Seldom does a recipe say it doesn’t matter whether you use meat or fish. But sometimes, it’s true. Grilled swordfish, for instance, tastes good with a savory wild mushroom sauce of the sort you might make for a pork roast.
And a garlicky olive-oil-based sauté with lemon, capers and parsley works equally well with sea scallops as with sweetbreads, or chicken, or shrimp. Broiled mustard-smeared mackerel, or lamb chops done the same way?
In a Barcelona restaurant, I once had a marvelous cuttlefish stew, prepared like a meat braise with peas, carrots and brown gravy. It seemed new wave but turned out to be a traditional regional specialty.
Of course you can’t make this kind of substitution across the board. Tender mild fish, like sole or flounder, need little more than butter and lemon to accent their delicacy and sweetness. It is the meatier fish, like tuna, sea bass, monkfish or mahi-mahi, that can handle bolder flavors and more aggressive seasoning.
When I’m cooking tuna, I treat it like beefsteak: showered with crushed black peppercorns and pan seared. I used to put tuna au poivre on the menu from time to time when I was cooking at Chez Panisse. It was fun to carry the similarity further, cutting the fish in the shape of a thick filet mignon and serving it with a red-wine sauce and a spoonful of mashed potatoes or a pile of pommes frites and a bunch of watercress.
It looks elegant, and it’s easy to make.
Tuna au Poivre with Red Wine Sauce
1½ pounds fresh tuna, cut into 6 steaks about 1-inch thick
2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste
½ teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground
2 teaspoons coarsely crushed black peppercorns
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 shallots, finely diced
½ cup red wine
2½ cups chicken broth
Season tuna steaks with salt. Sprinkle with garlic, coriander, fennel and black pepper. Drizzle with olive oil. Rub to coat evenly with spices on both sides. Let marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes (or refrigerate for up to 4 hours and bring to room temperature before cooking).
Make the red wine sauce: Melt butter over medium-high heat and add shallots. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add wine and simmer until reduced by half. Add chicken broth and reduce until 1 cup sauce remains, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, set aside and keep warm.
Set a wide cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat (or use 2 smaller pans). When hot, lay in steaks and sear for 2 minutes, until nicely browned. Flip and cook 1 minute more for rare, 2 minutes for medium-rare. Arrange tuna on a platter or individual plates. Spoon wine sauce over each steak.
Makes 6 servings.
Olive Oil Mashed Potatoes
2 pounds yellow-fleshed potatoes, like Yukon Gold or German Butterball, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
8 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Bring water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add potatoes, garlic and 2 teaspoons salt, and cook at a brisk simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.
Drain potatoes and garlic, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Mash potatoes and garlic, then thin to desired consistency with reserved cooking liquid. Check seasoning. Beat in olive oil and serve.
Makes 6 servings.