Humans, by and large, are afraid of fish, and we have been since before Roy Scheider had his showdown with the shark. Home cooks tend to view sea creatures as too complicated, too bony, too fragile, and, as an occupant of the fridge, way too stinky. When we come across a fish recipe that works, we keep returning to it, which must be how generations of mothers turned their kids against it (albeit with help from Mrs. Paul's). It's a shame, really, since fish is the perfect fast food: incomparably healthy, adaptable to countless cooking methods, and -- best of all -- genuinely, unequivocally fast. To make our case, we asked eight top chefs to share their techniques for preparing local fish: codfish fried in a beer batter. Black sea bass baked in a salt crust. Striped bass steamed in a wok. Tuna seared rare in a deconstructed Niçoise salad. A horseradish-spiked swordfish club sandwich. Scallops grilled over coals, and an applewood-smoked bluefish buried right among them. And a Greek seafood stew called plaki. The results are tantalizing proof that the catch of the day should be the staple of the season.
Seared Tuna Paillard Topped
With a Salad of Baby Watercress,
String Beans, and Olives
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt and pinch of freshly ground white pepper
4 and 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
4 and 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
36 string beans or haricots verts, trimmed
6 3-ounce 1/4-inch-thick tuna steaks
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon thyme leaves
3 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
15 Niçoise olives, pitted and halved
9 red cherry tomatoes, halved
9 yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups baby watercress (small leaves from regular watercress may be substituted)
2 lemons, halved
Vinaigrette: Whisk together the mustard, salt, pepper, and vinegar in a mixing bowl. Add oil slowly in a steady stream, whisking constantly until combined. (May be stored tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to one week.)
Tuna: Blanch the beans in boiling salted water for 3 minutes. Immediately plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking. Heat two nonstick sauté pans over high heat. Using a pastry brush, coat each tuna steak with extra-virgin olive oil, season one side with salt and pepper and sprinkle the thyme leaves. Sear on seasoned side for 45 seconds, until barely cooked (top should still be rare). Transfer each steak to a large chilled plate, cooked-side-down, and brush the tops with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with chives.
Arrange the beans, olives, and cherry tomatoes evenly around each tuna steak. Drizzle some extra-virgin olive oil over the vegetables. Season the watercress in a small bowl with salt and pepper, and toss with just enough vinaigrette to coat the salad. Squeeze a few drops of lemon juice over each tuna steak, and top with a small handful of the salad. Serve immediately.