This Tuna Tartare recipe is quick, easy and crazy delicious. But first, a little unrelated story…
Back home in Malaysia, it’s a tradition to have raw fish called Yee Sang for Chinese New Year. The word “yee sang” is a homophone for (sounds like) “increasing abundance” and therefore raw fish plays a big role in Chinese New Year celebrations. In my hometown, Seremban, the story goes that back in the 1940s a man named Loke Ching Fatt introduced the Cantonese tradition of eating raw fish on the 7th day of the New Year. Loke’s version however, included a hefty dash of his own creativity and is an incredibly complex combination of flavors, textures and colors. The dish includes shredded radish, carrots,cucumbers, turnips, pomelo,crispy crackers, deep fried yam strips, colored rice vermicelli and raw salmon shaped into a flower in the middle of a large platter. Ground peanuts, black and white pepper, sesame seeds and a complex sweet,sticky sauce dress the dish and those around the table toss the whole thing together with chopsticks. Everyone lifts the ingredients as high as they can, while making wishes for health, prosperity and happiness. In Malaysia, one cannot let the Chinese New Year pass without at least one banquet that features this Prosperity Toss.
Here in Brooklyn, I’ve been making Yee Sang from scratch with lots of raw salmon for the past 5 years. I love everything about it – making it, serving it, tossing it, the mess it leaves on the table, and the wonderful feeling of togetherness and joy it brings to the home. It takes me a whole morning to make it, with at least 30 different ingredients! Since it only happens once a year, I love doing it. It also reminds me of some very good times back home, and it’s a must in my home. (I’m going to upload a little video to YouTube of our hilarious Prosperity Toss from last year – will add a link to it as well.)
For those who may not be inspired to create their own version of this Lucky Fish dish, here’s a way to get some raw fish into your Chinese New Year celebrations that’s much less complicated and comes together in less than 15 minutes. My husband absolutely loves this – it’s easy to make and yet so very tasty, with its own flavorful dressing featuring Lime Leaf Sambal which adds just a touch of heat. Feel free to play with it – substitute the mayonnaise with avocado, the cucumber with mango, add bird eye chillies if you like it very hot, etc. Instead of tuna, you can also use salmon or halibut. Please see the note at the bottom regarding the buying and handling of raw fish.
Sesame Sambal Tuna Tartare (serves 8 – 10)
1 lb fresh tuna steaks (diced)
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1/2 lime (juiced)
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon Auria’s Malaysian Kitchen Lime Leaf Sambal
White pepper (to taste)
Salt (to taste)
1 tablespoon each Black and white sesame seeds (toasted)
1 persion cucumber (diced)
1 shallot (sliced)
2 scallions (sliced)
1. In a small bowl, combine ingredients 2 – 8, using only half the sesame seeds, reserving the rest for garnish.
2. In a separate bowl, add this mixture to the diced tuna, along with the cucumber and shallots. Stir to combine.
3. Serve in small cups or baked wonton cups. Garnish with sliced scallions and more sesame seeds.
A little note about buying and handling raw fish. When planning to serve raw fish, always buy the freshest fish you can get your hands on. I look for firm fish with a good color, avoiding anything that is even slightly gray or slimy. Don’t be afraid to poke the fish to test for firmness. I used to watch my Mum in the wet market manhandle the whole fish – she’d inspect the yes, inside the gills and poke it in different spots to see how fresh it was. As for the smell, fresh fish should only smell of the fish itself – no ammonia-like odors. In the case of tuna, fresh yellowfin or ahi tuna has a very mild fish smell.
Once you’ve bought your fish, it’s crucial to keep it cold until you’re ready to use it. I put the tuna in the freezer for about an hour – the firmer it is, the easier it is to cut it in even 1/4″ dice.