It wasn't so very long ago that most Americans thought tuna only came from a can, and that if they encountered rare tuna in a restaurant they'd sent it back to be cooked some more. What a difference a decade or so makes.
Fresh tuna is now found on nearly every menu, grilled, pan-fried, poached, chopped into burgers or tartare - even transformed into upscale versions of good old tuna salad. For home cooks, though, fresh tuna can be a bit intimidating. It's pretty pricey, and without careful monitoring it can pass quickly from just right to overcooked.
Here are shopping and cooking tips if you'd like to prepare tuna at home:
¢ Like any fish, tuna should smell fresh, look translucent and be moist without being slimy, wet or sticky. Look for tuna steaks with a deep, beefy, red color. Any brown color indicates the fish is past its prime.
¢ If you like your fish medium or well-done, choose a thinner cut; for rare, pick a thicker cut.
¢ The best, and typically most expensive, tuna is center cut. Frozen tuna steaks are widely available and acceptable.
¢ You will probably find yellowfin or ahi tuna, big-eye or albacore. I prefer yellowfin for its sweet flavor and firm yet tender texture.
¢ If possible, cook the fish the day you purchase it. If you can't, fill a colander with ice cubes, set it in a bowl, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and lay the tuna on top. Cover with another piece of plastic and place in the coldest part of your refrigerator. Replenish the ice as needed and use within a day.
¢ Because tuna is not fatty, keeping its center medium-rare is important or the end result is an extremely dry piece of fish.
¢ An easy and delicious way to prepare tuna is to simply sear both sides. Tuna is also ideal for grilling - about 2 minutes on each side for a charred exterior and rare center.