Monday, August 06, 2012

Syrian-spiced Tuna

We all wax poetic about the seasonality of certain foods. The spring-is-here heralding spears of asparagus, the autumnal snap of a good apple. But in fact everything has a season — even those things we think of as perennial. Like tuna fish.

Right now is high time for Oregon albacore, something I was fairly late in realizing. These fish run right off the coast, and tend to be smaller and younger (and, consequently, lower in mercury) than their deep-ocean brethren. They're also troll- and pole-caught, methods that avoid the by-catch of a big net approach and give them a high sustainability rating. The meat is rich in healthy oil, a boon for those (like me) who tend to overcook, and it's cheap, delicious, and takes well to a marinade. Which is all to say I've made this dish twice in the past two weeks.

Tweaked from a sort of Ottoman fusion cookbook I'm obsessed with, this recipe features citrus, spice and an addictive bit of heat that goes surprisingly well with the flavor of tuna. You can serve it with rice, tuck it inside a pita with a drizzle of tahini (the original recipe calls it a shawarma), or, as I did, pair with a simple chopped salad (I chunked up some cherry tomatoes, Persian cucumbers, and parsley, along with a splash of lemon juice and olive oil). It's a deliciously simple way to celebrate the season.

Syrian-spiced Tuna 

serves ~4, depending upon other dishes served

adapted from the monkfish schwarma in Silvena Rowe's Purple Citrus an Sweet Perfume, credited to the Al-Halabi restaurant at the Four Seasons Damascus. I pan-seared the tuna due to some last-minute grill complications, but you can easily cook it on the barbecue if you prefer — simply thread on skewers and grill until done to your liking.

juice of 1 orange
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons chili paste (Rowe recommends a Chinese chili-garlic sauce)
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 — 1 1/2 pounds albacore tuna, cut into chunks
high-heat oil for pan searing

Mix together all of the ingredients (except the tuna) to form the marinade, and then add the tuna and stir to combine. Refrigerate for half an hour, turning once to make sure the tuna absorbs the marinade evenly.

When the tuna has marinated, heat a cast-iron or other heavy pan over high heat until crazy hot. Pour in a splash of oil and immediately add the tuna (depending on the size of the pan, you may want to do this in two batches, so that the tuna doesn't crowd the pan and cause the temperature to drop too much). Let sear (it should only take a minute — you'll be able to see the color change on the sides of the chunks), then turn to sear on another side. If your chunks are small, you may only need to sear two sides, but if they're large you can sear another side or two until they're cooked to your liking. Remove from the pan and serve.


  1. I'll never forget my surprise when I first moved to France and discovered that scallops were available only in the winter. It had never occurred to me that seafood was seasonal! And now, thanks to your lovely post, I'm learning that tuna is a summer fish and have a whole new, spicy recipe to try. I love the internets :)

    1. I had no idea about scallops! Funny how we get so used to thinking of everything (including our own lives) as eternal.

  2. This tuna sounds amazing! I love the spice combination in the marinade. And that cucumber & tomato salad sounds like the perfect accompaniment.

    1. It was a delicious summertime combo. But, to be fair, I'm sort of smitten with everything Silvena Rowe inspires.