with Wasabi Ice Cream
Coming up with a creative menu for our annual Bastille Day celebration is always fun, albeit challenging. This year, along with classic dishes for hors d’oeuvres and for the main course, we decided to change things up a bit by having Tuna Tartare for the appetizer. You might think that we’re making a cultural faux pas by serving a dish marinated in the Asian flavors of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil and rice wine but the French have been fascinated with Asian cultures for hundreds of years.
Japonism (“Japonisme” in French) is the term used to refer to the Japanese influence on European art, especially impressionism. We see strong reference to Japonism in Claude Monet’s gardens at Giverny, in Vincent Van Gogh’s colorful palettes mimicking Japanese woodblock prints and in Edgar Degas’ prints focusing on women and their daily routines with vertical, diagonal and horizontal barriers segmenting the scenes. The Asian influence extended as well to Manet, Renoir, Pissarro, Gaugin and Toulouse-Lautrec.
It’s with this crossroads of culture and desire to serve a cool dish on a hot summer evening that I’m offering you my recipe for tuna tartare. First and foremost, it’s imperative that you buy fresh, sushi-grade tuna on the day you plan to serve the dish. My dependable resource for sushi-grade tuna is Guido’s in Great Barrington which also has a great selection of Asian food and condiments – a one-stop shop for all the ingredients.
For a light lunch or appetizer, you only need about 2 to 3 ounces of sushi-grade tuna per person. To make cubing the raw tuna easier, place it in the freezer a bit to harden before slicing. I use a 2 ½ inch round cookie cutter to stack the tartare in a tower shape. To make it even more special, you can line the cookie cutter with some strips of smoked salmon (nova lox) to hold the tartare together and make for a beautiful presentation.
For this year’s celebration, I decided to surprise our guests with a little wasabi ice cream on the side. The flavor punch of cold ice cream combined with the hot spice of wasabi is a great counterpoint to the smooth Asian flavors of the tartare. Make the wasabi ice cream ahead of time to give it a chance to reharden before serving.
TUNA TARTARE with WASABI ICE CREAM (Serves 4)
Special equipment: 2 ½ inch diameter cookie cutter
For the wasabi ice cream:
1 cup non-dairy vanilla ice cream made with coconut milk
2 to 3 teaspoons wasabi paste
For the dressing:
3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons mirin (seasoned rice wine)
1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
For the plating:
1 ripe avocado
Juice of half a lime
French breakfast radish (optional)
Serve with crackers or toasted French bread slices
For the tuna:
1 cup diced cucumbers
¾ cup diced red onion
12 ounces sushi-grade tuna, diced
½ teaspoon fresh hot pepper (e.g. jalapeño) finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh herbs, minced (e.g. dill, parsley, chives)
Salt & pepper
Strips of thinly sliced smoked salmon for lining the cookie cutter (optional)
Soften 1 cup of vanilla ice cream made with coconut milk. Stir in 2 to 3 teaspoons of wasabi paste. The wasabi flavor will intensify as the ice cream resets. Place in the freezer to harden.
For the dressing, combine all ingredients in a covered jar and shake well to combine. Set aside.
Arrange your condiments for the plating so you have everything ready when it’s time to serve. With a fork, mash the ripe avocado in a small bowl and squeeze in the juice of half a lime. This will help ensure that the avocado doesn’t turn brown. Top with plastic wrap pressed against the avocado until ready to plate.
In a medium bowl, gently mix the diced cucumbers, red onion, tuna, hot pepper and fresh herbs. Add a little salt and pepper.
Shake the dressing to make sure all the ingredients are emulsified then pour it on the tuna. Stir to combine. Set the tuna in the refrigerator for five minutes to let the flavors meld.
When ready to serve, place about 2 tablespoons of the avocado in the center of a salad plate and spread to make a thin circle. This will serve as the base for the tartare.
If you are using smoked salmon, rub a little olive oil on the inside of the cutter to hold thin strips of the smoked salmon and make release of the tartare easier to plate.
Center the salmon-lined cookie cutter on your salad plate. Remove your tartare from the refrigerator and gently remix. Use a slotted spoon to scoop out the tartare and fill the cookie ring. You want to let the extra Asian marinade drain from the tartare or it might drain out around the plate, making the presentation less attractive.
Let the cookie cutter stay intact as you sprinkle chopped chives and sesame seeds over the tartare. Carefully remove the cookie cutter ring and continue plating the three other dishes.
Finish the plating with a small French breakfast radish and perhaps some microgreens scattered over the tartare. Sometimes I also like to add a cracker on top of the tartare. Just before serving, place a small scoop of wasabi ice cream on the side.
Serve with crackers or some sliced toasted French bread.