This authentic recipe for tuna carpaccio really highlights the delicate flavor of fresh, raw tuna. It's dressed simply with lemon and extra virgin olive oil, along with coarse sea salt, buttery pine nuts, tangy capers and a mound of peppery arugula for a dish that's as visually stunning as it is delicious.
Carpaccio is a classic Italian dish that's traditionally made with very thin slices of raw beef tenderloin, adorned simply with lemon, olive oil, salt, pepper and sometimes parmesan cheese and arugula.
Like beef, raw tuna has a meaty texture and vibrant red color that can stand up just as well to the carpaccio treatment. It's a light and elegant appetizer that really highlights the melt-in-your-mouth, buttery texture of the fresh raw fish.
Last week, our friends came back from a fishing trip with 11 yellowfin tuna and were generous enough to share some of their catch (Shout out to Timmy and Chris of Reaper Fishing for the hook-up!).
The tuna was so pristine and fresh, I knew we had to eat it raw. Tuna carpaccio, along with her cousin tuna crudo, were the first two things that came to mind.
Why this recipe works
- Surprisingly simple to prepare - only 20 minutes and 9 easy-to-source ingredients.
- Simple accoutrements allow the delicate flavor of fresh tuna to shine.
- A restaurant quality dish that's a great way to impress your guests.
- Aesthetically stunning - we eat with our eyes!
- Fresh Tuna - By far the most important ingredient, this recipe must be made with extremely fresh, high quality, sushi-grade tuna. You can use frozen tuna as long as it's of excellent quality and from a reputable source. Bluefin tuna, yellowfin or ahi tuna, bigeye and even albacore tuna will all work - just be sure it's sustainably sourced. Look for a tuna fillet or tuna steak with smooth, firm flesh, a vibrant red color and should smell clean and fresh, never fishy.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil - This is the time to break out the good stuff. Use the best quality extra virgin olive oil you can get your hands on. I've been a member of the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil Club for over a decade and can't recommend their oils highly enough. They don't sponsor me, they just put out a consistently great product.
- Lemon Juice - Freshly squeezed ONLY. Don't use the bottled stuff - it makes a big difference.
- Coarse Sea Salt - I love the crunch from a nice coarse sea salt to season the tuna. Maldon and sel gris are two of my favorites.
- Pine Nuts - These add such a nice, buttery flavor and texture, but you can swap them out for almonds, pistachios, or skip them altogether.
- Capers - Definitely don't skip the capers! They add the best pop of salty tangy flavor. The smaller nonpareil variety works best here rather than the larger Capote capers. Make sure you drain them of their liquid and give them a quick rinse under running water - otherwise their flavor can overpower the delicate tuna.
- Sharp Knife - A razor sharp chef's knife or a long slicing knife is absolutely essential for making thin, even slices. I recommend Misen or Global, but a basic, inexpensive knife will work as long as it's well sharpened. A dull knife will mash and hack up the tuna - not what you want.
- Knife Sharpener - If you want really sharp knives, you can either send them out to be professionally sharpened or you can do it at home. There are tons of different types on the market, but I splurged for the model recommend by America's Test Kitchen and couldn't be happier.
- Meat Mallet - For truly authentic carpaccio withe paper thin slices, you will need to pound out the raw fish between two sheets of cling film with a meat pounder. You can also use the bottom of a skillet or a flat bottomed coffee mug in a pinch.
Step by step instructions
- Use a very sharp knife to slice the tuna against the grain. Slice the tuna as thinly as you can, about ¼ - ⅛ inch thick. Try to keep the slices as consistent as possible.
- Place a slice of tuna between two sheets of plastic wrap. Use a meat mallet or other flat surface to gently pound out the tuna so that it is paper thin and almost transparent. Be careful not to pound too hard or the tuna can tear - go slow and use caution. Repeat with all of the slices.
- Remove one piece of plastic wrap and use the palm of your hand to carefully place the tuna own on to a plate, then peel off the other piece of plastic wrap. Arrange the tuna slices so that they cover the entire plate, overlapping slightly if needed.
- In a medium bowl, toss the arugula with 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Sprinkle the tuna with diced shallots, capers, pine nuts, sea salt and black pepper, then drizzle tuna with remaining 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and plenty of extra virgin olive oil.
- Place a mound of arugula in the center, then serve immediately with extra lemon wedges if desired.
Tips for success
- The quality of your ingredients really matters. Use the freshest, best quality tuna and extra virgin olive oil for the best tasting carpaccio.
- Keep your tuna cold at all times to maintain freshness. Placing the tuna in the freezer for an hour or so before slicing will make the flesh firmer and easier to cut.
- be very careful when pounding out the tuna - it's extremely delicate and can easily tear, so be gentle with it - it's not a chicken breast.
- If you're short on time and have excellent knife skills, you can skip pounding out the tuna and just slice it as thinly as you can.
- For a restaurant worthy presentation, chill your plates in the refrigerator or freezer for about an hour beforehand.
- Do not add the lemon juice or sea salt until right before serving so that it doesn't begin to cook or cure the tuna.
- To make in advance, arrange the slices on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 hours in advance. When ready, dress and serve.
This tuna carpaccio recipe is pretty traditional and straight forward, but you can easily switch up the ingredients to make something more unique. Experiment with different seasonings and garnishes to add additional textures and flavors.
- Try lime juice instead of lemon, red onion instead of shallots, pistachios instead of pine nuts, or black olives instead of capers.
- You can add spice with red chili, crunchy veggies like thinly sliced fennel or use herbs such as fresh basil, parsley, mint or dill.
- You can also give it an asian spin with soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, cucumber and avocado slices.
How to Serve
Tuna Carpaccio is typically served as a first course or antipasti, followed by a second course, or primi, like pasta, and then secondi, which is usually meat or seafood, along with contorni, or sides. The following recipes would make great pairs:
- Flounder Oreganata
- Italian Sausage and Peppers
- Linguine alle Vongole
- Pasta alla Carbonara with Peas
- The Best Italian Meatballs
- Tomato Fennel Risotto
- Eggplant Parmesan
- Farinata di Ceci
- Zucchini Alla Scapece
Yes, as long as the tuna is high-quality, fresh, and handled properly. Look for tuna with firm, deep red flesh and no fishy odor. "Sushi-grade" refers to high quality fish that's safe to consume raw.
The main difference is the thickness of the tuna slices. Tuna carpaccio is typically sliced extremely thin, often pounded out to be paper thin, while tuna crudo tends to be sliced slightly thicker for a more meaty texture.
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