Almost every day, guests in my restaurants tell me they’re following the paleo diet, a way of eating based on the belief that the way our bodies digest the foods we eat has evolved very little in the past couple of million years. So, the best way to maintain optimum health and weight, paleo fans say, is to eat whatever cavemen could hunt, catch or gather, concentrating on meats, poultry, seafood, fresh vegetables and fruit, eggs, nuts and seeds, along with healthy fats like olive, walnut, avocado and coconut oils.
While I can see some genuine benefits in those rules, I myself aim to eat a more balanced, well-rounded diet. But I also respect my guests and give them the best possible versions of foods they request. We serve paleo eaters a lot of fire-grilled, grass-fed steaks, fresh salads and simply cooked farmers’ market vegetables.
Many people today, whether they’ve gone paleo or not, wonder if they’re maybe eating a little too much red meat, and ask for alternatives. That’s when I suggest they try fresh tuna.
To me, a good sushi-grade ahi tuna steak is the closest thing you can eat from the sea that tastes like a great piece of beef. Deep rosy red in color, firm in texture, and richly robust in flavor, fresh tuna is definitely the fish you want to eat if you’re trying to take a break from meat. Unlike red meat, it also provides heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (though it isn’t as high in them as fattier fish like salmon).
To enjoy ahi at its best, I cook it no more than medium rare, leaving a definite layer of deep red at its center. That ensures the relatively lean fish doesn’t dry out, yielding the best possible taste and texture. I prepare it simply, too, seasoning it with a sprinkling of salt and a layer of crushed black peppercorns like you’d find on a classic beefsteak cooked in the French au poivre (with pepper) style before quickly searing it over high heat.
Of course, I also like to add a finishing touch in the form of a sauce, first deglazing the pan with a little port wine and cognac (the high heat evaporates most of the alcohol) and then whisking in some butter — just half a tablespoon per serving. While those ingredients aren’t strictly paleo, they fall under the small indulgences all but the most inflexible paleo plans allow.
Of course, if you aren’t following a paleo diet but are simply trying to cut down on how much red meat you eat and find healthy alternatives, then this recipe may also be just what you’re looking for too.
SEARED TUNA STEAK AU POIVRE
1/4 cup (60 mL) black peppercorns
4 sushi-grade ahi tuna steaks, about 6 ounces (185 g) each
1/3 cup (85 mL) port
1/4 cup (60 mL) cognac
3/4 cup (185 mL) good-quality low-sodium chicken stock or broth, or vegetable stock or broth, briskly simmered until reduced to about 1/2 cup (125 mL)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 3 or 4 pieces
2 teaspoons bottled green peppercorns, drained
Put the peppercorns in a small sealable food storage bag. Seal the bag, squeezing out any air. Place the bag flat on a work surface. With a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy skillet, press down on the peppercorns to crack them into coarse pieces.
Season the tuna steaks lightly on both sides with salt. Pour the cracked peppercorns onto a large plate or a sheet of wax paper and press each steak into the pepper, turning to coat both sides evenly.
In a small saucepan, combine the port and cognac. Place the pan over medium-high heat and simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces to only about 2 tablespoons. Pour in the reduced stock or broth and continue simmering until the mixture thickens to a consistency thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
Remove the pan from the heat and briskly whisk the butter a piece at a time into the reduced liquid. Adjust the seasoning to taste with a little more salt, if needed. Cover the pan and keep warm.
Heat a nonstick skillet large enough to hold the 4 tuna steaks in a single layer over high heat. Add the tuna to the hot skillet and sear on both sides until rare to medium-rare, 45 seconds to 1 minute.
To serve, cut each tuna steak crosswise into slices 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick. Spoon the sauce in the center of four warmed serving plates and arrange the tuna slices on top, overlapping them slightly. Garnish with green peppercorns. Serve immediately.