Ok, so lately, Luke has been a knee-bend away from begging me to make healthier meals for my project, with a particular plead for fish. Seems it has a natural power to reduce his cholesterol or something. I wouldn’t know. Whenever he starts talking about lighter meals, I block out his heartbreaking words with loving thoughts of cookie dough ice cream and hollandaise sauce.
“But sweetheart, I’m following Cooking Light recipes, so the hot chocolate fudge cakes and butter-drenched pierogies were healthy. Besides, we wouldn’t want to underestimate the cholesterol-fighting power of your Cheerios, now would we?”
Honestly, maybe I have been a little drawn to the least light of Cooking Light’s offerings, those recipes that miraculously made it into the cookbook by the skin of their chocolate-covered teeth. But I blame the freezing weather for making me choose juicy, melty comfort food over a salad. And with Christmas just around the corner, can you blame me for having fudge and fruitcake on the brain?
Regardless, his persistent hinting eventually snapped me back into reality. And reality is a cold, dark, deep fried cheese-deficient place. But I’ve got to stick to my original plan to cook light, for my husband’s sake, and my own. (I hate to admit this, but I think I’ve actually gained a little since I started this quest to cook, um, healthy.) So I made a compromise. I’d cook up an ultra nutritious fish dinner, so long as I could splurge just a little on dessert. Deal!
So I was off to find something healthy, yet satisfying. An oxymoron that 100-calorie packs and veggie burgers have yet to conquer. And if that wasn’t hard enough, I wanted something unique. No plain ‘ol steamed tilapia. No battered fish that’s disappointingly baked instead of fried. Or even worse, sushi. It’s beautiful and trendy, and I wouldn’t mind displaying it on my wall, but I just can’t force it past my taste buds.
And by some miracle, I found just what I was looking for while browsing through CL recipe photos online. Granted, the picture was tiny, and I thought it was a piece of chocolate cake covered in walnuts that had accidentally slipped into the seafood category. But hey, I ended up picking it, and that’s all that matters.
I knew it was a meal Luke would instantly take to. See, unlike me, he loves sushi. Seriously loves. And because I seriously gag at the thought, he only gets to enjoy it on rare occasions. (No horribly-bad pun intended.) But this recipe had all kinds of sushi-related flare: wasabi, soy sauce, ginger, tuna. With no seaweed or raw fish in sight. Score!
And while it looks a little crazy, it’s quite simple, so there were only a few ingredients I had to buy. Although, those ingredients did sent me on a bit of a hunt. So if you try this dish, make sure you get unprepared wasabi powder, not the pre-made squeeze bottle stuff. You’ll find it in the organic Asian section. For tuna steaks in the dead of winter, check the freezer. And black sesame seeds? Those will be in tiny over-priced glass bottles with the seasonings. Oh, and if you aren’t sure if that “ginger root” in the produce section is the “fresh ginger” you need, just wait around until another customer picks up a piece, then ask her. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a hippie chick who’ll tell you how to prepare it, too. (Finely mince, or grate with a mini grater. But I actually prefer the rolling pin smash between foil.)
When Sunday night rolled around, I was even more thankful for the recipe’s shortness after a long day of slaving over caramel apple crumb pie. So finally, with a pie cooling, and all my ingredients spread out, I started on the sauce. And what a sauce it was.
By far, it was the most fragrant thing I’ve ever made that didn’t involve garlic. Thank you, ginger, oh potpourri of the produce section, for smelling so wonderful and keeping my mood stable. Then it was just one sublime scent after another. Lemon. Orange. Green onion. Wasabi. Just don’t inhale that last one too strongly or you’ll risk singeing your nose hairs.
I’ve actually never been a big fan of wasabi. I think it has something to do with one particular stupid day in high school, when in the girl’s bathroom, I was offered not a cigarette, but my first piece of sushi. Nervous about tasting raw fish, I reached for the pile of green stuff on the side, and thinking it was guacamole, smothered a heaping spoonful all over the sushi to “mask” its flavor.
Why was this all happening in the bathroom, you ask? I can’t remember why I did half the things I did at that age. Maybe because sushi was rebellious? But it turned out to be the perfect location for the meal, because within seconds, I was hacking, spitting and screaming in agonizing unison. And nothing complements flesh-eating grocery store sushi like a beautiful view of the toilet and a handful of water from the sink.
But I was determined to conquer the mouth-murdering mustard once and for all, and you know what? It’s actually pretty good. And fun to prepare, too. You just mix a little water with the powder and it miraculously turns into a green paste, which is then perfectly mellowed out with the soy, honey, brown sugar and rice vinegar in the sauce.
Once it was all mixed up, I started on the fish. I had the steaks thawing in the fridge for about 12 hours, so after rinsing them off, they were ready to be dredged in seeds. Then I gently laid them in the pan as to not disturb a single sesame, and cooked them on each side for three minutes. The sesame seeds instantly filled the room with a nutty, fragrant aroma as they toasted.
But when time was up, the tuna was still hot pink. And me, thinking that pink meant “raw”, thought it best to cook them even longer. And longer. Until I realized that the meat was going to stay pink unless I was going for a hard, dry brick type of dish. I saved them just in time and they turned out great, but the next night I made the meal again, and didn’t cook them for quite so long. (Ok, I still got paranoid and went a little past the three minutes, but they came out perfect.)
The end result was phenomenal. I know phenomenal is a pretty powerful word. And, although I’d still prefer something covered in cheese, or fried, or dipped in chocolate, this meal was beyond my expectation for being so healthy. So it deserves the title. The sauce was spicy, sweet, and absolutely brimming with flavor. The fish was tender, and the sesame seed crust is my new obsession. I’m thinking it would be an excellent coating for chicken, pork and steak as well. And the sauce seems just as versatile. I can see shrimp, chicken skewers or little appetizers being dunked into it in my very near future.
I served it all up with the perfect salad complement: greens, bean sprouts, carrots, leftover toasted sesame seeds from the pan and a creamy Asian dressing, and a good ‘ol Amber Bock. Luke was in heaven. Although it wasn’t sushi, he knew it was as close as he was gonna get. He asked at least three times, mouth stuffed, lips coated in sesame seeds, if I would “please make this once a week.”
See, when it comes to food, that’s the kind of begging I like to hear.
Sesame-Crusted Tuna with Wasabi-Ponzu Sauce
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 tuna steak and 2 tablespoons sauce)
Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 tuna steak and 2 tablespoons sauce)
Cookbook Note: Wasabi comes in different intensities. You may want to experiment with several brands to find the right amount of heat for your taste buds. Some of the sesame seeds might pop out of the pan as the tuna cooks, so use caution and wear an oven mitt as you turn the fish over.
1 tablespoon chopped green onions
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
1 1/4 teaspoons prepared wasabi paste
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
4 (6-ounce) tuna steaks (about 3/4 inch thick)
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
2 tablespoons black sesame seeds
Sliced green onions (optional)
Combine first 10 ingredients, stirring with a whisk.
Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle tuna with salt. Combine sesame seeds in a shallow dish. Dredge tuna in sesame seeds. Add tuna to pan; cook 3 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Garnish with green onions, if desired. Serve tuna with sauce.
Nutritional Information: Calories: 302 (28% from fat), Fat: 9.5g (sat 1.4g,mono 3.5g,poly 3.3g), Protein: 40g, Carbohydrate: 9.9g, Fiber: 0.2g, Cholesterol: 80mg, Iron: 3.2mg, Sodium: 507mg, Calcium: 54mg
Source: Cooking Light, July 2004