Watermelon and Tuna Crudo

In Recipe by Sean18 Comments

Watermelon and Tuna Crudo

A wild-eyed, white-haired old scientist steps out a smoking Delorean and looks around in order to get his bearings.  A consummate time-traveller, he quickly attempts to ascertain where – or more accurately when – he has arrived.  Trying to gauge what decade he’s landed in, he heads to the nearest fine dining establishment. He glances at the menu in search of something.  What exactly? “Raw fish!” The man calls out in his unmistakable, wobbling inflection.  Will he draw the puzzled stares of a mid-20th century crowd as he asks for salmon sashimi? Will he be rewarded with a carefully constructed mid-1980s tuna tartare? Or will he find himself firmly in the 21st century, surrounded by a bewildering assortment of pokes, ceviches, carpaccios, and crudos?

Raw fish has undergone a complete 180 in the Western world as interest in global food culture has grown. North American (and some European) generations past may have balked at the notion eating fish untouched by heat, but fishing cultures around the world have long known that you don’t really need to do anything to a good, fresh piece of fish in order to craft a tasty meal. Raw fish, when as fresh as can be managed, speaks for itself, and modern diners simply can’t get enough.  How exactly the West has embraced this attitude is not something I fully understand, but I would hazard a guess that the ubiquity of sushi coupled with the long-standing popularity of European raw red meat dishes (e.g. beef carpaccio and steak tartare) had something to do with it, but I have another thought that I’ll get into a little later.  Regardless of the cause, we find ourselves smack in the middle of a food culture that’s obsessed with new and exciting ways to eat uncooked seafood.  Sashimi and ceviche have had their moments in the sun (but, you know, don’t leave them in the sun), and trendy restaurants and their adventurous clientele are increasingly turning towards Hawaiian poke and Italian crudo for their raw fish fix.

Italian pesce crudo (literally ‘raw fish’) is often explained by way of a reference to sashimi. The comparison is somewhat unfair, however; while the two dishes share an emphasis on fresh, high quality raw fish, they are nonetheless exceptionally different dishes. Sashimi is primarily focused on presenting painstakingly prepared and stunningly fresh fish with minimal accompaniment. Crudo, while still focused on very high quality and very fresh fish, tends to use a variety of other ingredients to add flavour and character to the dish. In general, this means olive oil, lemon juice, some herbs, and possibly some fruits or vegetables. Crudo can appear easier to make than sashimi (and certainly it is from a technique perspective), but it’s even more reliant on good quality ingredients than sashimi. Even if you start with great fish, you’ll end up with a forgettable dish if you use bland olive oil or bottled lemon juice.

Pesce crudo occupies an odd place in modern Italian cuisine. While fishermen have probably eaten seasoned raw fresh fish for centuries, it’s not traditionally occupied a prominent place in the Italian culinary world. There seems to be some confusion about just what differentiates crudo from, say, ceviche or poke. All of these (amazing) raw fish dishes have a great deal in common, but they have their differences as well. Ceviche, for example, tends to focus on curing the fish with an acidic sauce, effectively cooking it through chemistry rather than heat. Poke’s flavours are driven by the fusion-rich culture of Hawaii, and tends to play the fish against various tropical ingredients, often accompanied by the strong flavours of soy sauce, sesame oil, and sweet onion. Crudo, on the other hand, is an extension of the Italian obsession with using a small number of very good ingredients to maximum effect. While there is a little acid, it’s not as prominent as you’d find in ceviche, nor does it cure the fish so thoroughly. Fruits, vegetables, herbs, and marinades are also used to make crudo, but not the same bold in-your-face way that you get with most poke. Without putting to fine a point on it, it’s Italian raw fish.

Back to why we (and our imaginary Doc Brown) are seeing raw fish go through a meteoric rise in popularity.  I have a theory that this kind of food speaks to a growing desire to return to ingredient-driven cuisine. This is SIMPLE food. You can make it look pretty (and hey, I’m obviously going for that here), and you can tweak and twist the recipes in all sorts of ways, but at the end of the day your meal can be no better than your ingredients. It’s a classic garbage-in, garbage-out situation, and no culinary wizardry can work around it. Chefs and home cooks alike are delivering a manifesto on ingredients when they make crudo. You place these bare, unfinessed ingredients together for all to see and you’re saying, ‘I’m not hiding anything here – I’m sharing the best of the best with you, without artifice or manipulation.’ Of course trendy food tends to go a little off the deep end, and I have not doubt that we’ll probably start seeing some ridiculous manipulations of the ceviche/crudo/sashimi/whatever modality.  But when we do see things go to far (assuming we don’t strain our eyes with too much rolling), it’s important that we all wake up and remember the beauty and importance of keeping things simple, and keeping them honest.

Recipe Notes

I’m going to take a brief moment to reiterate the take-home message from above (he said, in his best teacher-voice). This is all about the ingredients. Sure, I spent some time making this look a little fancier, and doing the nice cube presentation, but there is virtually nothing to worry about here by way of technique. This dish is driven by good ingredients alone, and as such, you’ll want to pay extra attention to what you’re putting in.

Tuna

This can’t be stressed enough – if you’re going to eat raw fish, it needs to be of both excellent quality and maximum freshness. Not all fish is meant to be eaten raw, nor should it be. My very best advice to you here is to develop a good relationship with a quality fish market. They’ll steer you towards the best, freshest product. Not all fishmongers are great or knowledgeable, so ask questions and do your homework. If you’re not getting answers, or the answers you get don’t make sense, find a new market.

I’ve used ahi (yellowfin) tuna (Thunnus albacares), and it’s a fantastic fish to use. It has an unparalleled flavour, and line-caught ahi tuna is one of the more environmentally sustainable fisheries out there today. A great piece of lean tuna steak will set you back a bit, but you don’t need much of it to make this an excellent meal.

If you’re so inclined, you can use a different kind of fish here, but ensure that it’s of a grade suitable for eating raw. Likewise, you can use a fattier cut of tuna, though if you do I might cut back the olive oil a bit.

As a final note, if you do decide to get tuna and you end up with more than you need for this recipe, check out my tataki recipe with scratch ponzu. It’s a beef recipe as written, but it works incredibly well with tuna too.

Olive Oil

This is a tricky, and shockingly scandalous little blurb to have to write.

A lot of olive oil is fake. By fake, I mean it contains some olive oil, but has been cut with other oils, and in some cases colored. This is not done on the up-and-up; there are serious, ongoing issues surrounding organized crime and the covert adulteration of olive oil. I realize how bizarre this sounds, but it’s true. I would love to spend more time talking about this, and perhaps I will in the future, but for now I’ll direct you to the book Extra Virginity for a look at some of the shenanigans and some of the solutions that are cropping up in the olive oil world.

Setting aside issues related to purity, the most important factor in this situation is the flavour of your olive oil. It needs to serve as a vehicle for other flavours, and as a tasty addition in its own right. Olive oils can be intensely personal, with some preferring grassier, green tastes and others preferring nuttier or more mellow flavours. Your best bet is to actually taste a few brands, on their own (or with a little bit of bread). If you don’t like it on its own, you’re not going to like eating it here. Oil shops are becoming pretty trendy these days, and many major cities have at least one shop that will let you taste and buy specialty/region oils, and I strongly encourage you to hit one up. If you can’t get to a store like this, many small producers with extremely transparent production methods have set up shop on the internet. Do some investigating and you’ll be rewarded with great product, all while supporting a small farmer or producer.

Lastly (brace yourselves, Italians), don’t feel that your olive oil needs to be from Italy. Greece, Spain, and even South America are producing exceptional olive oils in small, quality batches. If you do want to buy Italian oil, seek out some of the emerging growers and producers that are aiming to add transparency and integrity to the current fracas.

Watermelon

Ok, everyone knows what a watermelon is, and I’m not here to drop any further bombshells on you, but I am going to try to encourage you to seek out great watermelon. You know those mealy, watery, seedless melons you can get everywhere, all the time? Don’t use those. Seriously, they’re just awful, and we all know it. There are some amazing seedless varieties out there, but it seems to me that the common cultivars shipped to most grocery stores are pretty flavourless. Shop around for local or semi-local seasonal watermelons. I used a local seeded watermelon for this and it was wonderful, but regardless of the variety you choose, make sure to try some before you make this. In fact, I’d shop for melon first, and when you do find a great one, seek out the fish and bring the rest of the recipe together.

Fennel

If you haven’t read the ingredients yet, you might be surprised to see this blurb. There’s a pinch of ground fennel seed in this, and you do NOT want to leave it out. It’s that perfect pop of flavour that brings the whole thing together. I’m only using a little pinch of it, so try to use whole seeds and grind them yourself.

If you have access to good fennel plants, you could also use leafy fennel fronds, coarsely chopped, either in place of or as a supplement to the fennel seed itself.


Nutrition Facts
Watermelon and Tuna Crudo
Amount Per Serving
Calories 146 Calories from Fat 72
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 8g 12%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 5g
Cholesterol 27mg 9%
Sodium 73mg 3%
Potassium 87mg 2%
Total Carbohydrates 5g 2%
Dietary Fiber 0.3g 1%
Sugars 3g
Protein 14g 28%
Vitamin A 8%
Vitamin C 13%
Calcium 2%
Iron 3%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

NOTE: The nutritional information does NOT include bread or crackers, so adjust accordingly.

GOOD NEWS:
This is very light, protein-rich, and guilt-free decadence. Even with added bread or crackers, and even if you decide to have a double portion (which would make a great lunch), there’s very little to complain about here.

BAD NEWS:
Ahi tuna is considered a high-mercury content fish species, and should be eaten very sparingly by young children women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Salmon, while very different in flavour, can be used as a delicious and low-mercury substitute.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

No pantry pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

  • Pescetarian
  • Dairy-free
  • Gluten free
  • Reduced meat
  • 30-minutes

*The crudo itself is gluten-free, but you’ll obviously have to choose serving crackers or bread accordingly.


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Watermelon and Ahi Tuna crudo - Diversivore.com
Watermelon and Tuna Crudo
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Servings Prep Time
4 servings 10 minutes
Passive Time
15 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 10 minutes
Passive Time
15 minutes
Watermelon and Ahi Tuna crudo - Diversivore.com
Watermelon and Tuna Crudo
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Votes: 0
Rating: 0
You:
Rate this recipe!
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 10 minutes
Passive Time
15 minutes
Servings Prep Time
4 servings 10 minutes
Passive Time
15 minutes
Ingredients
Servings: servings
Units:
Instructions
  1. Slice the scallion greens into long, thin ribbons (i.e. along the length of the stalk). Fill a bowl with ice water, and place the scallions in the water. They should curl up and be ready to use by the time you're ready to serve.
  2. Dice the watermelon into small cubes (I went with about 1 cm square, but you can go with whatever size you think will work best). Set aside.
  3. Using a very sharp knife, cut the tuna into small cubes or small pieces (cubes are nice for presentation, but any small bite-sized pieces will work). Set aside, separate from the watermelon. (Note - if you're having trouble cutting the tuna, put it in the freezer for 20 minutes and then cut it, but be careful not to leave it too long or you'll affect the texture).
  4. Place the fennel seeds, peppercorns, and salt in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and pulverize. Toss the spice blend with the tuna and set aside to cure for 7-10 minutes.
  5. While the tuna is curing, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and shallots in a small bowl. Toss the mixture with the watermelon and let stand for 5 minutes.
  6. After the curing time has passed, combine the tuna and watermelon gently in a serving bowl. Take care not to crush the watermelon or shred the tuna. Taste and adjust the salt, if necessary. Chill in the refrigerator for 3-4 minutes, then serve with slices of crusty bread and topped with scallions.
Recipe Notes

Quality of ingredients is of paramount importance in this recipe. Make sure your fish is fresh and safe to eat raw, and that you've got a great quality olive oil to use (taste a bit on its own to make sure you like the flavour).

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Comments

  1. Every time I read a recipe of yours I feel like I just walked out of a lecture. But a captivating, energizing and mind blowing lecture from the cool prof who wears chucks, shows you pictures of his dog and encourages you to challenge him. Weird feeling? Maybe, but I love it! Keep it up. Loving the photos on this one, too.

    1. Author

      Heh, welllll I am a teacher. Let’s just say that I don’t have any trouble lecturing in person either. But I’m very glad to know that I’m working my way into the cool-prof-niche. Thanks a ton for commenting, and for reading. I do this stuff because I love it… but I also do it because I really want to share with people who want to listen!

  2. Hi Sean

    you have put your self into a class only known to a select few one being Masaharu Morimoto. Your dish with its fresh flavors, the tenderness of the Ahi tuna which is like butter to your tongue. The acidity from the white wine vinegar and lemon juice, the juicy sweetness of the watermelon and its subtle flavor compliments the tuna very well. Of course lets not forget the extra virgin olive oil. I agree there are a lot of fakes out the. Being Italian and married to a strong Italian cuisine traditionalist we only buy the D>O>P authenticated oils. Having tasted all kinds when a fake comes through we are sure to notice. Back to your Crudo the finally shallots and green onion for its unmistakable flavor adding some earthiness and sweet pungent nature to the mix. This is truly an award winning dish in our eyes Sean.
    Excellent work and as usual wonderful and informative write up.
    WELL DONE!
    Loreto

    1. Author

      Loreto, I don’t know what to say… that’s an amazing compliment! I’m beyond flattered.

      I’m incredibly happy to know that this resonated with you. As always, I’m so pleased to see comments from you and Nicoletta. You’re so talented… and you can bet I have you both in mind whenever I’m cooking Italian food. I know that I’ve got a lot to live up to, and I’m very happy to have done it here!

  3. Great post Sean ! Love your big featured image at the top, it just draws your audience in. I always learn something new when I read your post, and this time is no exception. I love tuna more than any other raw fish, but don’t really know how to prepare them at home. Thanks for the recipe !

    1. Author

      Thanks Vicky! I love doing those big images – I’m very visual, and I really love having that food photo right there to welcome you in. I’m glad you like it too. And I’m glad you enjoyed the recipe! Do try to find a good fishmonger and ask about getting good tuna. Beyond that, this dish is wildly simple to put together, and even easier to enjoy!

  4. A testament that fresh is best, especially when consuming raw fish. It is quite humorous that you covered off the culture shift to acceptance of eating raw when I just finished the first episode of the series ‘Cooked’ which delves into the evaluation of cooking with fire.
    The wonders of food is that you can pretty much go to all ends of the spectrum.

    1. Author

      I haven’t watched that yet, but I read the book that the series was based off of and I loved every bit of it. But hey, Michael Pollan’s writing is easy to love. You’re definitely right though – it’s amazing how food can be transformed in so many bizarre and fascinating ways.

  5. Hahaha I love the little story at the beginning! I can tell that you’re starting to get into the writing side of blogging, as you mentioned on Facebook. 🙂 Beautifully plated as always, plus everyone loves watermelon and ’tis the season, so great timing!

    1. Author

      Thanks Cassie! At first when I started, lo these 8 months ago, I was a little overwhelmed by the writing. I mean, I really enjoy writing, but sometimes you just don’t trust your skills (or that you have anything worth saying). Fortunately practice is making me more confident, and I’m having a lot of fun. I’m glad you like the dish – and yeah, it’s a wonderful way to use watermelon in a savoury setting. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  6. By the sounds of it, what with your intro and all, you should refer to this dish as the Snack to the Future. Eh? EH??

    Would you believe I’ve never had fennel? I’m always afraid to buy it because I hear conflicted things about it. I’m going to have to bite the bullet and just grab some.

    Anyway, you know I’m all about this dish. Raw tuna forever. With breaks in between of course, because, mercury.

    1. Author

      Please don’t let my late response be an indication of my reaction to that pun. But… you know… maybe a little bit. 😀

      Fennel is awesome in ALL it’s variations. I just went with fennel seed here, which is great, but I like it all from the bulb to the fronds to the seeds and even the pollen (which is crazy expensive). You have to like anise-y flavours obviously, but I find it’s not an overwhelming taste, and as a vegetable it’s got a lot going for it. As a spice I find it’s perfect for adding just a little bit of punch to dishes, which is why it frequently shows up in Italian sausage.

      And yes. Raw tuna forever, with some mercury breaks. Freakin’ bioaccumulation.

  7. I found some gorgeous fennel at the grocery store today! Now just to find some great ahi tuna. This dish is right up my alley and on my must try list this summer. Thanks as always for the beautiful inspiration, Sean!

    1. Author

      I’m glad it struck a chord with you! It’s so easy, but so good (as long as your ingredients are awesome!). If you do try it with fennel fronds instead of fennel seed, please let me know how it goes! I bet it would look lovely. And as always, you’re welcome!

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