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Seared Ahi Tuna with Warm White Bean Salad

Seared Ahi Tuna with Warm White Bean Salad
Many San Francisco Bay Area diners first encounter ahi tuna in sushi bars, then discover that it is just as delicious cooked as raw. Some cooks like to sear it briefly so it is still rare in the center; others prefer it more fully cooked. Be wary of cooking this fish too long, or it will be dry. You can cook the beans a day ahead, refrigerate them in their cooking liquid, then reheat them and make the salad just before cooking the tuna. In Italy, a salad of canned tuna and white beans, served at room temperature, is a popular antipasto. Similarly, you can cool the tuna in this recipe after searing it, then flake it into the prepared beans.

Serve with a dry rosé.

Ingredients:

For cooking the beans:

  • 1 cup dried cannellini beans
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 4 or 5 chunks
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 4 or 5 chunks
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 garlic clove, lightly smashed
  • Fine sea salt, to taste

For the bean salad:

  • 1 large tomato, cored, peeled, seeded
      and diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, minced
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh
      flat-leaf parsley
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. red wine vinegar, or to taste
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 4 ahi tuna steaks, each about 6 oz.
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

To cook the beans, pick them over, discarding any misshapen beans and grit. Rinse well, place in a bowl and add cold water to cover generously. Let soak overnight.

Drain the beans, rinse well and place them in a saucepan. Add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and water to cover by 1 inch. Place over medium-low heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Cover and adjust the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook until the beans are tender, about 45 minutes or more, depending on their age. Remove from the heat, season with salt and let cool in the liquid until just warm. Remove and discard the carrot, celery, onion and garlic.

To make the bean salad, drain the warm beans, reserving the liquid for soup, if desired. Put the beans in a bowl and add the tomato, red onion, garlic, basil, parsley, olive oil and vinegar. Stir gently, then season with salt and pepper.

To prepare the tuna, using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, finely grind the fennel seeds. Rub the tuna steaks on both sides with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Season on both sides with salt, pepper and fennel seeds.

Choose a heavy fry pan large enough to hold all the tuna steaks in a single layer without touching, or use 2 smaller fry pans. Place over high heat until hot, then add the remaining 1 Tbs. olive oil and swirl to coat the bottom. When the oil is hot, add the tuna steaks, reduce the heat to medium, and cook until nicely colored on the bottom and cooked about halfway through, 1 minute or more, depending on thickness. Turn and cook until the steaks are moist and pink, not red, in the center, about 1 minute more.

Divide the tuna among warmed individual plates. Surround with the warm bean salad, dividing it evenly. Serve immediately.
Serves 4.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Foods of the World Series, San Francisco, by Janet Fletcher (Oxmoor House, 2004).