I recently fell in love with Dave Pasternack. As a chef out of New York’s Hells Kitchen, Chef Pasternack has been dubbed “the fish whisperer.” Amongst other claims to fame (including that he has the mouth of a long-haul trucker), Chef loves fish. He actually catches many of the main courses he serves himself and other dishes center around produce picked from his home garden. He partnered with Mario Batali to open ESCA (Italian for “bait”) which has fish lovers raving from coast-to-coast.
When he is not catching fish, he is hand selecting the best from the pier daily. People claim he knows everything about them and can instantly understand complex information, such as what a fish ate, how it was caught and how tasty it will be, by simply looking at it. He appears to obsess about fish.
The arrival of ESCA came at the same time that sushi was taking over New York City’s top kitchens. I recently heard of his Mediterranean spin on sashimi (tuna, lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper) and decided to give it a try and a bit of my own touch. I love spicy food and his version lacked the kick of wasabi (a clearly Asian/ Japanese flavor) and I wanted to extend the Mediterranean/ Italian theme in my own way. Here’s my attempt – to me it was worth the experiment and we’ll be eating it again…
I have fallen in love with garlic scapes. They are the green stem and flower that grow from a garlic bulb and look like the child of a green onion and a chive and taste like mild garlic. They cook at much higher temperatures than garlic without burning and are mild enough for a pesto or to be chopped fine into a salad. The flower is edible and the stems are about 12 inches when harvested. The easiest way to obtain them is to grow your own or to chance apon a farmers market or produce vendor who stock them (previously available in the spring and summer I have found them in the St Lawrence Market for the last few months and will share the location to those interested – fire us an email or post a question)…
I wanted long, thin strips to add to our tuna. Garlic is a quintessential Mediterranean flavor and could overpower the mild tuna. The thin strips and mild scapes would allow for an accent while paying a satirical tribute to pasta (I know it’s a stretch but it did make me smile). I actually used our Zenga Star Peeler (we really oughta sell these $6 wonders) and finished them off, when needed, with a pairing knife.
Squeeze bottles make this easier – lemons in one and olive oil in the other. Slice the tuna thin (about 5 mm or 1/5 inch thick) and remove any silvery fat. It’s important you slice across the grain like the photo below. Assemble your ingredients into little piles in advance – you want to eat this as soon as it’s prepared. Olive oil, lemon juice, sushi grade tuna, garlic scape, freshly ground pepper, sea salt and chilies are the entire list.
Start with a small pool of lemon juice (as much as a tablespoon) in the middle of the plate – feel free to drizzle a bit extra around the plate. It is essential that you put the lemon under the fish and not on top as it will change the color of the fish as it cures it (even in a few moments).
Pepper, a few chilies, olive oil (on the plate and fish) and a garlic scape top it all off. Dash with coarse sea salt at the last minute (you want it to be coarse enough to add a crunch as you eat the fish).
We added a lot more garlic scape on the side and enjoyed. Less than a third of a pound each and we were shockingly full. Try it out – it`s a wonderful taste of the sea and a great twist from the soy and wasabi treated chicken of the sea that we know and love.