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post #1 of 30
Thread Starter 
Hi all, I'm new here. I'm wondering if you can help me out..

The first time I ever cooked tuna I had a 10 inch non-stick pan, let it get REALLY hot (on the hi flame for 10 minutes) drizzled in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil which I know has a low smoking point but I figured the pan was hot enough already. I used a little but of olive oil to coat the fish so the freshly cracked black pepper and a pinch of kosher salt would stick to the tuna on both sides.

I let it cook for 4 minutes on each side and had a nice, crunchy crust on the tuna with the inside barely cooked but tasting no less creamy than butter. I did the exact same thing the next night... no crust. I've been doing this every so often when I get a chance to go to the local store and buy a piece of tuna and for the life of me, for the past two years since I started cooking fish, I cannot create a crust.

Since I've added new items to my repitoire I bought an 11" aluminum pan with 18/10" stainless steel. That bad boy can get HOT. So today, for the first time I cooked fish on a non-non-stick pan and I just couldn't create the crust. I've gone to several restaurants by me that can create a beautiful piece of tuna but I believe they use the more expensive kind... blue-fin instead of yellow-fin. Does the type of tuna really matter? What am I doing wrong that I can't create a crust on my tuna? Aren't you supposed to sear the protein on high heat so it can create a crust? Help?
post #2 of 30
Hi there :) welcome to the forum!

Did you buy the tuna from the same source each time? I'm wondering if the surface of the tuna could have been a bit moist, preventing a good crust from forming. How long did the salt sit on the tuna? Could this have caused excess moisture to form on the surface?

It looks like you've got a wonderful dilemma in front of you. You must cook more tuna and continue to perfect the cooking method :lips: You may want to try ensuring that the tuna is completely dry before searing it and seasoning moments before placing in the pan.

Happy eating!
post #3 of 30
Tuna flesh is pretty moist, so you really shouldn't have to put any oil on it to get the spices to stick. Thus I'd say (following up what gonefishin said) it may be a moisture problem.

First pat the fish very dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with your spices and pat in by hand: they'll stick just fine.

Now cook as before.
post #4 of 30
Thread Starter 
I've never pat down the tuna before.... never thought of that!

But I have always bought the tuna from the same place.

Is there an amount of black pepper/kosher salt to sprinkle onto the tuna that would help me form that crust? Is there a time amount I should sear each side to get that crust?
post #5 of 30
Have you tried grilling it over high flame? I either grill mine or pan cook it using a black cast iron skillet, very lightly swabbed with oil. It's crusted when it releases itself from the grill or pan. Time depends on thickness. For a 1-1 1/2" steak about 3 minutes per side give or take. No crust indicates that the fish is steaming rather than frying. Ditto what the others said about moisture. Pat it dry firmly with a paper towel, season and get it on the heat quickly. No sitting around on the counter.
post #6 of 30
No, it's dry that matters. If you take a wet, bloody piece of beef and put it on a grill, it doesn't crust. If you dry the heck out of it first, it crusts. With beef, one worry is that it will crust too much: you'll get a sort of hard shell. The point is that the water actually repels crusting, so the drier the flesh, the crustier the result.

Pat dry with paper towels, don't oil, season as you normally would, cook as you normally would, and tell us what happens. I'm betting it works.
post #7 of 30
Make sure it is dry, take out of fridge an hour before and let it sit on paper towl to repel out most inner liquid.
post #8 of 30
Thread Starter 
I can't grill - nowhere to grill in my apartment building in NYC and it's too cold out.

This is fish we're talking about here... you think I should take it out an HOUR before I cook it? Are you sure about that? It won't go bad?
post #9 of 30
At least an hour. It won't go bad, especially this time of year.
post #10 of 30
All the advice you're getting is very good, but it has nothing to do with the kind of crust you get in a restaurant. That sort is usually seasoning and/or seeds (such as sesame), and/or some sort of herb applied before the fish is cooked. The fish is usually described as "sesame-shiso crusted ahi tuna," or the like. The important part for you (so that you can get a handle on what it is you're trying to do) is that the restaurant crust is described as something other than a the normal "crust" which comes from searing.

The first time you cooked your fish in the non-stick pan, you had enough seasoning stuck to the fish to create a crust which was part sear, part seasoning. In your following attempts you probably left the crust stuck to the pan although there may have been other problems. I suspect too much oil may be one of them, but it's hard to tell since you insist you're doing everything right.

To get a really good natural, seared surface, it's important to use a very hot, very slick pan. Well cured cast iron or carbon steel will do a better job of crust creation, than a teflon or other non-stick surface. As the other fellows have said, it's important to get the pan very hot indeed. Heat the pan, dry, over medium-high to high heat. When it's very hot, remove the pan from the fire, add just a little bit of oil, and swirl the pan so the oil coats. Then return the pan to the fire and add the fish. It's important to do this quickly, otherwise the oil will smoke. (Oil which has been pushed to the smoke point is not a good thing. If you smoke it, dump it and start over.) Cook the fish for about 90 seconds, and give the pan a shake. If the fish moves it's ready to turn. If not, not. After 2 mintues shake the fish loose, and if it still won't budge, give it another thirty seconds, another shake, then loosen it by pushing it with a spatula on the side of the fish. Don't try and dig the spatula under the fish until it's already broken loose. Sear the fish on all sides in the same manner, then let it rest and cool down before slicing with a very long, very sharp knife.

To get a crust from seasoning, you have to construct a rub. In addition to making the rub and getting it to stick to the fish (it will stick better on a dry piece of fish, than on one which has been oiled), the searing technique is somewhat different. It goes quicker and at a slightly lower temperature so as not to burn the seasoning. Sesame seeds are a popular component, and they burn very easily.

If you want to go deeper into this, we can. But I don't want to write a treatise to satisy an academic curiosity. If it's not an actual interest, let's pass. But if it is, let's rock. In the meantime, good luck.

post #11 of 30
Unless the weather and your kitchen are really very hot, you'd be surprised at how durable most foods are -- including raw fish. I know where you're coming from: I still have to hold myself back when I buy fresh fish here in Japan: in the winter, at least, there is no reason to refrigerate it if you buy it in the morning and plan to cook it in the evening. Same is true with beef, pork, whatever. Think of refrigeration of these things as a way to hold them until tomorrow, not something you need for today.
post #12 of 30
You are 100% correct. Most recipes and oven temps are not based on food comeing straight from fridge. They are based on room temps. As you state most foods will hold outside at a 60 to 70 range for quite some time, they should however have parchment or plastic paper over it to avoid airborne materials from hitting them. I always prep like this , and in 40 years have never had a problem.
post #13 of 30
:look: I may not be the intended person you were talking to, but I am interested in anything that you can rock my way. My curiosity is driven by my taste buds rather than academia.


post #14 of 30

Dis, dat, and d'udder.

You guys are right about the whole chilled/room-temp thing generally. But in this one case, I'm not sure.

I think the OP is trying to create something like tataki, a sashimi type of presentation, where the outside of the fish is definitely seared but the interior is still raw. It's extremely popular with bluefin, yellowfin, and albacore. The OP, unfortunately, seems to think yellowfin is somewhat declasse. I say, just call it "ahi," brother, and you're riding the top of the trend.

Anyway, because it's for tataki, and you only want to get a sear on a very narrow band on the outside but otherwise leave the interior as uncooked as possible -- it's best to have some chill on the fish when it hits the pan. I don't know how they cook it in Japan, but in American sushi-ya the tuna's not much over 40F (if at all) when it hits the very hot griddle.

Usually when I cook tuna or almost any other largish fish, I buy a partial loin and block it myself. Your chances of success increase in proportion with the amount of fish butchering and portioning you do yourself. When I cook tuna in this way, which I would do more often if Linda liked fish more, it's cook as a block rather than as individual "steaks" or fillets, rested, well chilled, and served by taking thin slices. The whole tataki thing is much easier to do with a block than a small piece. Moreover, you can be certain about getting the entire bloodline, which Americans really object to (with good reason). Also, it's a good idea to do as much yourself as possible for fish which will be served raw or nearly so. If there are any problems, you're more likely to see, smell, and/or feel them if you're doing the prep. No matter where or how carefully you buy, you occasionally discover you bought catfood when you get it on the board.

On the crusting thing -- a very easy crust is sesame seeds. Mix white seeds with black at ratio of about 3 white to 1 black, and pour them into a plate. Season the fish with rub (recipe follows), then roll and press your fish into the seeds so the fish is well crusted on all sides. Allow the fish to rest a minute or two while you prepare your pan. Heat a heavy pan to searing heat (medium-high flame on most home stoves) and when it's well heated remove it from the flame, and add about a tsp of a light oil such as corn. Swirl the oil in the pan to make sure the pan is hot, return the pan to the flame and add the fish. Remember, you're not cooking the fish so much as working to not-overcook the sesame. Turn as soon as you smell sesame, and turn as gently as possible. You may find a "fish spatula" very useful. Cook on all sides (another reason to do it as a block). Rest briefly, slice and either serve or chill. (I prefer to serve chilled, dressed with a vinaigrette of very good olive oil and a little bit of one sort of interesting vinegar or another -- in my case, that's often a good sherry vinegar. I've also done wasabi aiolis, and they worked well).

You can make the cursting process more interesting by mixing some chopped herbs with the sesame, or by using herbs alone. If you do, it's important to choose herbs which won't let out too much water when they're cooked, or take over the fish. My favorite is a mix shiso, Chinese chives (whose real name escapes me at the moment, but their taste splits onion and garlic, but is less assertive than either) with sesame. Unless you have access to good asian groceries, both are probably unavailable to you. Stay away from anything too wet (salad greens) and anything too assertive (most herbs).

My usual fish rub for this type of cooking is a mix of 6 parts salt, 2 parts japanese chili powder, 1 part each granluated garlic and granulated onion, and 1/2 part of dry thyme. For these purposes, either type of Japanese chili powder, shichimi or sansho (although they're very different) will work fine. It's nice to have a bottle of shichimi -- which is a mix of a lot of things -- around for seasoning just about everything. So if you don't already own a bottle it's worth hunting down. Sansho is pretty much like white pepper and citrus (although it's a single berry which is neither pepper nor citrus, so there you go). Unless you're into Japanese cooking or have easy access to Japanese ingredients plus a large pantry, don't bother. FWIW, most shichimi contains some citrus peel -- it's a nice shortcut blend.

Don't consider brining the fish for this type of application. While I frequently brine fish before cooking, it's not for anything cooked over high heat, cooked only briefly or cooked rare or less.

post #15 of 30
Thanks BDL :) I was going to order some fresh yellowfin in a couple of days, but they're currently out. I may order some bluefin top loins instead...not sure. Either way...I'll be giving some of your suggestions a try in a bit :cool:

post #16 of 30
Well, since you ask... Actually, this has been on my mind for some time, and now I have an opportunity.

This isn't at all what "tataki" is in Japan, except in one instance.

Tataki basically means "pounded." Normally, in reference to food, it means "minced," because the way you mince meat (including especially fish meat) is with the heel end of a large deba hocho, which is an extremely heavy knife. This process makes a characteristic pounding noise, thus the term "tataki." For example, if you make tuna tartare, minced up with herbs and such, that's tataki.

Now there is one major exception, which is katsuo tataki. Katsuo is bonito, a relative of tuna with a rather oily flesh that keeps very badly. The loin of a bonito is triangular and very meaty, but if you just slice it the texture is apparently unpleasant. So what you do is you pound it -- tataki -- to tenderize it and make the juices and stuff distribute more evenly.

Then you cover the outside with a layer of things like soy, sake, shredded scallion (negi), salt, and so on, let marinate briefly, and then cook the outside and leave the inside dead raw. (Sound familiar?)

The method is straightforward. Impale the loin sideways on several long skewers gathered at the handles, like a big fan. Place the loin over extremely hot charcoal flame, or better yet just hold it in the flame without it touching any grill. As soon as one side is on the edge of charring, flip it over and repeat. Remove, let rest until fairly cool, and slice, in some cases brushing off much of the crust first -- it depends on what's in the crust and who's doing the serving. The slices should be a good 1/4"-1/2" thick. Serve with ponzu sauce, shiso leaves, and shredded daikon.

I have seen some other fish served in this fashion, marked "katsuo tataki-style." In Japan at least, I have not seen it done in a pan.

Which is not to say that BDL's advice on doing it in a pan isn't dead-on: probably is, I'd guess.
post #17 of 30
Well, whatever. In the sushi-yas of the US of A, it's called tataki. If I ever go back to Japan, I'll call it Phil. The chopped stuff is something I describe by using the adjective "negi" in front of the particular fish. "Negi-toro" for instance. But all the Japanese I've got I either picked up in sushi bars, the audio biz, or a long ex girl-friend. How anyone that tiny could be so ... but I digress. At any rate, I apologize for the limitations of my Japanese and any confusion they may have caused.

post #18 of 30
No no, I wasn't complaining about your analysis, BDL. I just have, as I say, been noting this difference of terminology lately, and thought this might be a passable occasion to ventilate it.

What you're describing, and helping the OP to produce, is in the USA called tataki. I live in Kyoto, where terminology is funny by Japanese standards, and I thought it might be worth pointing out that here that term means something quite a bit different. But that's not a criticism of the term: for all I know, tataki in Tokyo means seared loin, and regardless it clearly means something like that in the US. I just thought it might be interesting to know alternative takes.

Furthermore, there is the cookikng method, which is quite a bit different but would produce a pretty decent result... if you have a very hot charcoal grill, of course.
post #19 of 30
Okay Chris. Thanks. Got you now.

Meanwhile, back at the subject (which has moved on to fire type):

Hardwood burned down to coals is best. My taste in hardwood choices are fairly regional -- so consider them qualified. For fish I prefer oak, grape cuttings, mesquite, alder, and almost any fruitwood, especially citrus -- which used to be easy 'round here but isn't anymore. Oak is the only choice that's really easy without schlepping to a restaurant wood supplier.

Hardwood lump charcoal next. You get a big spike out of mesquite and that's the best for fish without getting into exotic lumps. I mostly either use oak fireplace logs (and burn 'em down), or Lazzeri mesquite lump charcoal.

There are a very few good briquettes. Kingsford ain't one of 'em. Rancher's something is, but it's not natonally available. Unfortunately it's hard to get a lot of heat out of all but a few American briquette -- and then there's the taste.

post #20 of 30
I have a cast iron pan I use for this. I leave it on the burner till it smokes. Same as doing blackened minus the cajun seasoning. For my self I like to cut yellowfin in strips, marinate in basalmic vinegar, garlic, olive oil and soy sauce. I toss it in the hot pan and toss it around quickly. it sears fast and the reason I cut it in strips is for more surface to soak up marinade. You can leave any food in the "danger zone" (41-135 deg.) for up to four hours before either consuming or discarding, so an hour doesn't hurt anything.
post #21 of 30
I received my 2lb wild yellowfin tuna today. I was happy to see that it was just one large piece of tuna rather smaller cut sections. I still have to start experiementing with it tonight...but it really looks (and tastes) great. I ordered a good number of other items as well, but most of them were ordered as frozen. I figured there would be little use in ordering everything fresh.

There is one thing that I hadn't noticed until today...I have no chopsticks! It seems so odd:blush:

take care all,
post #22 of 30
There is a snazzy little gadget you can probably find in an Asian market if you look, quite cheap, that consists of a piece of fine-meshed but very durable wire screen with a heavy wire frame, and a folding wire grid that sits above it. What you do is, you put the fine screen directly on top of your gas burner -- directly on top, the way you put a pan on the burner -- and you stand up the frame so the grid is a few inches above the screen. Turn on a fan. Turn on the burner, and in just a few seconds you will see the screen get red-hot. In about 1 minute, the grid is also very hot and ready to cook on. If you have the flame on full-blast, it is very, very hot -- much hotter than any normal grill I've used, gas or charcoal or hardwood. Turned way down low, you can make lovely toast, so the range is enormous.

The results are exactly like cooking over a grill, with a few differences:

1. The whole setup is small, and once allowed to cool (surprisingly quickly) and lightly scrubbed, it folds up flat in a large drawer or on its side in a cabinet. The down-side is that you can only cook what will fit on a roughly 8x12 surface

2. It works indoors without generating smoke of its own -- only from what you cook.

3. It makes a mess of your stovetop from the heat and juices and stuff; you may wish to use heavy foil or an old sheet pan with a hole cut in it to minimize this.

4. You get no medium-smell at all: no hardwood (bad), no chemical charcoal (good), etc.

I find it does a wonderful job of things like the dish we're discussing here.

About which...

I was quite wrong. In Kansai, particularly Kyoto, "tataki" pretty much invariably means katsuo-tataki or else minced fish. In Tokyo, and I believe in Osaka now as well, i.e. anyplace sushi has become a really big deal, "tataki" very often does mean exactly what BDL said it did -- in fact, it usually means that. It's an extension: in effect, it means "done in katsuo-tataki style," or "tataki" for short.

'Course, everyone knows that all really good cooking in Japan happens in Kyoto, so their terminology is of course better, and that's why this shouldn't be called tataki, and while I'm at it there's no such thing as "sashimi" because it should be called otsukuri....

Okay, I was wrong. Sorry about that. I live in Kyoto, what can I say? I'm picking up local prejudices.
post #23 of 30
Dude- go find the fire escape. Classic NY grilling at its best. The hardware stores on Lex sell hibachis for a reason.
post #24 of 30
Great thread.....

Could you just hit it with a blow torch?

Just a random passing thought....
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

post #25 of 30
Blow torch? Not for this. The torch sear is so concentrated it goes beyond sear and into char; and because it's so local, by the time you've seared a side, you're cooking pretty deeply into it.

The torch is your friend, but has its limits.

post #26 of 30

Could you go into the process of breaking down a (yellowfin)tuna loin? The sizes that I'll be getting will range between two to four pound sections.

I know that simply cutting will work...but is there a correct way to break a couple pound piece like this down?

Any advice for bluefin top loins or belly?

My knives aren't the best...but I did notice that they really didn't "fit" that well when trying to slice thin pieces of the sashimi yellowfin. Any advice on what to look for in a knife that would cut some sashimi tuna every once in a while?

post #27 of 30
Fillet the fish. Discard the head, skeleton, and tail, or reserve for stock. Remove and discard the fins.

Lay a fillet on the board, skin side down. Lift out the rib cage if you know you how. If you don't, simply cut it out. Close your eyes and feel the head end of the fillet for pin bones. Rub your fingers firmly along the flesh, from the head end to about half way down, feeling for pin bones. You sensitivity will be enhanced if your eyes are closed. Remove the pin bones with needle-nose pliers, tweezer, or fingers. If using fingers, you can free them slightly with your knife.

Separate the meat from the skin by a combination of wiggling the knife as you move it forward in a head-to-tail direction; and pulling the fish in the opposite direction. (This sounds much harder than it is). Discard the skin.

Cut off the narrowest part of the tail section as one block or "fillet."

Draw your knife down the centerline, where the fish's spine was and separate the fillet into belly and back loins. Block each loins into two, three, or four pieces as convenient; or portion it. Or, if the fish is narrow enough you don't need to cut down the centerline, but can cut thin, fillet portions which include back and belly.

If you block: After the loins are blocked, remove the blood lines, and discard.

If you do not block: Turn the fillets over before portioning and try to remove the blood lines as best you can.

Note: The belly is sweeter and more tender than the back, as it has more fat. It is better for raw to medium-rare presentations. So grill and saute the back, save the belly for rare and raw.

Knife choices: The "traditional" western knife for doing most of this work is a flexible knife, shaped much like but a little wider than a slicer. For yellowtail, the right size is something like 7". "Traditional" is in quotes here, because there are a lot of choices. I was taught in a very traditional kitchen, that used what I assumed to be the right, the traditional, and the best choices. But it was actually pretty random.

The traditional Japanese knife for everything except portioning is called a deba. We can get into a deba discussion, but if you're not serious interested let's not. The portioning knife is called a yanigaba. Again, if you're not considering buying one, let's hold off. Without going too deply into it, these knives are only sharpened on one side. One consequence is that the deba is easier to keep close to the bones than any other knife.

A few years ago I switched to a 7" chef's knife for medium and small fish, and a 10" chef's knife for medium and medium-large fish. I use these pretty much as debas. I portion almost all fish (and just about everything else) with a 10" slicer. As you know (or don't), my chef's knives are French. French chef's knives are shaped differently from German. If I were still using German chef's knives, I'd use something else to fillet fish.

Fish, perhaps more than any other food, rewards a sharp knife and punishes a dull one. Cuts made with a sharp knife are smooth and glossy. Cuts with a dull knife are ragged and fibrous. Skill makes an enormous difference as well. A skillful cutter will not only make smooth cuts, but leave almost no meat on the bones. Use these characteristics to not only judge your own tools and skill level, but your fish monger's and sushi man's as well.

You can learn a lot in a sushi bar. Expensive though.
post #28 of 30
Thanks much!

I'm not ready to visit the knife discussion just yet. But I'll look into it and revisit the issue when money may permit.

:) dan
post #29 of 30
Whatever you're using now, you've got to get it sharp. Can you afford fortyish for an 8" Hall's, "commercial" tri-hone? Or, if you don't already know how to freehand and don't want to learn, a Lansky diamond set?

post #30 of 30
Okay, I'm bumping this back up, because I have an answer: how to cook tataki in Japan, and not have any trouble with it sticking to the pan.

Katsuo tataki, which is made from bonito (katsuo), is much the most famous and popular form of this dish in Japan. It is a regional specialty around Kochi city, in what used to be called Tosa prefecture of Shikoku island. If you're looking at a map of Japan, look for the big roundish island southeast of Osaka, then look for the part facing the Pacific where it sort of bends inward like a gigantic inlet, and you'll find old Tosa.

Tosa is big, food-wise, for a small number of things: yuzu citrus, bundan citrus, Tosa-style sashimi sauce (Tosa-joyu), whale, and most especially katsuo tataki. It's everywhere -- like, for example, it's on little concrete tiles embedded in the sidewalk.

In this video I made a couple days ago, you can see how katsuo tataki is made, and why they don't have any trouble with it sticking to the pan.
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