Chile-Ginger Grilled Tuna, with Korean-style Salad

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Up until about ten years ago, tuna might have been considered an underutilized species—we ate lots of it, but only the mushy canned stuff, which bears about the same resemblance to fresh tuna as K-rations do to a prime steak. During the big restaurant push of the eighties, though, tuna emerged as a chef’s favorite menu item. In this it was aided not only by its reasonable price and availability, but also by its adaptability to grilling and sautéing and its strength of character, which allows it to hold up to lots of bold flavors. Undercooking tuna is popular because the meat is so similar to steak that it just seems like a natural way to cook it. One word of caution: If you’re looking for tuna to undercook, make sure you get #1 grade. Freshness is always paramount. Fish are graded by color, texture, and freshness, and with #1 grade you are sure to get fish that is free of parasites. Look for meat that is red, gleaming, and moist. You can substitute steaks of grouper, mahi mahi, swordfish, or salmon in this recipe, but in that case you will probably want to cook the fish a couple minutes more.


Cooking Methodgrilling


Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe Coursemain course


Five Ingredients or LessYes



Taste and Texturegarlicky, herby, hot & spicy, savory, sharp, smoky, spiced, sweet, umami


  • ½ cup shredded Napa (Chinese) cabbage
  • ¼ cup bean sprouts of your choice (radish, alfalfa, etc.)
  • 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • ¼ cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 fresh chile pepper of your choice, minced
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chile pepper of your choice, minced
  • 2 tablespoons minced ginger
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • ¼ cup sesame oil
  • Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
  • 4 8-ounce tuna steaks, about 2-inches thick


  1. In a medium bowl, combine the cabbage, bean sprouts, and cucumber.

  2. Make the dressing: In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and whisk together well. Add just enough dressing to the cabbage-cucumber mixture to moisten the ingredients, toss well, and refrigerate.

  3. Make the rub: In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients and mix well.

  4. Rub the tuna steaks generously with the spice rub, place them on the grill over a hot fire, and cook for about 4 minutes on each side for medium-rare. To check for doneness: Cut into one of the steaks and check to see that it is just translucent in the center. Remove from the grill and serve with the chilled vegetable salad.

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