Seared Tuna with Sesame Seeds

December 5th, 2008 by megan · 19 Comments

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I’ve been having an issue lately trying to figure out what seafood is good (i.e., sustainable) to eat, and what is not. There are the obvious baddies, like Chilean Sea Bass (a.k.a., the Patagonian Toothfish), which is: a) not even really bass, b) seriously over fished, and c) usually caught using bottom long lines, a method which tends to kill a lot of seabirds, including the endangered albatross. And farmed salmon is another baddie – farms often use pesticides and antibiotics to control disease, and waste from these farms is released directly into the ocean. (Hmm, sounds suspiciously like a fish factory farm…) Check out the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch – an amazingly comprehensive guide to sustainable seafood (and the source for most of the fish facts, above) for more information.

I usually try to avoid these issues by buying fresh, local seafood from the Blue Moon fish stand at my Farmer’s Market. But the other day, I bought some tuna fillets labeled as sustainably caught at our local food co-op. Tuna aren’t normally harvested around here, so I’m sure the fillets had to be shipped a long way to get to me – which is rather unsustainable, I suppose, even if the fish was sustainably caught. See what I mean? Lots of ethical conundrums around seafood. But I cooked it anyway. And it was delicious. I made my seared tuna into sandwiches with wasabi mayo and butter lettuce, on a big long hero roll.

A few tips on searing tuna: I usually use a non-stick pan. You don’t have to, but it does make the process a little easier. Choose a piece of tuna that is of even thickness. Otherwise, one part of your tuna may be a nice medium-rare, and the other well done. When searing, cook on exactly the same amount of time on each side for perfectly sized rare, medium-rare, or medium centers. And high heat is the key! Don’t be afraid. As one of my culinary instructors once told me – you have to get over the fear of the high flame.

Serves: 2-4 (depending on your appetite)

Sesame-Crusted Seared Tuna

Sesame-Crusted Seared Tuna

Seared Tuna Sandwich with Wasabi Mayo

Seared Tuna Sandwich with Wasabi Mayo


1 pound fresh tuna fillets (1-inch thickness)
5 tablespoons white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper (grind in a pepper grinder or use a meat mallet or small skillet to crack whole peppercorns)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons grape seed oil (or other high-heat oil, such as canola)


  1. Combine the sesame seeds, pepper, and salt in a small bowl. Coat the tuna fillets with the mixture, pressing gently to adhere.
  2. Add the oil to a medium sauté pan and place over high heat. When the oil is very hot (almost, but not quite smoking), add the tuna fillets. Sear on one side for 1 minute for rare, 2 minutes for medium-rare, and 3 minutes for medium (or keep going for well-done).  Sear on the other side for the exact same amount of time. The tuna should have a nice, brown crust.
  3. Remove to a plate, let rest for 5 minutes, slice and serve.


Deborah Dec 5, 2008 at 8:12 pm

Great photo ! Dec 6, 2008 at 5:17 pm

Looks really tasty. Wondering what a good side would be with this?

megan Dec 6, 2008 at 10:00 pm

I’d do some kind of potato – mashed or roasted w/the tuna – treat it almost like a steak. Or if you wanted to go the Asian route – some kind of rice dish (brown or jasmine would be good).

Anh Dec 7, 2008 at 12:13 am

This looks so good!

Wilbur Dec 9, 2008 at 3:33 pm

Think it looks delicious, but I find the sustainable talk laughable. People are now filling their heads with all this nonsense. Want a piece of fish eat the damn thing. Dont over intellectualize dinner. If you do you will find that nothing will be appealing except for the local lawn (sans fertilizer of course).

Hillary Dec 9, 2008 at 4:14 pm

This looks like the delicious seared tuna Fabio made in the latest episode of Top Chef! Yum!

Miguel Dec 9, 2008 at 10:56 pm

I love seafood and this looks like a simple and tasty recipe. Can’t wait to try it! Growing up on Long Island Sound I always looked forward to shad season, so I wonder how this would work with shad roe? Would the sesame seeds compliment or compete with the roe’s flavor?
Also, I have seen first hand the effects that over-fishing has had on the quantity of seafood available over the past 35 years at my local markets. We used to have fleets that sailed out of Stonington, CT and New Bedford, MA that kept the markets full year round. Now they have to import farm-raised fish from who knows where and it just doesn’t taste the same. It has affected the local economies in deep and lasting ways and there’s nothing laughable about that.

Andrea Jan 4, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Destin at Eat Well Guide introduced me to your site and I am so happy she did! I just made this wonderful seared tuna, served over a bed of sauteed bok choy in sesame oil with your recommendation of potato – absolutely delicious!

Joe Jan 22, 2009 at 7:19 pm

Where does the waste from ocean salmon end up?

Joe Jan 22, 2009 at 7:22 pm

Where does the waste from ocean salmon end up?
I would guess that more than likely, direct in the ocean.

sivan harlap Jan 22, 2009 at 7:32 pm

just made this dish, ab fab megan! thanks for the recipe. i made some roasted kale chips on the side and a nice big pot of pureed coriander beet and carrot soup to wash it all down with! xx

megan Jan 22, 2009 at 7:35 pm

Thanks Joe, for the oblique request for clarification.

From the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Farmed Salmon Report:
In addition to the relatively high incidence of escaped fish, open salmon farming systems also allow the free-flow of wastes into the surrounding marine environment. Such wastes include biological “wastes” such as diseases and parasites, organic wastes such as feces and uneaten aquafeed, and chemical wastes such as unprocessed antibiotics, pesticides, and anesthetics.

megan Jan 22, 2009 at 7:40 pm

mmmm sivan can I come over?

sivan harlap Jan 22, 2009 at 7:56 pm

anytime darling!

Rachel M Dec 16, 2009 at 8:19 pm

I just tried this recipe with my Mom. It was delicious! We loved it! Thanks for the recipe!! I really enjoyed it!!

michael Mar 16, 2010 at 12:23 am

great site and i’m cooking this tomorrow, I am really really excited!

fisha Jan 12, 2011 at 4:10 am

looks good, though i would have cooked the tuna a little less–if it’s good quality, it should be left red on the inside, not just pink!

Turquoise Jan 15, 2012 at 3:06 pm

Just tried it, it’s delicious. It’s the easiest sesame-seared tuna recipe I tried and it’s the tastiest.
My two tips are: adjust cooking times according to the type of flame and fish thickness you have. And use good pepper quality.

Danny Jan 18, 2012 at 11:51 am

Fantastic. I recommend toasting some of the sesame seeds to various degrees so you get different colours throughout the coating.

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