Albacore Crudo with Strawberries and Nuoc Cham
This is a simple, absolutely wonderful recipe if you have super-fresh fish and want a quick way to prepare it. Besides being utterly delicious, it’s pretty and lends itself well to adaptations. For the uninitiated, “crudo” is the same concept as sashimi except the preparation is as varied as the cook’s imagination. While nominally an Italian dish, it’s prepared in all kinds of ways by fancy chefs and home cooks. In my dish, the richness of the fish is underscored by the light, slightly citrusy sauce with its Asian flavors, which I pump up a bit with the barest drizzle of lime oil. The sweet/tart pop of strawberries goes quite well with this. Even if using strawberries with fish sounds weird to you, try it anyway and you won’t be sorry. Or use pomegranate seeds.
As noted in this previous post, I first had this dish a few years ago at a Tamarine New Year’s Eve dinner. This high-end modern Vietnamese restaurant is near our house in downtown Palo Alto and rarely disappoints. Yes, I had to make up a recipe because restaurants don’t usually like to share but that wasn’t too difficult. As mentioned earlier, the original involved hamachi (called yellowtail or amberjack here and quite hard to find) along with micro cilantro (try finding THAT) and pomegranate seeds but my version held up well, delivering the great flavor combo of the original.
With the demise of Nak’s in Menlo Park, which was my go-to place for fresh Japanese hamachi and a lot more, I was at a loss for how to make this recipe until recently trying super-fresh albacore tuna from, of course, Cook’s Seafood, my favorite seafood retailer. Albacore exists in many parts of the sea and is caught locally. When properly caught (troll or pole), it’s named a “best choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program. And happily, it’s an excellent substitute for hamachi. An alternate fish that’s just about always available is ahi tuna but select pieces with a minimal amount of membrane (the little ribbons of white that run through the fish) because it’s a bit chewy in raw fish. Also, be picky about where you buy your raw fish to ensure it’s fresh. California hamachi/yellowtail and albacore are sometimes available via an excellent seafood CSA operation called Ocean2Table, which allows you to buy what you want rather than committing to a regular delivery.
I continued to fiddle around with this recipe, adding the lime oil and toasted sesame seeds, which made it even better. It’s so delicious that my husband could eat it every night, it seems. And it’s so light that dieters or those not wanting to fire up a stove in hot weather can find enjoyment and ease in putting this on the dinner table. If you serve it to guests, they’ll be wowed, I guarantee.
I keep a supply of the nuoc cham — basically, a light Vietnamese dipping sauce with a French tone — in the freezer, so a quick defrost and brief slicing of ingredients is all it takes. The lime oil from Lucero is one of a trio of fantastic flavored oils and is the best of its kind I’ve found. I order it online. As seen below, I put the dish on long, narrow individual white plates, which makes an attractive presentation.
Other than the nuoc cham, I don’t have precise measurements but it doesn’t matter that much because this is so easy to make and adaptable to individual tastes. Use more sauce, less sauce, more fruit, less, or whatever you prefer.
sushi-quality albacore tuna or hamachi/yellowtail or ahi tuna
fresh, tasty strawberries, cut into small dice
roughly chopped cilantro or mint or both
white sesame seeds
lime olive oil, preferably Lucero’s Persian lime
Nuoc Cham Sauce
2 T brown sugar
4 T water
2 T Vietnamese fish sauce (Nuoc Nam)
2 T white vinegar
2-3 T fresh lime juice
2 T diced shallot
1 T peeled, finely diced ginger
Mix all ingredients together and stir or shake well to blend. I usually make it in a food processor. Can be frozen for ages or refrigerated for quite a while.
Prep & Assembly
Toast some sesame seeds in a pan on the stove until barely golden. This won’t take long. Be sure to pour them out of the pan into a bowl when done so the hot pan doesn’t burn them as they sit there before being used.
Trim or clean the fish as needed and slice into small rectangles. Lay out on the plate you’ll use to serve on. You can do just a few slices as a small starter or a more substantial amount for a main course.
Ladle a little nuoc cham on each piece of fish; enough to coat the fish with a little running off. Drizzle a small amount of lime oil across each piece (not too much). Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on each piece of fish. Add some diced strawberries to each piece of fish, then complete with chopped herbs (I like cilantro best but mint is good, too).
Have some bread handy for soaking up the leftover sauce. It’s pretty wonderful!