Cilantro stems have much more flavor than the leaves. The leaves suffer when cooked, so they are best used as a garnish or added to a dish just before serving. Thai red curry paste is zesty; its heat is balanced by the sugar in the coconut-milk mixture in which the tuna steaks are baked.
Make Ahead: The baking sauce may be prepared up to 2 days in advance; the tuna, 1 day in advance.
- For the coconut-milk baking sauce
- 2 cans (27 to 28 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 cup cilantro stems (about 1 1/2 bunches), well-rinsed and coarsely chopped
- 2 limes (zest and juice)
- 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
- For the tuna
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 jar (4 ounces) Thai red curry paste
- 6 (96 ounces) yellowfin tuna steaks, about 1 1/2 inches thick
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
- 1/2 cup chopped scallions (about 2 bunches), both white and light-green parts
For the coconut-milk baking sauce: In a blender or food processor, combine the coconut milk, sugar, cilantro stems, lime zest and juice and fish sauce and process for 30 seconds. Cover tightly and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the tuna: Combine the olive oil and Thai curry paste in a small bowl and stir until well combined. Brush both sides of the tuna steaks with the curry mixture and place them on a baking sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 15 minutes. To sear the tuna steaks, heat a large cast-iron skillet on medium-high heat until hot. Spray the tuna with nonstick spray oil on both sides. Sear the steaks 2 at a time for 15 seconds on each side. Between batches, wipe the skillet clean with paper towels (be careful; the pan will be very hot). Make sure to allow the pan to get hot again for each batch. Place the seared steaks in a 9-by-13-inch ovenproof baking dish. Cover and refrigerate.
To assemble: Let the tuna steaks and the coconut-milk baking sauce sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before baking. Position an oven rack on the lower level and preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Remove the steaks from the baking dish, add the coconut-milk baking sauce and return the tuna to the dish. Bake for 12 minutes.
Transfer the tuna steaks to a cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices, placing the slices on a serving platter. Add the chopped cilantro leaves and scallions to the warm coconut-milk baking sauce. Spoon some of the sauce over the sliced tuna and serve the remaining sauce on the side.
Adapted from chef and former restaurateur David Hagedorn.
Tested by Jill Grisco.
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