-free option)
- 1 tablespoon of grated fresh ginger
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 green onion (scallion) thinly sliced (a few slices reserved for garnish)
- 1 teaspoon lime juice
Marinate the tuna steaks:
Mix the marinade ingredients together and coat the tuna steaks with the marinade, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Sear the tuna:
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.)
Slice and serve:
Remove from pan and slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. Sprinkle with a few green onion slices.