Published May 1, 2010.
Ideally, grilled tuna should combine a hot, smoky, charred exterior with a cool, rare, sashimi-like center. So how do you make fish that’s both very hot and very cool?
Most grilled tuna steaks are either rare in the center with no char or have a great sear enveloping a dry, mealy interior.
We wanted a thick layer of hot, grilled meat with an intense smoky char wrapped around a cool, delicately flavored, tender, and moist center that paired up with nearly any flavoring we could dream up.
We began by selecting tuna steaks that were thick enough to stay on the grill long enough to achieve a decent crust without overcooking. Our initial test of cooking methods proved that using direct heat with a hot fire, and getting the tuna on and off the grill as quickly as possible, was the best approach.
We started by covering the grill with aluminum foil while it preheated. For the charred flavor we were after, we turned to an ingredient that can enhance browning: oil. Oil helps to distribute heat evenly over the surface of the fish, including those areas not actually touching the grill grate, and it adds a little fat to lean tuna, which keeps the exterior from getting too dry and stringy.
But oil alone didn’t infuse our fish with grill flavor. We discovered that to moisten the tuna’s flesh, the oil needs to penetrate the meat’s tiny muscle fibers. But tuna is full of water, and oil and water don’t mix, so to get the oil to coat these fibers, we needed it to be in a state where it wouldn’t repel water, such as a vinaigrette. To test this theory, we brushed a simple vinaigrette onto the fish before grilling. The dressing (and its oil) clung to the fish, moistening its exterior and solving the problem of dry, stringy flesh. It also reduced fishy odor and boosted grill flavor.
We often turn to sugar to improve browning. But before table sugar can brown, it has to break down into simple sugars, a process long enough that it would also mean overcooking our fish. We scoured our cabinets and found a suitable alternative: honey. It’s made primarily of simple sugars, so it’s already primed for browning. Plus it delivered the same results as sugar, but faster.list of recipes