WaterLine photo by Chef Tim Spain

Tuna with fennel is a delicious and simple recipe that will have you wondering why anyone eats the canned stuff.

If I ever found myself with nothing to eat other than canned tuna … well, I guess I would die of starvation. That is the one thing I can’t stand. Even the smell of it is too much for me to take. It just seems like cat food to me.

Fresh tuna, on the other hand, is amazingly good. It’s the only way to go if you ask me. I think of it as the steak of the sea and usually will offer to substitute a tuna steak in place of beef when I cook for someone in a group who doesn’t like beef.

The key to cooking fresh tuna is timing. If you think it’s done, it’s probably overcooked. Tuna cooks fast so if a tuna steak is one inch thick, I would only cook it for about one minute on each side for the proper medium-rare. Cooking it longer than that will result in a dry, over-done piece of fish that you might have paid close to $20 a pound for at your local fishmonger.

When it’s time to select your tuna, you want to know where it’s from and what kind of tuna it is. If it’s advertised as local, it’s probably blackfin tuna. Although it’s not impossible to catch a yellowfin in the Gulf, you are probably going to be fishing a hundred miles off the Boca Grande Pass or off the shores of Louisiana and Texas

So blackfin it is if you want to eat tuna caught locally, and that’s just fine with me. Blackfin is just as tasty as yellowfin — and might be a bit easier on your wallet as well.

Once you have your tuna, it’s time to get cooking. I use a paper towel to remove any moisture that might be on the tuna before I season it with salt and pepper. Years ago, a Chef told me to imagine it’s raining when you season something. That somehow made sense to me and it helps me evenly season whatever I’m about to cook.

Before I cook the tuna, I must get the side dishes ready (since the fish cooks so fast). I think fennel and tuna go together very nicely. A few mandarin oranges added in would be a nice touch as well.

I just want the fennel bulbs for this dish. I usually cut them into wedges and cut out as much of the core as possible, then put the wedges on the grill with some salt and pepper for a couple minutes on each side. Then I let them rest while I make my sauce.

The sauce is simple, with just four ingredients: Orange juice, garlic, cream and honey. Heat up the cream, add the rest of the ingredients and let it simmer until reduced to sauce consistency (meaning it should coat the back of a spoon).

After the sauce is made and the fennel has rested, I put the grilled fennel in a mixing bowl with mandarin oranges and red onion and toss it together with a little more salt and pepper.

Now heat a sauté pan on high, hot enough to when you add the oil it spreads out to coat the pan. If it smokes, turn the heat off and remove the pan or it could catch fire because it’s close to the flash point. If it does ignite, just cover the pan with another one, taking the air away from it ,and it will go out. Don’t add water to it. If you do, burning oil will splash out and you will have a bigger fire in your kitchen.

Now the pan is hot, the sauce and sides are made. The tuna is dry and seasoned. Place the tuna in the pan and sear each side quickly. All done — that was easy.

I think you will find this combination of flavors to be wonderful and a lot better than that awful canned tuna. Unless, of course, you have four legs and whiskers, in which case have your owner fetch the can opener.

Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more information, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994.

Tuna with fennel

4 6-ounce fresh tuna steaks

2 softball-sized fennel bulbs

1 14-ounce can mandarin oranges, drained

1/2 cup sliced red onion

2/3 cup heavy cream

1 tsp fresh chopped garlic

3 tbsp orange juice

1/2 tsp honey

Salt and pepper to taste

Dry the tuna steaks and season with salt and pepper. Wedge the fennel bulbs, season with salt and pepper, and grill both sides until tender. In a mixing bowl, toss the fennel, oranges and onions together; set aside. In a thick-bottom sauce pan, heat the cream to a simmer. Add the garlic, orange juice and honey. Reduce to sauce consistency and keep warm. Heat a sauté pan and sear tuna steaks on both sides to desired doneness (about one minute per side for medium rare). Place tuna on a cutting board to rest. Plate fennel mixture in the center of plates. Slice tuna against the grain and place it on the fennel. Finish the dish with a drizzle of sauce. Serves 4.

— Recipe provided by Chef Tim Spain, ChefTimSpain.com

Chef Tim Spain is a Florida native and has years of experience cooking professionally, both in restaurants and in private settings. He offers private catering and personal culinary classes. For more information, visit ChefTimSpain.com or call 406-580-1994. 


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