September 14th, 2011

Honoring Requests: Seared Ahi Tuna, Lemon-Tarragon Aioli


Two requests intersect, and complement in today’s post: a lush sauce and a tuna recipe. The first concerns a good customer, and the second, a good cat.

Nearly every Friday, you’ll find me in the kitchen of the Culinary Arts Center at Second Harvest Food Bank. There, we create a wonderful buffet lunch, open to the public. Called First Harvest Cafe, its proceeds go to the support of the food bank, in its varied, but pointed missions to end hunger. We create a different menu for each Friday: One week might be Santa Fe style fajitas and fixin’s, another might explore the tastes of the Mediterranean Rim.

One of our best customers, Don, is a man who lives for good food. He has dined with us nearly every Friday since we started First Harvest Cafe. (August 2005) Talk about loyalty!

A recent Provencal menu featured Salad Nicoise, a beautiful late summer spread with green beans, new potatoes, caramelized sweet red peppers and onions, olives, hard-cooked eggs, and the like. To accompany, I made two dressings: a whipped balsamic vinaigrette and a silken aioli, laced with tarragon and lemony tang.


At the end of our French picnic lunch, Don circled by the kitchen to wish us a happy weekend.

“I could eat a bowl of that sauce,” he said. “If the recipe is not already on your blog, it needs to be.”

Comin’ right up, Don.


1 Lemon–for juice and zest
1 Garlic clove
2 heaping Tablespoon fresh Tarragon leaves
1 farm fresh Egg
1/2 t. sea salt
1/4 t. black pepper
3/4 c. Olive Oil

In a food processor fitted with a swivel blade, process the garlic, lemon juice, zest, and egg together until smooth. Pulse in the tarragon leaves, salt and black pepper. Then, Slowly-steadily drip-pour in the olive oil while processing. The mixture will emulsify into a luscious thick-and-creamy sauce.

Makes about one cup. Keeps for 2-3 days, refrigerated.


I cooked up this simple, but elegant tuna dish, at the request of my daughter. Today is her birthday, and if we were together, we’d dine on these delectables. It’s not that seared ahi tuna is her favorite. Well-loved, for sure, but not a fervent desire. Her request sprung from a different place: the desire to honor our sweet old cat, Cass, who recently exited this physical plane, on to other unseen adventures.

Cass was the fervent tuna lover.

She came to our household in 1992, via our garage, where, as a very young mother, she chose to have her litter. Her name then was Christine. Neglected by her owners, our neighbors two doors down, she was starving, struggling to care for her young. It was a heartbreaking discovery.

At the time, a pair of parakeets were our pets. I had no plans to become a cat owner.

“We’re bird people,” I remember telling my daughter.

No matter. Often, a cat will choose you.

We renamed her Mama Cass, found homes for her kittens, restored her to good health, and ultimately, found a home for the pair of parakeets.

In short, we became cat people.

Cass was a part of our family for almost twenty years. For her first nine years, she was the solo cat. Then came the boys, Mo and Willis, rascals whom she barely tolerated for the following nine years. The boys were snatched from us in untimely ways: an incurable illness, a pack of dogs.

But Mama Cass endured, remarkably healthy, and fairly spry for a feline who brushed up on the age of 97, in human years. No doubt, that dollop of canned tuna I put on top of her dry food every meal was a contributing factor!

There were hints of her impending translation–a loss in appetite, a lengthening in sleeptime. Her old body had worked well for so long, and it was done. She died peacefully, in the comfort of her home, stretched out on a blanket on the couch, surrounded by her loving human family–me and Bill. As uncomfortable as it was watching her surrender to that inevitability, it was a gift to see her make that passage with nobility and grace.

It’s felt empty in our home since her passing. The sun lowers, and I think, oh, it’s time to feed her. Or, if I’ve been out, as soon as I open the front door, I make a move to check on her whereabouts. The brain, so grooved with habit, has to be reminded, and relearn.


SEARED AHI TUNA, served over mixed lettuces, sliced grapefruit, and avocado, topped with Lemon-Tarragon Aioli

Ahi Tuna Steaks, about 1″ thick
Good Olive Oil
Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper

helpful: ridged cast-iron grillpan

Rinse tuna steaks and pat dry. Rub with olive oil, liberally sprinkle with salt and black pepper.

Heat skillet. Sear steaks, about 2 minutes a side. Allow the meat to rest about 10 minutes before slicing.

Arrange slices over a bed of greens, avocado and grapefruit slices. Top with aioli and serve.


Posted in Fish/Seafood, Gluten Free, Recipes, Sauces

26 Responses to “Honoring Requests: Seared Ahi Tuna, Lemon-Tarragon Aioli”
  1. Fluffy Says:

    a sweet honor to our tuna lover

    Cass enjoy the next life

  2. Maggie Says:

    Nancy, the food looks good, but it’s your heartfelt telling us about Cass that touches me today. Why I love your blog, because you do write from the heart. Much love in adjusting to your loss.

  3., Teresa Blackburn Says:

    Nancy, I love your “ode to Cass”, the ever present, much loved feline who is no doubt now dining out every day on tuna.
    I also love the ode to tuna that this lovely recipe represents. Beautiful presentation. Salut!

  4. Cathy Says:

    Nancy, I was very sorry to read about Cass’s death. I had been thinking about her and hoping to see her again. It is hard to lose a pet; my thoughts are with you and Bill.

    On a happier note, the tuna, and the salad it is on, look delicious!

  5. rhonda Says:

    Beautiful food, beautiful sentiments. How often does one tear up reading a food blog? (and, without the hint of chilies)
    Thanks for sharing. So sorry for your loss, what a wonderful memorial.

  6. Angie@Angiesrecipes Says:

    Nancy, I am really very sorry to hear about your loss. My thoughts are with you and your family.

    The seared tuna looks so GOOD!
    Gotta ’steal’ your aioli sauce recipe.

  7. Wendy Says:

    We all loved Cass—although I think I might have lost some favor in her eyes the time I dared to sit in her spot on the sofa next to Bill. Her passing was quiet, comfortable, and peaceful, “on the sofa next to Bill.”

  8. Wendy Says:

    We all loved Cass—although I am afraid I fell a bit in favor the time I dared to sit in her spot on the sofa next to Bill. Her death was quiet, comfortable, and peaceful, “on the sofa next to Bill.”

  9. Patsy Vaughan Says:

    What a gift that Cass could die in the presence of those who loved her – peacefully and without pain. I know what a hole in your heart the loss of a pet can make – but to have had so many years together is really special!

    Happy Birthday to Madelaine!

  10. Nic@diningwithastud Says:

    A beautiful tribute to your Cass. It looks and sounds delicious!

  11. Beth Says:

    I’m sorry to hear about Cass. What a loss for you, but what a sweet way to honor her.
    How terrific that you help out in the food bank every week! That’s real dedication.

  12. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    Here’s to Cass. She lived a long and happy life filled with love and tuna.

  13. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    How amazing that you do this every Friday. I only wish I had time to do something like that. How fulfilling and incredible nice. The tuna and sauce look AMAZING! Simply amazing and makes me wish I were coming to eat there every friday too!

  14. Magda Says:

    I’m so sorry about Cass. We had a dog and several cats growing up and I know how it feels to lose a pet :(

    Nancy you have outdone yourself with these dishes. This is the kind of food I LOVE.
    That aioli must taste great with the tarragon, and the seared tuna… perfection.

  15. Madeleine Says:

    Thank you, Momma.

  16. Tammy Says:

    Lovely tribute to Cass and I’m intrigued by this kitchen where you prepare the lunch. It’s true that cats choose you and I have also made the mistake of trying to choose a cat.

  17. Barbara Says:

    Really like the idea of the First Harvest Cafe Nancy. A great way to help the cause of hunger. Congrats on the long-standing success! And thanks to Don, we now have a super recipe.

    Sorry to hear about Mama Cass (love that name from the musical 70’s); it’s always hard to lose a family pet after all those years.

  18. Stephen Says:

    I had never owned a cat until my wife bought them into the family. Your story brings back memories and your recipes are to be tried.

  19. gg Says:

    Nancy, your stories always pull me in close to my heart-center–and your recipes inspire me to transform that love from within to those around me. As usual, thank you.
    GG Loyd

  20. FOODESSA Says:

    Twenty years of love and tender care is way more than so many cats get. It also seems that she truly brought much joy in your lives…and that is the real blessing.
    Nancy, I feel incredibly for you and your family…losing a cherished member of the family is never easy. I know this sad fact all too well.

    Back to your appetizing recipe…how appropriately perfect these ingredients are to this dish. Buon appetito for sure.

    Have a pleasant week,

  21. Faith Says:

    I’m so sorry for your loss…it truly is like losing a member of the family.

    A huge thank-you to Don for requesting the aioli…it looks like the perfect flavorful addition to the tuna.

    And last but not least, a very happy (belated) birthday to your daughter!

  22. kankana Says:

    So sorry to hear about your cat :(

    The recipe looks delicious and the sauce is lovely. This is a great post with memories !

  23. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Dear Friends,
    Many many thanks for all your kind words. I appreciate them so much!

  24. Sarah Says:

    This post has made me so hungry! It looks absolutely amazing. Thanks for sharing! I plan on following to see what other delicious dishes you post :o)

  25. betty Says:

    thats very sad to hear but very nice of you to cook up this dish it looks beautiful :)

  26. Good Food Matters » Blog Archive » Cream Cheese Crescents, and an early Christmas present Says:

    [...] of you were so kind when I posted about the passing of our sweet old cat, Cass, just three months ago. Last week, I awoke early to the sound of plaintive crying somewhere [...]

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