When preparing and serving bluefin tuna, TJ Ott is a minimalist.
The captain of the fishing boat Hot Tuna and mainstay of National Geographic Channel’s unscripted Sunday hit “Wicked Tuna” prefers his tuna raw, thank you very much, with a little soy and wasabi on the side.
But if he must apply heat, he does so sparingly.
“What we like to do,” explains Ott, a native of Broad Channel in Queens, N.Y. to Zap2it, “is take probably inch and a half steaks and we’ll coat it with sesame oil and then we’ll coat them with some black and white sesame seed, put a little bit of sesame oil in the pan and get it really, really red hot and just sear it really quick on both sides.”
As for how quick, Ott says, “Oh, about a minute tops, depending on how hot the pan gets. Some people like to cook it through, but me personally, if I’m going to sear a piece of tuna — yellowfin, big eye or bluefin — basically black and blue is what we call it. The outside is seared and the inside is raw. That’s how I like it.”
And serve it with a sauce on the side.
“We’ll make any kind of sauce,” Ott says. “You know, wasabi and soy, obviously, but we make one sauce in particular we like to use. We use fresh ginger, pickled ginger, fresh lime juice, mayonnaise, sriracha, wasabi, soy and it just comes out wonderful.”
Of course, a great tuna dinner starts with great steaks, and Ott has his own tips on what to look for.
“Color is extremely important, first and foremost,” he says. “Oil, grease, obviously, and fat content. I mean, that’s all the most important things right there, but color is very important, and I think color is also important when it comes to presentation in high-end sushi restaurants. You want to see that color.
“You want it almost like a ruby, just a bright, vibrant red,” he continues. “Purple is no good. Anytime it gets real dark like that, it generally means the meat is not soft; the meat is hard and kind of rubbery. So you really want just like a real nice crimson red and you want it to almost be translucent at the same time, where you know the texture is going to be perfect, the oil content, the fat content, it’s got everything going for it.”
But be prepared to pay dearly for such a cut.
“That’s not necessarily easily accessible, tuna like that,” Ott says. “It is hard to come by, especially in certain grocery stores because it’s so expensive, it’s so highly desired around the world. So if you’re going to go to Stop and Shop to find a piece of prime tuna, the chances are slim to none.
“But there are some gourmet markets in Manhattan and other high-volume places in Boston like Citarella, places like that, that carry bluefin steaks like that, big eye steaks. But you’re going to pay $25-$35 a pound, so it’s a unique market and it’s something some people can’t afford. There are alternatives – you know, good, fresh yellowfin and stuff like that. But the bluefin is where it’s at.”