Thursday, June 24, 2010

A Whole New Flavor

Welcome back to Out Of The Culinary! Tonight was a big night for me. I had decided late last week that I was going to make a completely original creation. I didn't want to borrow from anyone or take an idea / flavor combination from anything- I wanted this recipe to be my own. I have always had one recipe set in the back of my mind - ever since we started our 'cooking for ourselves' campaign. When I was first browsing Jamie Oliver's cookbook (Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals) I noticed a few recipes that called for grill tuna steaks. Now, up until this point, I never knew tuna came in anything but a can. Regardless, I was intrigued. Sadly, the consensus of the cooking world was that these tuna steaks needed to be put on a grill or cooked in a grill pan. Neither of which we had.

Until now.

As previously mentioned, we now find ourselves in possession of a grill pan. Which meant I had the means to (finally) try my hand at grilling up some tuna. Now that I had a basis in mind - I set to work trying to create the perfect meal around it. Here's what I came up with:

The Recipe: Lemon Basil Tuna
Original Recipe By: Tyler Trimble

What You'll Need:

2 Tuna Steaks
1 Lemon
3 Fresh Branches of Basil
8 Tbsp. Olive Oil

The Recipe: Fresh Fruit Salad
Original Recipe By: Tyler Trimble

What You'll Need:

1 Medium Pineapple (Sliced)
1 Mango
5-10 Strawberries
20-25 Grapes

*Fruit amounts will vary based on how large you want the salad to be. For my uses, I included 6 strawberries and 20 grapes.

I began this recipe the day before. I had previously read (also in Jamie Oliver's cookbook) about homemade oils. He says that the simple combination of olive oil, some form of fresh herb and another flavoring will make a great oil to use over fish, poultry or salads. Using this knowledge, I dreamed up the perfect oil (I hoped) to compliment my tuna. I chose to use a lemon base (no surprise there) and basil as my herb. (Basil acts a lot like mint in the way it almost 'cools' the flavors. That combined with lemon would make a very zesty - yet manageable oil, or at least that was my thinking!)

Fresh basil leaves

To begin making this oil, first pluck the leaves of basil off the branches. Next, juice your lemon. If you do it correctly, a medium sized lemon should yield about 1/3 a cup of juice. Alternatively, you can use one of those small plastic lemons full of juice. They also give you 1/3 cup worth. (Although fresh lemon juice is MUCH tastier) Next, measure out 8 Tbsp. worth of olive oil.

SEE?! 1/3 cup

Add the basil leaves, lemon juice and olive oil into a food processor or blender and mix well. You want the mixture to be as smooth as you can get it. Pour the blended contents into a jar (if you are the type who saves pickle jars or another type of glass jar because you think you may need it later - rejoice - you have a use for one right now!) and store in the refrigerator. The longer it sits, the more the flavors can blend. You should have a solid three day shelf life for the oil - allowing you to make this up days before you actually need it.

I then turned my attention to the fruit salad. Once again, I wanted to do something new here. So, I decided to use a fruit I have never eaten before - the mango.

The one, the only...the mango! 

Now, my only encounters with a mango in the past had been in mango flavored gum and in tropical skittles. Needless to say - I had absolutely no idea how to go about peeling this thing. A quick google search remedied all of that, however, and I was ready to tackle the round little fruit.

To begin peeling you mango, take a serrated knife (it has to be serrated as the mango has a waxy outside skin, a smooth knife's blade actually causes the mango to launch like a tiny fruit missile across your kitchen) and slice the 'cheeks' of the mango off. (about 1/2 inch away from the center stem - see picture below)

Chopping off the cheeks

Once the cheeks are off, take a paring knife and make deep cuts into each cheek. First vertically, then horizontally. (You should end up with a tic-tac-toe like board on you mango. Resist the urge to play a game though)

And circle gets the square! 

Once both cheeks have been cut, simply push on the skin side of the mango and make the fruit portion stand up. You should end up with a rather cool looking porcupine like fruit sculpture. All you have to do now is take your paring knife and slice off the squares.

It's fruit, it's art - it's fa...oops, better not combine those actually 

Now, turn your attention to the center section. With the paring knife slice just inside the skin. The knife actually follows the edge pretty well, making it easy to cut away. Once the skin is off, simply use your paring knife to get as much of the meat away from the pit as you can. Any time you encounter resistance, stop, that is the pit of the mango (which is not tasty). The pit is actually VERY large - so don't be too surprised if you can't get a whole lot of meat from the center section.

Mango pairs well with other tropical fruit (pineapples, oranges) as well as with grapes, strawberries, blueberries and any type of melon. With my fruit salad recipe, I chose to use pineapple, strawberries and grapes. All you have to do is slice up your choice of fruit and mix everything in a large bowl. If you are serving the fruit a little later on, simply drizzle some lemon juice over the bowl and place in the refrigerator.

Finally, I turned my attention to the main dish. Tuna steaks. We were able to find tuna steaks at our local Hy-Vee, right in the freezer section next to the tilapia and salmon. They were fairly reasonable as well ($3.50 per steak - around the same price per pound as chicken).

Luckily, I decided the day before to do some reading on grilling tuna. It was then that I discovered that you do not want to cook tuna until it is white all the way through. You actually want a little bit of pink in the center of the steaks. If you cook the steak until it's all the way white, you will have actually cooked out all of the juicy flavor. (Glad I found that BEFORE cooking - and am not telling you this having learned the hard way!)

Tuna steaks, no can involved 

To cook the tuna, get your grill pan 'screaming hot' (to borrow from Jamie Oliver) and place the steaks on for about 5 minutes per side. After the steaks are fully cooked, simply drizzle over your oil (after giving it a good shake) and enjoy!

The Results:

Tropical fruit salad 
Freshly grilled tuna steak, covered in lemon basil oil 

"Wow - that's a whole new flavor." That's quoting Maggie directly after a bite of the fruit salad. "Wow-that's a whole new flavor." again, quoting Maggie after a bite of the tuna.

Let's start with the fruit salad, which was AMAZING. Mango tastes a lot like a melon (sort of cantaloupe-y) but it also has a strong secondary "lemon-lime-orange" flavor that simply makes it delicious.  All of the other fruit ingredients complimented each other very well, resulting in a brightly colored fruit salad bursting with flavor.

The tuna was a hit and miss. I was hoping that grilled tuna would be somewhat juicy - it's not. It's a dry meat - no way around it. That's not a bad thing if you have the right sauce to accompany it...I was 50% 50% in that result as well. The lemon portion of the oil was great. It added a good zest to the tuna and gave a very tropical flavor to the dish. However, the basil absolutely overpowered the sauce. I don't know if simply reducing the amount of basil would remedy this - I have a feeling that basil is just too much given the very neutral flavor of the tuna. In the future, I think I'm going to replace the basil with a mint or oregano combination and see where that takes me.

In the end, the tuna was still enjoyable, albeit not as "OH MY GOODNESS - AMAZING" as I had hoped. I learned a lot about tuna tonight. How to cook it, and more importantly - how it takes on flavors. All in all, I suppose it wasn't too bad given I was flying without a safety net here. No one had done this before me - this was my time to find out if my ideas worked. And they did - to a point. Live and learn. Next time I tackle tuna, I have a (new) plan - something that (should) totally revolutionize the dish.

Stayed tuned for that one.

That's all we have for you tonight. I'm taking tomorrow off because I promised Maggie that I would take her out for an early birthday dinner. Saturday is Maggie's birthday (and I will have post up in the mid-morning on saturday - something birthday related for Ms. Maggie - check in then to see what I'm up to) and Sunday were off. Thank you once again for stopping by and enjoying our adventures. All of the positive comments really mean a lot. Until next time,


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