Last night, on the way home from work, we stopped at the grocery store. We’re taking friends out tonight for dinner at a steakhouse so I wanted something light but filling. BloodSuckers WholeFoods had sustainable Pacific albacore on special – $6.99/lb, if you can believe that. I wasn’t too crazy about the individual steaks in the display case, which were butchered kind of funny, so I asked if they had any more in the back. The fish lady nodded, headed for the walk in, and came back with a beautiful loin. I came home with a pound and half of center cut.
Of course, now that I had it, I had to decide what to do with the tuna. Albacore is the “white meat” tuna in canned tuna, and I started thinking about the concept of tuna salad. A lemony aioli seemed right. I had both snap peas and pea sprouts in the reach-in, and thought of a chopped salad for some crunch (and because I love vegetable duos).
After searing and slicing the tuna, serving alongside some tangy aioli and crisp pea salad, something still seemed to be missing. It was good, but lacked punch. Then I thought, niçoise. We have a few cherry tomatoes on the vine from the long-lasting warm weather, and niçoise olives in the refrigerator. The pungent, briny, slightly bitter olives were exactly what the dish needed and offset the bland sweetness of the snap peas (which stood in for the haricots verts in a classic salade niçoise).
Don’t be put off by the number of ingredients. The dish comes together quickly.
1 1/2 lb troll- or pole-caught albacore, cut into 1″ thick steaks
1 tsp merquén (Chilean toasted chili spice) – if unavailable, substitute 1/2 tsp coarsely ground coriander, 1/2 tsp ground cumin, 1/2 tsp ground chipotle pepper, and 1/2 tsp salt – use half
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg yolk
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
6 cloves garlic confit
1 c blended canola and olive oil (half and half)
big pinch of salt
dozen cherry tomatoes, halved, or 1 medium tomato, diced
24 niçoise olives (kalamata can substitute), halved
1/2 lb snap peas, sliced 1/4″ on the diagonal
1/4 lb pea sprouts, sliced into 1″ segments
1 small head frisée, washed, dried, and cut into 1″
juice of 1 lemon
4-6 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
Lemon Allioli: 5 minutes (quick method)
Place the garlic confit, egg yolk, and wine vinegar in a blender or food processor. Running the blender, begin dripping in oil, one drop at a time at first, until the mixture begins to thicken. Add oil more quickly in a thin stream only when the mixture has begun to thicken. Season with lemon juice and salt to taste (blending) and set aside in the refrigerator.
Pea salad: 5 minutes
Combine the frisée, pea sprouts, snap peas, and chives in a large bowl.
Whisk the oil into the lemon juice, one drop at a time at first until the mixture begins to emulsify; then add the oil more quickly in a thin stream. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with the vegetables.
Separately from the peas, combine the olives and tomatoes in a small bowl.
Tuna: 5 minutes
Keep tuna cold until ready to use. Combine the dry ingredients and rub on both sides of each tuna steak. Set aside in the refrigerator until ready to cook.
Just before serving, place a skillet over medium-high heat and add a small quantity of canola or grapeseed oil. Place the steaks in the hot pan; once the margin of the tuna becomes opaque (about 20 seconds), turn the steaks over and cook for the same length of time on the other side. The tuna should still be cool and pink except at the margins. Remove to a clean cutting board and slice against the grain.
Plate the pea salad; arrange sliced tuna against the salad. Serve with a couple spoons of the tomato-olive salad, and a tablespoon of the allioli.