A tuna matata
A signature dish is something I have been avoiding. I always thought that cooking the same dish over and over would be somewhat excruciating – a love-hate relationship would almost certainly form. But it’s not my decision; it’s our customers who decide if a dish is a stayer. And repetition does say something about craft. The art of producing a dish thousands of times – one that still excites and satisfies – requires discipline.
This dish came from a friend cooking lunch on holidays. I took the marinade component, packed full of umami – think soy sauce and anchovy concentrate – and matched it with the opposite – sweet peas and curd cheese. Strange combo, yes, but extremely delicious. Now with summer well in bloom, this dish is my ultimate craving. It is almost 10 years to the day since I ate a version of this on holiday, and nine years of making my version in the restaurant.
Raw fish is a treat and raw tuna now somewhat of a luxury. Its rich flesh and clean flavour has made it a popular sushi fish. Fresh sweet green peas are not available all year round. So, yes, we use frozen peas. Fergus Henderson, a hugely influential chef and inspiration to many, wrote in his seminal cookbook: “Wait ’til peas are in season, then use frozen.” Sage words indeed.
I recently cooked with the charming chef Mike McEnearney, who introduced me to canned peas. Yes, canned peas are delicious. The other canned food items found in my pantry are chickpeas. In a rush, canned peas are just the ticket. Mike cooked canned peas and ’nduja with mint and calamari. One of the best combinations ever.
The crushed peas component to this recipe is also useful for other preparations. Served on its own, on toast with a poached egg and a spoonful of goat’s cheese, it satisfies any need for a fancy breakfast. The same pea recipe served warm also works perfectly as a mushy pea accompaniment to a roast joint of pork.
Tuna tartare with crushed pea salad
Serves 4 as a shared plate
– ½ clove garlic
– 1 anchovy fillet
– 1 tbsp light soy sauce
– pinch of castor sugar
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
– finely grated zest of ¼ lemon
– 250g sashimi-grade tuna, trimmed and cut into 1½cm cubes
– 130g peas
– 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– 1 tbsp lemon juice
– 1 spring onion, finely sliced
– 20 mint leaves, shredded
– salt and freshly ground white pepper
– 3 tbsp goat’s curd
– 8 pea shoot tendrils
– rocket flowers, to garnish (optional)
Crush the garlic and anchovy using a mortar and pestle, then transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Whisk in the soy sauce, sugar, olive oil, vinegar and lemon zest. Add the tuna to the bowl and leave to marinate in the fridge for 15 minutes, stirring gently every so often.
Meanwhile, bring two litres of salted water to the boil, blanch the peas for two minutes or until tender, and refresh in iced water. Using a mortar and pestle, gently crush the peas, then transfer to a bowl and add the extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, spring onion and mint. Mix well, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
To serve, use the back of a spoon to spread the goat’s curd over a serving plate and arrange the pea salad on top. Season the tuna with a pinch of salt and, using a slotted spoon, remove the tuna from the marinade and carefully arrange over the pea salad. Dress the plate with a few pea tendrils, and rocket flowers, if using.
2016 Murdoch Hill Surrey pinot meunier, Adelaide Hills ($40) – Leanne Altmann, wine buyer, Supernormal and Meatsmith
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jan 28, 2017 as "Tuna tartare with crushed pea salad". Subscribe here.