Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tuna and a fresh, spicy green sauce

My last job back in Greece was that of an executive at a commercial company where I worked 12-hour days and sometimes weekends also. By the time I got home, all I wanted to do was grab something to eat and go to bed. Cooking during that period of my life was limited to reheating, frying, using the microwave and boiling. Exciting huh?

What I usually cooked- and I use the word loosely- after work was French fries, ready-made flavored rice that I only had to add water to and let it boil, the occasional spaghetti with ready-made (again) sauce, a simple sandwich or a boring salad. It was a nightmare for my health and my figure. When I finally got the sense to quit that job, I managed to quit that awful diet too.

Nowadays, a healthy diet is extremely important to me. Without excluding desserts or pan-fried food, I try to retain a healthy dietary balance between legumes and vegetables, meat and fish, carbohydrates and dairy products, grains and fruit. I can't say that I don't ever get distracted by fancy, extravagant, self-indulgent food and I do cook it sometimes but, for the most part, my choices are the healthier ones.

I favor olive oil rather than butter, which is after all the norm in Greek nutrition, I prefer lean cuts of meat to fatty ones, drink low-fat milk, avoid condiments such as mayonnaise and I have to say that, when I finally decided to incorporate fish into my diet on a regular basis, it was a really wise decision on my part.

I always loved the taste of tuna but I invariably ate it from a can. In Greece, only small tunas are available, those that are the size of mackerel which is pretty small, nothing like the tuna steaks I discovered here in Holland. What a revelation that was. Ever since, I buy them whenever I have the chance- mind you they are pricey here- and they always constitute a glorious meal. Tuna is an oily fish, rich in vitamin D and extremely healthy and pairing it with this spicy chimichurri sauce and a salad of green leaves makes for an inspiring combination.

Grilled tuna steaks have an incredible taste. S. says it's like eating meat but without the guilt and he's right. Tuna has such a rich flavor with an amazingly firm and meaty texture that holds spectacularly well on the grill and can be accompanied by the spiciest of sauces without its savor getting lost. Enters the chimichurri sauce.

Chimichurri sauce is a green sauce originating from Argentina, though others claim it comes from Uruguay or even from the Dominican Republic. No matter where it comes from, it is marvelously delicious. It contains herbs, mainly parsley, lots of garlic, olive oil, vinegar and spices. There are many versions of this sauce and there is even a red one, containing red bell peppers or tomatoes.

Chimichurri sauce is spicy and vibrant and is traditionally used as either a marinade or an accompaniment to grilled meats. It's greatly versatile with its use not only contained to meat but also to grilled fish, vegetables or poultry. You can use this sauce to coat burger patties or shrimp and it can also be served as an appetizer or a dipping sauce alongside grilled slices of baguette or crusty bread.

The beautiful, red-colored tuna, like all fish, if cooked too long tends to lose its flavor so grilling the tuna only for a couple of minutes ensures the retention of its moisture, while avoiding becoming tough and dry. The succulent, oily meat of the tuna combines perfectly with the hot and herbal flavor of the chimichurri sauce. Serve it with a side of assorted small, young salad leaves including rocket, tossed with some of the fresh and zingy chimichurri sauce and you'll have one exceptionally flavorful, health conscious and original dish. Pair it with a glass of Sauvignon blanc and you'll be all set to enjoy an excellent meal.

Grilled Tuna Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce and Mixed Greens
Heavily adapted from Eric Ripert

In case you have trouble finding tuna steaks, which I'm sure is true if you're living in Greece, you can use swordfish instead. Swordfish is a first-rate substitute for tuna and it's equally flavorsome.

You can use a grill or griddle to cook the fish but you can also use a regular skillet (preferably heavy-bottomed)*. The directions for cooking the tuna are the same as when you cook it on the grill.

My version of chimichurri sauce is rather hot. I add chili powder as well as cayenne pepper that give the green chimichurri sauce a reddish hue.
So beware; if you don't enjoy hot sauces you might want to use half of the amount of chili powder and cayenne pepper.

Yield: 4 servings / 1 cup chimichurri sauce

1/2 cup olive oil plus a couple of Tbsp for oiling the grill and the tuna steaks
1/2 cup packed flat-leaf parsley (stems and leaves)
2 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup onion or one 1/2 medium-sized onion, chopped
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper powder
Freshly ground black pepper
4 fresh tuna steaks**, 170-180 g each
200 g mixed greens

Special equipment: a grill, a small food processor or blender


Make the chimichurri sauce
Put the chopped parsley, oregano leaves, red wine vinegar, garlic, chopped onion, cayenne and chili powder in the food processor or blender and process until you have an almost smooth paste. Add the olive oil little by little and, using on/off turns, process until incorporated. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Pour sauce into a bowl and let stand for at least 20 minutes although it's better to let it stand for 2 whole hours.

You can prepare this sauce one day ahead and keep it in the refrigerator. The more time the flavors have to blend the better the sauce gets.
Take it out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature before serving.

The chimichurri sauce can be kept in the refrigerator for 5 days, in an airtight container.

Grill the tuna
Take the tuna steaks out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before you grill them in order to allow them to come to room temperature***.
Rub a little olive oil on both sides of the steaks and season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Oil your grill or griddle and heat over high heat. Once it gets very hot (in order to check, you can pour a few drops of water on the grill and if they sizzle it is ready) add the tuna steaks and cook until browned on the outside and cooked to your preference on the inside.

Cook for:
30 - 40 seconds on each side for rare
1 - 1 1/2 minutes on one side and 1 minute on the other for medium-rare (this is the best option for me)
2 1/2 - 3 minutes on one side and 2 - 2 1/2 minutes on the other for well done

Note: These cooking times apply to tuna steaks of about 180 g with a 2-cm thickness. The cooking time has to be adjusted depending on the thickness and weight of your tuna steaks.

You will notice how the tuna changes color as you cook it. From deep red it will turn to almost white. You can check between the flakes of the tuna to see if the inside is cooked to your preference.
Keep in mind that the fish will continue to cook even after you have taken it off the grill.

Make the salad
Wash the salad leaves under running water, strain them in a colander, put them in a large bowl and toss them with 3-4 Tbsp of the chimichurri sauce.

Place tuna steaks on individual plates, top with 1-2 Tbsp of chimichurri sauce, mound salad on the plates next to the tuna and serve. Place the bowl with the remaining chimichurri sauce on the table for extra helpings.
Alternatively you can serve the tuna steaks without the chimichurri on top, just serve the sauce on the side.

*If you don't have a grill or griddle and want to cook the tuna in a skillet, you need to pour into it 2 Tbsp of olive oil and heat over high heat. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the tuna steaks and cook according to the above instructions.

**It is best that you eat fresh tuna within 24 hours of purchase as it has a short shelf-life

***By allowing the fish to come to room temperature there's a less harsh change in temperatures when you place it on the grill thus less contraction and a more tender, juicier outcome. Plus it is easier to sear and it cooks more evenly.


  1. πολύ ωραίο, δελεαστικότατο, γεια στα χέρια σου

  2. Great recipe Magda. I just posted a fish recipe using galeos, which would also be a great substitute for your dish. Although I have been wanting to make chimichurri sauce for years now, I have not yet made it although I do make my own version, similar to pesto adding nuts and without the cayenne pepper.

  3. It looks so good. The green sauce is so seducing!

  4. I love tuna but have only cooked it as such a couple of times at home. This dish looks wonderful Magda ... the chimichurri sauce is a great addition to the simply-prepared tuna steaks.

  5. I have not tried chimichurri sauce but it looks similar to a kind of spicy Thai green chili sauce :O

  6. That post reminded me of a tuna steak my brother made for us when he lived in London; he cooked it for 15 seconds which was not enough for my taste, but nevertheless I do agree that with that sauce it is a perfect dish! Have only had chimichurri sauce out of a can I am sure it tastes a lot better fresh!

  7. Hello Magda!
    Just discovered you as well! What a lovely blog you have!
    I love the idea of tuna steak with chimichurri, great combination!
    We'll be in touch!

  8. Hi Magda! I must confess that my english is not so good, but i'll do my best! jaa. I wanna thank you for your comment on my Blog, i think that is amazing being connected in spite of the distance! As you, i discovered the photography taking my own pictures.. and i love sharing them with all of you..
    Very tempting dishies!!! you must be a very good cooker!

    Hoping you visit me soon..

  9. This sauce looks fantastic and your tuna is so perfect! Those beautiful grill marks and still pink through the middle. Yum!

  10. Wow, that tuna looks absolutely perfect! If I lived in Greece, I have a feeling I'd eat a block of feta cheese every single day.


  11. this is indeed a delicious healthy recipe with taste. I agree, we have to keep in mind that we are what we eat and we have to be careful not to eat too much fat

  12. Bravo for eating healthier! Such a great recipe... I've heard of chimichuri before but only used with steak - using it over fish sounds delicious.

  13. This looks really good, I can almost taste it just by looking at it. Isn't it amazing how healthier doesn't have to mean less flavor.

  14. Chimichurri is such a delicious condiment! I love how your brightened up the tuna with it. So delicious and healthy.

  15. Great tips for proper tuna grilling, and the chimichurri sauce is a natural for a tuna steak----good thinking!! I like the extra punch of heat you added to your recipe. beautiful photographs, too.

  16. Before I visited your blog, I just prepared a seared tuna and avocado on rice for tonight's dinner then I see your beautiful tuna with lovely grill marks. Love your pics too.

  17. i love chimichurri sauce, but have never tried it on tune..great idea..


  18. Tuna is so good. We hardly ever buy it fresh because it can be rather expensive. Balance is good. We strive for the same, so that when we do use that touch of cream or nub of butter we don't really feel the guilt.

  19. Oh, I love chimichurri sauce. I never thought about eating it on fish, though. That is a fabulous idea!

    My diet was rubbish back in the States too. It took moving to England and the desperation of missing our old restaurant favourites to get me to start cooking real food again. Now we're pretty picky about the eating out we do. LOL!

  20. Thank you all for your comments :)

  21. Very nice pictures, interesting recipe and a good post, as usually. You know, I had an episode of working for a corporation and I remember it as a nightmare (because of lack of time for cooking). I had junk food - pseudo pizzas, pseudo Chinese food and toasts with cheese in the evening, as I was to tired to cook anything :)