Apr 03 2010

An Occasion for Chopsticks

Published by at 5:26 pm under Dinner

Besides a couple of attempts at perfecting one of my favorite dishes, red Thai curry, I have little experience cooking with Asian flavors: As a southern francophile, I’m much more likely to be found in the cheese aisle than shopping for miso. But one choice lunch spot in San Francisco filled me with the inspiration I needed to bring out the chopsticks: a Bay Area chain called Pacific Catch, whose menu centers around grilled seafood, some of the best sweet potato fries I’ve ever tasted, and a true mishmash of Mexican and Japanese flavors.

As a side with its sandwiches, the restaurant serves a truly special sesame slaw. Imagine your standard picnic style cole slaw, with an Asian twist — perfect as a base for a sushi-grade filet of ahi tuna, as my assistant and I recently decided. It’s always intimidating to try to re-create a restaurant dish, but I think we made a valiant effort this time around.

Like its classic American counterpart, this slaw would be a great side at a picnic with some sushi or spring rolls, and it stands alone as a salad course during a Japanese-inspired meal.

Sesame Slaw with Seared Ahi Tuna

Ingredients (serves 2):

1 head butter lettuce, chopped

About 1/2 a small head of cabbage, chopped

1/2 red onion, chopped

1/4 cup of cilantro, plus more for garnish, chopped

3 tbsp. sesame seeds, plus more for garnish, if you like

2 tbsp. mayonnaise

2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar

Dash (about 1/4 tsp.) soy sauce

2 tsp. honey

1/2 tsp. to 1 tsp. wasabi, depending on how spicy you like it

1 tbsp. sesame oil

1 tbsp. grapeseed oil (can substitute olive oil)

3/4 pound ahi tuna

Combine first five ingredients (lettuce through sesame seeds) in a large bowl, and set aside. In another small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, soy sauce, honey and wasabi until well-combined. Pour dressing over lettuce mixture and toss well; set aside.

To make the presentation a bit more interesting, I rolled the edges of the tuna filet in extra sesame seeds before searing it. I also cooked it in sesame oil to give it a bit more flavor, and to better complement the flavors in the slaw.

Pour sesame and grapeseed oils in large skillet on high heat. When pan is hot, add tuna and cook for about 2 minutes. Flip it over to the other side and cook for another 1 minute. Keep an eye on the center of the filet to achieve your ideal level of rareness.

Slice tuna into 1/2-inch strips and serve over slaw.

Oh, and we enjoyed the meal while sipping some sake: Sho Chinku Bai. Yes, it’s made in the US, but my assistant is something of a connoisseur and says it’s one of the better domestic ones on the market.

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