Pepper-Crusted Tuna with Green Olive Sauce

Updated February 23, 2016
This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

One of the first specials I offered when I was a sous chef at ’21’ was a peppered tuna steak. Believe it or not, it was something of a novelty back then. I served it with a bracing tomato relish and buttered green beans. This recipe, based on that one, is a real pantry special, if you count your bar as part of your pantry: the key ingredients-olive, gin, and vermouth-are the essential components of a martini. The stir-fry of carrots and chayote is intended to add snap and crunch, like the peanuts or pretzels you might snack on with a cocktail. Be careful not to overcook fresh tuna. Let it come to room temperature just before cooking so the inside can be cooked rare or medium-rare without drying out.

Chayote, or mirliton, is a crisp vegetable used extensively in New Orleans and Caribbean cooking. It looks like a pear and cooks like a zucchini, but stays firm, not mushy. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is especially good in stews. Zucchini or yellow squash can be substituted

Nightly Specials

Instead of green olives, use Kalamata olives for an intense salty flavor or blanched pearl onions for another alternative.

Replace the gin and vermouth, with white wine or tequila, and finish the sauce with a teaspoon or so each of oregano and parsley.


Cooking Methodpan-frying, sauteeing



Total Timeunder 30 minutes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party, Cooking for a date, Formal Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free


Taste and Texturebuttery, crisp, herby, salty, savory, winey


  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, pulsed to fine in a food processor
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
  • Four 6-ounce skinless tuna steaks (¾ inch thick)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 whole chayote, julienned (see Notes)
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and cut into julienne
  • 3 tablespoons minced shallots
  • 16 martini olives, pitted, drained, and sliced crosswise
  • 3 thyme sprigs
  • ¼ cup gin
  • ¼ cup dry vermouth
  • ½ cup homemade chicken stock or store-bought, low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Fine sea salt


Stir the breadcrumbs and pepper together in a bowl. Spread the mixture out on a large plate. Coat the tuna with the mixture by pressing all sides of each steak on the plate, pressing down so the coating adheres.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium heat. Cook the tuna in the pan without crowding until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Turn the steaks over and cook on the other side for about 2 minutes for rare, 3 for medium-rare. Remove the tuna to a plate and cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Set aside.

Add the chayote to the pan, raise the heat to high, and wilt for 1 minute. Add the carrot and cook for 2 minutes. Add the shallots, olives, thyme, gin, and vermouth, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the broth, bring to a boil, and let boil for 1 minute to reduce slightly. Stir in the butter; season with salt and pepper; and remove the pan from the heat. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove and discard the thyme sprigs.

To serve, slice each tuna steak in half. Arrange some of the sauteed vegetables in the center of each of 4 plates and stack 2 steak halves on top. Drizzle some sauce around the fish on each plate and serve.



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