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Good Cooking

So Sear Me

January 10, 2001|ABBY MANDEL | Mandel is a cookbook author

Cooking fish at home can seem intimidating, but it's much easier than you might think. Take your cue from Paul Kahan, the chef-owner of Blackbird Restaurant in Chicago.

Kahan is a gifted cook who can combine bold, interesting flavors in a way that shows a certain simplicity and understated style. This dish is an excellent illustration. Kahan serves these three recipes together as a single dish: sliced, seared tuna on soybean pancakes, garnished with basil, soybeans and olives.

At home, it makes a wonderful first course for six. Follow it with a main course of pasta or simply prepared meat.

Seared Ahi Tuna

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 15 minutes

2 tablespoons fennel seeds

2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/2 pound ahi tuna in 1 piece, approximately 2 inches thick and 2 inches wide

2 teaspoons olive oil

Soybean Pancakes

Basil, Olive and Soybean Garnish

* Toast the fennel and coriander seeds in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat until they are fragrant, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Cool. Use a heavy-bottom skillet on a hard surface to crush the seeds. Combine the seeds with the salt and pepper on a small plate. Dividing the spices equally, press them onto the tuna on all sides to make a firm thin crust. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point and refrigerated for several hours.)

* When you are ready to serve, heat the oil in a small heavy skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is smoking. Sear the tuna about 1 minute on each side; the tuna will be barely rare and barely warm in the center. Alternatively, cook the fish to your taste, remembering that tuna cooked through tends to be dry and tasteless.

* To serve the tuna, cut it into 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange 2 Soybean Pancakes on each plate and top with tuna slices, then with the Basil, Olive and Soybean Garnish, dividing all evenly.

6 first-course servings. Each serving: 385 calories; 448 mg sodium; 131 mg cholesterol; 27 grams fat; 17 grams carbohydrates; 23 grams protein; 5.31 grams fiber.

Soybean Pancakes

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 35 minutes

1 (16-ounce) bag frozen soybeans (whole edamame in pods), thawed and hulled


1 egg

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup whipping cream

3 tablespoons flour

Freshly ground pepper

2 to 5 tablespoons butter

* Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put the rack in the center position.

* Blanch the hulled soybeans in boiling salted water until the beans are tender, about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain them in a colander. Reserving 1/3 cup of the soybeans for Basil, Olive and Soybean Garnish, grind the remaining soybeans, egg, egg yolk, cream, flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste in a food processor until almost smooth.

* Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. When hot, drop 1 1/2 tablespoons of batter on the skillet for each pancake; use the back of a teaspoon to spread each into a 2-inch circle if the batter is a little thick. Cook until the pancake is set and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer the cooked pancakes to a baking sheet, browned side down, in a single layer. Adding more butter as necessary, cook the remaining pancakes and transfer to the baking sheet.

* Bake the pancakes only until they are just barely set on top, about 1 minute. (The recipe can be made ahead to this point and held several hours at room temperature.)

* To serve, melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is hot, quickly brown the other side of the pancakes, about 30 seconds. Serve them hot.

6 servings (12 2-inch pancakes). Each serving: 231 calories; 87 mg sodium; 119 mg cholesterol; 18 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 9 grams protein; 2.20 gram fiber.

Basil, Olive and Soybean Garnish

Active Work and Total Preparation Time: 5 minutes

24 Kalamata olives (4 ounces)

4 large basil leaves, stacked, cut in thin strips

1/3 cup reserved soybeans (from Soybean Pancakes)

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon lemon juice


Freshly ground pepper

* Toss together the olives, basil, soybeans, oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Taste and adjust the seasoning. (This recipe can be made ahead to this point and kept a few hours at room temperature.)

6 servings. Each serving: 68 calories; 218 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 4 grams fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 2.25 grams fiber.

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