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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Butter Sauce 'Ahi a tasty and elegant dish

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

When preparing Butter Sauce 'Ahi, it is important to do your prep work first. Start the sauce and slice the vegetables before going on to the other steps.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

I tend to cook in phases — obsessed with one recipe or ingredient for a while and then on to the next with hardly a backward glance. It's not unusual for friends to ask me to make something they consider my specialty and for me not to remember what they're talking about.

Right now, I'm in a Butter Sauce 'Ahi stage. It started with a quick pupu recipe for sesame-crusted 'ahi that I found in a book — "At Home with Friends" by Michele Adams and Gia Russo (Chronicle Books, paper, $22.95), in which you roll a block of 'ahi in sesame seeds, sear it and serve it with a wasabi sauce. After photographing the dish (which appeared July 20), I had a block of leftover 'ahi — too expensive to discard but a little too manhandled to eat raw.

At home that night, I looked up a wasabi beurre blanc recipe in Jean-Marie Josselin's "A Taste of Hawaii" (1992), rummaged through the crisper and the cupboard and put together a stir-fry that had my husband making the "oh, yeah" sound I like so much to hear. The dish I came up with was a bed of quickly stir-fried crisp vegetables (onions, carrots, bean sprouts) with slices of sauteed 'ahi on top, topped with a very lemony, slightly spicy butter sauce.

Later, I came across some awesome grated wasabi, Kinjirushi-brand kisami wasabi imported from Japan in airtight plastic bags and sold at local Asian stores (Daie, Marukai). This stuff is nothing like the powdered or squeeze-tube wasabi we so often get; it's flavorful and spicy without being searing hot, and has flavor nuances you can't find in the processed products. The sauce is much better if you use this, but if you can't find it, or don't want to bother, use powdered or squeeze-tube.

I've since made Butter Sauce 'Ahi a number of times in both fancy-for-company versions and quicker, throw-together style. I've tried it with several grades of 'ahi, as well, from top-grade sashimi to less-expensive tombo (albacore). I've made it sinfully rich, and I've cut back and made it less indulgent, too.

The only tricky part is making the beurre blanc. A beurre blanc (white butter) sauce is made by reducing stock, wine and/or vinegar or lemon juice until it's full-flavored and slightly syrupy, then turning down the heat until the stock is warm enough to soften but not melt the butter, which is whisked in in chilled chunks. Just remember to keep the stock below simmering, whisk the butter in piece by piece and serve right away and you'll be fine.

This recipe employs 'ahi that's cut in blocks ready for making sushi slices — the blocks are usually about 1 1/2 inch high and 4 to 5 inches across. I have used pre-sliced sushi on occasion, but I prefer to cut it myself.he dish is made in four stages: Sear the 'ahi. Stir-fry the veggies. Make the sauce.Assemble the dish. I find it best to do some mis en place, as the chefs say: Make the sauce base. Slice the veggies. Then start cooking.

Butter Sauce 'Ahi

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 packets hondashi
  • 1 package mung-bean sprouts
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 small onions
  • White and black sesame seeds, mixed
  • 1 pound fresh medium-quality tuna, in blocks
  • Vegetable oil
  • Juice of 2-3 lemons
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium shoyu
  • 1 stick butter, chilled and cut into 8 slices
  • Wasabi
  • Salt and pepper

Put 3 cups water in saucepan and sprinkle in 2 packets of hondashi. Bring to a boil on a back burner and allow to simmer, reducing by half.

Rinse the mung-bean sprouts in cold water and shake dry. Slice carrots into matchstick-size julienne. Slice onions and cut into crescent-shaped strips. Set each vegetable aside in its own bowl.

Toast mixed black and white sesame seeds in a dry sauté pan or wok, shaking frequently, until their fragrance is released and a few begin to jump and pop. Remove to a shallow bowl or plate.

Now you're ready to cook.

Press the 'ahi blocks into the sesame seeds, coating all sides but not the ends.

Put the oven on its lowest temperature and place a heat-proof platter inside.

Wipe the saute pan or wok with vegetable oil, just to slick the surface. Heat the pan over high heat. Sear the sesame-crusted 'ahi blocks until the flesh turns white a half-inch or so in, turn and repeat on other side. Set 'ahi aside.

With the burner on medium-high, drizzle a little vegetable oil in the same pan and stir-fry onion 1 or 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Add carrots and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes, tossing frequently. Add bean sprouts and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes. Vegetables should be slightly undercooked and crisp; don't let them stew but it's OK if they brown a little. Remove vegetables to the warm platter and place in the oven.

Pour the hot, reduced hondashi into the same frying pan and bring to a boil; add lemon juice and shoyu and stir in 2 teaspoons wasabi.

Allow this to bubble and continue to reduce. Meanwhile, cut the 'ahi blocks into one-third-inch slices.

Reduce the heat until the hondashi mixture is no longer simmering. Gradually, one piece at a time, whisk in butter — you can use the entire stick for an incredibly rich sauce, or you can use just two or three slices for a thinner glaze. Taste the sauce and add more wasabi, more lemon juice, more shoyu or whatever you think it needs. Don't be afraid to tinker, just be sure to keep the heat low enough that the sauce remains slightly thick and doesn't "break."

When the sauce tastes right, gently place the 'ahi slices in it and allow them to heat through a minute or two.

Remove vegetable platter from oven, lift 'ahi slices out of pan and arrange them atop the vegetables, pour beurre blanc over the whole and garnish with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Serve with rice.

For the less-fancy version: sautéd veggies. Add sliced 'ahi (with or without sesame seeds). Cook until 'ahi is just underdone. Remove to warm platter in oven. Make sauce with minimum of butter and put veggies and 'ahi back in. This is good with tombo 'ahi, sliced thin.