Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Escabeche of Ahi Tuna with Papaya-Mango Relish

Escabeche of Ahi Tuna with Papaya-Mango Relish

Makes 50 appetizer-sized portions

Escabeche of Ahi Tuna with Papaya-Mango Relish 
This is one of my favorite appetizers-to-impress. Several good friends were recently kind enough to have a All Larue dinner for 14 guests – all from recipes from my blog! My responsibility was to bring an unpublished surprise appetizer. This is the recipe that kicked off a memorable evening. It was truly magical evening – the menu is posted below should you be so inclined!

It can, actually must, be done in advance and scaled up or down to feed a small dinner party or a large group gathering. It could also work as an entrée. Escabeche (es-kah-BECH-ay) is a classic Spanish preparation in which you sear meat or fish, marinate it in a vinegary sauce loaded with spices, then serve it cold or at room temperature. I have given it a bit of an Asian twist with the addition of wasabi to counter the sweet papaya-mango relish. Crunch is provided by the use of either a deep fried wonton wrapper or your favorite tortilla chip.

There is nothing quite like fresh fish. And when it’s fresh, the simplest preparation will often suffice. Yellowfin tuna, also known as ahi, demonstrates this principle perfectly. With just the barest cooking time, the flavor of a fresh piece of ahi is sublime. Its ubiquity and popularity in sushi restaurants is a testament to how good ahi can taste served rare. In other words, less is more.
ONLY the freshest Ahi for this recipe!
This recipe is for an escabeche of chili crusted seared ahi tuna. You must use fresh sashimi quality tuna. No exceptions. The fish is given a generous coating of spices before being cooked. And when I say cooked, I do not really mean cooked. You really just want to sear the ahi, leaving the middle quite rare. What you get is a wonderful contrast of textures, with the buttery smooth interior juxtaposed with the crusted exterior. Then it is steeped in a marinade for 24-48 hours before serving – escabeche – referring to a dish that has marinated in an acidic mixture before serving – usually a vinegar or citrus juice.

  • 2 red onions, peeled and diced
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 10 jalapenos, seeded
  • ½ C ancho chili powder
  • 6 Tb ground cumin
  • 2 Tb minced garlic
  • 6 C fish or chicken stock
  • 1 C white wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt & Pepper to taste

Ahi Tuna Seasoning
  • 2 Tb ancho chili powder
  • 6 Tb kosher salt
  • 3 Tb black pepper
  • ¼ C olive oil
  • 2½ - 3 lbs sashimi grade ahi tuna

Papaya-Mango Relish
  • 2 mangoes, peeled, pitted and cut into ¼” dice
  • 2 papayas, peeled, seeds removed and cut into ¼” dice
  • 4 jalapenos, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into ¼” dice
  • 2 red peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded and cut into ¼” dice
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped. If you have time, even better if sliced and grilled before chopping
  • 1 large bunch of cilantro chopped
  • 6 Tb lime juice
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste 
Wonton wrappers, or Corn tortilla chips

Wasabi paste for garnish

To make the marinade:
Puree the first six ingredients in a food processor: red onions, cilantro jalapenos, ancho chili powder, ground cumin and garlic with some quick pulses. You will want it finely chopped. Pour all into a saucepan, add stock and vinegar and bring to a boil. Then, simmer gently for 10 minutes. Add salt & pepper to taste. Remove from heat and cool in refrigerator.
Mixing the chopped ingredients for the marinade
What the marinade looks like when done

To prepare Ahi Tuna:
Cut tuna into 2-3 equal pieces. Mix ancho chili powder, salt, black pepper together. Add in olive oil and mix thoroughly. Rub all over each piece of tuna. Preheat a cast iron skillet until water splashed in pan spatters. Sear tuna on all sides over high heat about 30-45 seconds per side. Set aside and let cool.
Seasoning rubbed on the Ahi 
Once both tuna and marinade are completely cool, immerse tuna in marinade, cover and refrigerate overnight at least and up to two days.
Ahi swimming in marinade after seared - for 24-48 hours
To make Papaya-Mango Relish:
To make the relish, the first step is to roast the peppers. A previous blog post goes into detail on how to do this:

Roasted peppers
Then, stir together all ingredients for the relish: mangoes, papayas, jalapenos, red peppers, red onion, cilantro, limejuice, salt and pepper. Let stand a minimum of 30 minutes before serving and up to 4 hours.
And the final product

To fry Wonton Wrappers:
Using a sturdy deep pan, heat canola oil to about 350 degree F (or until a drop of water sizzles vigorously). Cut wontons in half diagonally with a serrated knife. Using a toothpick, poke three - four small holes into each half.  Drop the halves, one at a time, into the hot oil – just takes seconds before it browns, turn it over and then remove to drain on paper towels. Continue in similar fashion until all selected wrappers have been fried.
Wonton wrappers
Wonton only need to sizzle for a short time until they are brown
To assemble:
Remove tuna from marinade, reserving the liquid. Thinly slice the ahi against the grain at about a 25-degree angle into ¼” thick pieces with a sharp slicing knife. Do not saw at the fish with the knife. Instead, put pressure on the fish and drag your knife in one long stroke. Set them aside.

I like to arrange all the component pieces onto a large serving tray. If assembled in advance, the fried wonton or tortilla chip becomes soggy. It may require that you prepare and serve your guests a few at first until they get the hang of it and can do their own.

To serve: Place a small seared piece of ahi on wonton or chip. Put a bit of the marinade on top. Next add a small bit of papaya-mango relish and dribble a bit of wasabi on top or nearby on the serving plate. 

Various stages of completion. Note how little of the Ahi is cooked....just the edges.
If by some miracle there is any left, the fish will stay in good shape for a week or more, so long as the vinegar marinade sauce covers it.

I hope you will give this a try. The first time may seem a bit daunting but it actually is quite easy and forgiving. It is key to use only the freshest of fish – remember, no exceptions.

The only wine to serve with this is Champagne!

Buen Apetito!


Menu from the First Cooking with Larue Dinner:
The Cooking with Larue dinner with the soup duo served
All recipes are on the Blog and can be found by using the Search function

Escabeche of Ahi Tuna with Papaya-Mango Relish
Parmesan Thyme Crackers

Soup Duo: Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup & Roasted Tomato Soup with Serrano Cream

Spinach, Lentil and Feta Salad with Sour Cherry Vinaigrette
Corn & Tomato Salad with Cilantro Dressing

Duck Breasts with Honey & Balsamic
Lamb Meat Loaf with Red Wine Glaze
Orzo with Grilled Zucchini & Sun-dried Tomatoes

Ottolenghi’s Flourless Chocolate Cake

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