Thinly sliced over a summer salad or enjoyed as a thick-cut steak on a warm evening, Ahi tuna is a fish that could convert a die-hard carnivore to seafood lover. With its meaty texture and deep red hue, Ahi stands in a class all by itself in the fish world. Don’t mistake this tuna for the fish packed in oil in a can; while that has its place, the texture and taste of fresh Ahi tuna is incomparable.
Purchase the best grade of Ahi tuna that you can find and afford. Sashimi grade is the best, reserved for being served in a raw or semi-raw state -- and ahi tuna is best served rare to medium-rare. The freshness, texture and quality of this type of tuna shines when prepared pan-seared.
Start with a heavy, nonstick pan. Nonstick is essential to prevent the tuna from sticking to the pan under extreme heat without the presence of oil. If using another type of pan, be sure it is well-seasoned to prevent the tuna from sticking to the pan.
Prepare tuna -- marinate tuna if called for in your recipe; otherwise, lightly season it with salt and pepper. While tuna has a great taste on its own, a marinade adds a depth of flavor not replicated by mere seasoning -- without adding too much fat or calories to the dish. See resources for suggestions on marinades.
Heat pan over high heat, preferably in a well-ventilated kitchen. Wait several minutes until the pan is extremely hot -- this ensures an even sear without sticking. Place the tuna into the hot pan -- be careful as there will be some smoking from the pan.
Cook no more than 1 to 1 ½ minutes per side to achieve a seared exterior and raw center. Remove the tuna from the pan to a cutting board for slicing, or to a warmed plate if serving as a steak.
There are many types of tuna, including Albacore, Bluefin, Blackfin, or Skipjack. Ahi tuna, also known as Yellowfin tuna, is considered far superior, especially when purchased in sashimi grade.
The name Ahi comes from the Hawaiian name for Yellowfin tuna, but can also refer to Bigeye tuna indigenous to that area.