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 | 25 Comments »