Tuesday, July 17, 2018
Cooking

Capture Asian umami flavors with tuna tacos

Tacos are always on my mind. I cook them frequently, I visit the local taquerias for fun and I seek out tacos whenever I travel. Interesting fillings such as duck, vegetables and fish, rather than ground beef, intrigue. Same for wrappers: Homemade, supple wraps capture my attention.

Fish tacos sporting Asian umami flavors prove irresistible. Recently, a tuna version at La Grande Orange Cafe in Pasadena, Calif., seasoned with a sesame wasabi cream and shredded daikon, rocked my taco world. A photograph and a couple of notes locked the idea in my mental cookbook.

At home, I cook with the best tuna I can afford to buy from a store that provides information about its fish sources. The individually wrapped and frozen wild-caught ahi yellowfin tuna fillets, sold in 2-pound bags at Whole Foods and Amazon, taste great and prove reasonably priced. The recipe below uses about 1 pound of tuna, so I leave the remaining pieces frozen solid for later.

When wild-caught salmon, U.S. mahi mahi or swordfish are on special, I substitute them for the tuna. If you're in the mood for beef tacos, try this recipe with two portions of lean, tender steak, such as filet mignon. As with the fish, you'll want to sear the steak over high heat for an exterior crust with a rare center. Use a very sharp knife to slice the steak paper thin.

A brief marinade in soy and sweet mirin wine seasons the fish (or beef) perfectly. A schmear of wasabi-and-sesame-spiked mayonnaise lets your taste buds know these tacos are different. Ditto for the crunch of finely shredded daikon. As for the salsa, a touch of lemon and lemon zest, along with rich avocado, turns ordinary cherry tomatoes into a year-round treat.

For both the fish marinade and the sesame wasabi cream, prepared wasabi from a tube makes life easy. It's available at the sushi counter of most large supermarkets. Wasabi paste usually contains some oil and salt. If using powdered wasabi (found in the Asian section), mix it with water to a paste consistency; it's more pungent than paste, so start with less than the recipes indicate.

The sesame wasabi cream also calls for tahini — toasted sesame seeds pureed with salt. Look for tahini (sesame seed paste) in Middle Eastern stores or the peanut butter sections of large supermarkets. It's great to have on hand; try it stirred into a vinaigrette for a creamy dressing with no cream added, or puree it with chickpeas for delicious homemade hummus.

True, satisfying tacos feature inventive fillings, but the wrapper matters too. In Chicago, the local tortillerias deliver fresh tortillas daily; they taste best used the same day. Flour tortillas keep a bit longer and suit these tacos beautifully. Be vigilant when you shop, and select those made without preservatives. I like the organic corn and wheat tortillas from La Tortilla Factory; they're sold in the refrigerated case.

My favorite wrapper for the taco recipes here turns out to be naan bread sold in the bread aisle or the freezer case. Use one 4-ounce bread per serving. Whether you choose tortillas or naan, be sure to heat the wrappers over a gas flame, grill or in a heated cast iron skillet to soften, warm and lightly toast before filling.

I like to serve a quick, richly flavored corn soup, made from frozen sweet corn and canned coconut milk, alongside fish tacos. Be sure to use coconut milk intended for culinary purposes, such as the cartons by SO Delicious or tinned coconut milk for Thai cooking. I also like Native Forests organic coconut cream; simply dilute the 5.4-ounce can with 1 cup water. The soup makes a light entree with the addition of grilled shrimp and grilled green onions or zucchini.

Chilled Sapporo or Kirin beer pairs perfectly with these tacos.

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