Conversely, sometimes there are not enough machinations and gyrations you can go through to help a truly inferior ingredient. I am frugal, by nature. I like nice things, but my frugal side usually prevails.
However, when it comes to buying fish or beef, my frugality takes a back seat to my desire for quality. And, I am not a natural fish eater. It is not my comfort zone. Overly fishy fish puts me off for months. That is why when I buy fish, I make sure I buy good fish from a reputable fishmonger. When I aim to eat fish raw, this is doubly so. Luckily, I have an exceptional fish shop about a mile from my home. For Dallasites, you can do no better than Rex’s Seafood on Lovers. This, I have known since they opened. What I didn’t know is that they not only have the best and freshest (previously frozen and never frozen) fish in Dallas, but they also prepare stunning catered foods (and they always have a packed lunch service).
I’ll name drop because I think they are cool in the extreme, but we recently were fortunate enough to attend two different parties on two evenings in the home of notable photographer and director Stewart Cohen and his lovely and, well, bad-ass attorney wife Kim. On the night of the first party they served an impressive whole side of smoked salmon and at the second, a giant bathtub of the best tuna tartare I had ever eaten. OK, I’ll be honest, I had never eaten it before…ever. But it was out-of-this-world good. The world is a better place when people share good information…and Kim and Stewart happily shared that they had picked up both of these dishes at Rex’s.
Rex, of Rex’s, is a constant presence behind the counter. When I first went in to purchase tuna and told him I was trying to create a version of his tuna dish, he immediately pointed to a tray of beautiful Yellowfin tuna. He said it was the same fish he used. I prodded around the edges of asking, but did not ask him to disclose his recipe. That tartare recipe, should be kept quiet. There is nice and friendly, and then there is strategic advantage. His is so good, that while it might make the world a better place if he offered it to all comers, I couldn’t even bring myself to ask.
But this recipe is wonderful, too. It is great because the fish is so great. The Yellowfin is “sashimi grade” and “AAA.” Unlike with beef, it is my understanding that the USDA and the FDA do not grade fish or require protocols. In many instances calling something “sushi grade” or “sashimi grade” is nothing more than a marketing convention to make a particular piece of fish seem more attractive. But if you do your homework and if you go to a reputable fishmonger with a track record of happy clientele, it means something. In the case of Yellowfin tuna from Rex’s, “sashimi grade” means that the fish was immediately frozen at the source. Some people have the mistaken impression that frozen means less fresh and this is simply not the case. The end use of the fish has a great deal to do with how it is handled, and in the case of fish that is intended to be eaten raw, the FDA and a whole raft of other safety outfits around the globe highly recommend that the fish be frozen to kill any parasites or bacteria present in the fish. I have previously written about this in the case of salmon that is to be eaten raw and the great article by Jon Rowley. But, be confident, that the fact of “sashimi grade” tuna being previously frozen does not make it inferior, but safe. Sometimes you will want to buy fresh never-frozen fish and sometimes you will want to buy fresh previously-frozen fish. It depends on the circumstances. And, as Jon reiterated to me yesterday, there is good frozen fish and there is bad frozen fish. Again, it depends on where you get it.
As for the A, AA, and AAA rating, I do not know who assigns that value and at what stage of the production it is assigned. But again, to my knowledge, it is not a government issued grade such as in the case of USDA certified beef. And, this is where it pays to have a knowledgeable and reputable fishmonger. When Rex says this has the best (AAA) rating, there is no question but that it is true. I do not know enough about choosing fish at this point to tell you what you need to look for other than the obvious. But, there are tricks to keeping older fish looking fresh so even someone who knows a checklist of things to consider could be confused. So my advice to you is, that if you live in Dallas, go to Rex’s and ask questions and look at the offerings. The people who work there are friendly and suffer fools (like me) gladly. If you do not live here, ask around in your community.
OK OK OK…I’ve gone on enough about that. Tuna Tartare is raw tuna, in this case Yellowfin. In this preparation it is very lightly seasoned, and I chose to serve it on good quality potato chips. The crunch and the salt of the chips are a great counterpoint to the cool fresh fish. This takes 5 minutes from start to finish and is an elegant and delightful dish.
½ pound Yellowfin tuna, raw, and the best you can acquire
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1¼ teaspoon soy sauce
½ teaspoon srirachi (a Thai hot-sauce made of chilies and garlic)
½ teaspoon sesame seeds
One bunch green onions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts
1 heaping teaspoon finely chopped jalapenos, without seeds
Slice the tuna with a very sharp knife into tiny cubes. I kept mine a bit larger than usual simply because I thought the fish was so pretty and didn’t want to abuse it too much. Mix the mayonnaise, soy sauce, srirachi, jalapenos and a little salt and pepper. Pour most of the sauce over the fish and mix it to combine.
Right before you serve the tuna, taste it for flavor and add the remaining sauce, if necessary. Garnish with sliced green onions.
Serve with potato chips or other suitable crackers. This would also be delicious with a little bit of sliced avocado, I think.
Note: The jalapeno that I used here was only slightly more interesting than a bell pepper. Very annoying. But, if you have a smoking hot jalapeno…and yes, I’m saying take a bite of the raw stuff straight, make sure to dice it very finely, and to perhaps use less. This is such a simple preparation that you can really increase or decrease the soy, srirachi, and jalapeno to your liking. Just do it incrementally and carefully so you don’t ruin 14 dollars worth of fish in one fell swoop. This made about 1-½ cups of prepared fish.
Oh, and obviously you can save yourself 15 minutes and just order it from Rex’s.
Oh, oh, and if you are chummy with Rex and you can talk him out of the recipe, I wouldn’t be opposed to knowing about that….if it were public knowledge, of course.
Note: Some people are deathly allergic to sesame seeds, so if you use them, you would be kind to use them visibly.
And one more: Jon Rowley told me today that the training to become a classically trained sushi chef requires a 7 year apprenticeship, a great deal of which involves fish selection and purchasing. So when a sushi chef serves something as sashimi, he is really making a statement about the quality. And my friend Melissa Phillips, a bay area chef and creative (she raises her own BEES…I love that) mentioned that a great way to find out where to get great fish in any city is to belly up to the bar at a good sushi restaurant and find out how that chef sources his fish. The last time I bellied up to a sushi bar was at Little Katana in Dallas and I got to watch a whole octopus be cut up, and then was offered a sample of it. It was fascinating. Great advice. Thank you to Melissa, John and Rex for their help with this post.