Our neighbors invited us for dinner a little while back, and I volunteered to bring appetizers. They included their adult kids, one of whom was acutely allergic to wheat. It was hot and I didn’t want to cook. So I reached for my playbook of easy-and-refreshing dishes and made this spicy raw tuna tartare.
I’ve been making this Asian-fusion snack since the 1990s, when my friend Maki revealed that the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills put the Rooster brand of chile garlic sauce into its spicy tuna tartare. Maki was a chef at the hotel and was tickled by the high-brow use of a low-brow, ethnic ingredient. I was skeptical but when I tried it out, my tuna tartare went from good to great. The little bit of fermented chile heat added zip.
Our neighbors are avid gardeners so I harvested herbs from this summer’s garden to accent the tuna. I combined red perilla (tia to) and Vietnamese balm (kinh gioi), which go well with the fish. Resist using cilantro as the resulting flavor is off.
The neighbors were unfamiliar with tuna tartare so I explained that is was like the stuff featured in spicy tuna sushi rolls but more textured and better tasting. Just in case there was a vegetarian or vegan, I brought curry popcorn too.
Spicy Tuna Tartare
Serves: 8 as a snack
- 5-inch (12.5 cm) section of English or Japanese cucumber
- 1 medium Hass avocado
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as shiso, red perilla (tia to), and Vietnamese balm (kinh gioi)
- 1 pound (450 g) ahi tuna steak
- Half a lime
- Light (regular) soy sauce or wheat-free tamari
- Kosher salt
- About 1 teaspoon chile garlic sauce (tuong ot toi)
- About 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- Rice crackers, Vietnamese rice crackers, or toasted baguette slices
- Halve the cucumber lengthwise, then use a spoon to remove and discard the seeds. Dice the cucumber into the size of regular (not petite) frozen peas. Put into a bowl.
- Halve, seed, then peel the avocado. Dice the flesh to be slightly bigger than that of the cucumber. Add to the bowl, along with the fresh herbs.
- Dice the tuna to be slightly bigger than the cucumber and avocado. Discard any white gristly bits as you work. Add to the bowl.
- Squeeze on some of the lime juice (try 2 or 3 squeezes), then drizzle in about 1 teaspoon of soy sauce, and 2 to 3 pinches of kosher salt. Add the chile garlic sauce, then use a spatula to combine. Taste and adjust the flavors to be a little stronger than you like. When satisfied, add enough mayonnaise to enrich and bind. Taste again and finalize the flavor. Transfer to a communal serving bowl and offer the crackers or bread on the side. Invite guests to scoop or plop a spoonful onto the cracker or bread.
There are lots of ways to make tuna tartare. If you have a favorited approach, share it below. Don't keep it to yourself.