2/19/11 Tuna “Casserole”

25 Feb

There are a number of ways to approach a theme like “’70’s food”… you can simply take a classic dish that was popular in the ’70’s and simply recreate it — Beef Wellington comes to mind; kinda tough to improve on that one.  Another approach is to use the idea and deliciously mutate it almost beyond recognition by substituting different, but related ingredients — witness DavidP’s “pigs in a blanket”.  My idea was to stay as true to the ingredients as I could, while updating them.  The classic tuna casserole is noodles, cream of mushroom soup, canned tuna, and peas.  Yuck.

What I came up with was vermicelli noodles in a béchamel sauce, fennel/juniper/wasabi poweder-rubbed tuna loin pan-seared and cut into medalions, surrounded by a pea foam, and garnished with mixed mushroom duxelles.  The plates looked a bit of a mess, but I wanted people to have the option of tasting each component separately, or combining a forkful to get the “casserole” experience.

I sourced the tuna loin in Chinatown — I had to check each fish monger for the smallest diameter piece, since no one would trim it for me lengthwise; as it was, I trimmed off about half a pound to get the loin into the shape I wanted.  I didn’t want huge widths of steaks, since I was searing the loin whole and then slicing, if it was too wide I’d have ended up with a over-cooked rim around way too much raw tuna center.  The rub I just made up — I thought it’d be interesting.


The pea-foam was sort of a challenge I took on after Vito attempted a hot-chocolate foam for episode #3.


I did my homework regarding how to create warm, savory foams with minimal heavy cream.  Knowing Nina doesn’t eat meat, I opted for agar-agar as opposed to gelatin (which has too low a melting point for a warm foam anyway).


I made three practice foams in the week before, each an improvement, and I was just starting to understand the variables at play.  The one I made that night didn’t stand up as much as I thought it would, but I liked the silky texture that the nitrous micro-bubbles add.  There’s definitely room for improvement for me with the whipper… I’m not confident I can be consistent yet, need more practice :).

The wine pairing was fun.  I struggled with pairing a wine with the tuna casserole taste-wise… Probably a pinot noir would have hit the spot, but that had nothing to do with the ’70’s.  I vaguely recalled some competition between the then-emerging Napa valley wineries and French wines, where the American wines scored stunning victories in a tasting.  Turns out, it happened in 1976, in Paris, and achieved notoriety in Time Magazine.  The more I read about it, the idea came to me to take a nod to history, and serve the modern versions of the winning wines.  The tasting was referred to as “The Judgment of Paris” and it was the basis for the 2008 film, Bottle Shock:

The winning wines in Paris were the Stag’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon, and the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay.  Obviously I wasn’t gonna serve the 1970’s vintages, (I’d have to steal them out of the Smithsonian) but it turns out that the same vineyards are producing the same wines, and I was able to source bottles that were just as old for us as the bottles that were drunk in 1976.


Anyway, that’s what was behind my dish; I hope everyone enjoyed it!

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