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Creating a feast on Memorial Day: Cooking Al Fresco Pan Seared Ahi Tuna

Cooking Outside is one of my favorite things to do when the weather warms up. When I was a catering chef, we always cooked outside onsite for a party, even in the winter. Whether it was not to mess up a client's fancy kitchen, or we just wanted the room to spread out in a garage. It gave us a chance to get some fresh air and make some delicious food at the same time.

We would set up a field kitchen of sorts. Where we would have everything, we needed, including running water. Burners, garbage. You name it. We brought it. We loved cooking close to the source of serving. It shortened the distance between us and the customer.

So, In my own home now, I still love cooking outside for friends. It gives me a chance to be part of the action, and it also gives them a chance to participate in the cooking process. You just must have the gear and be organized. One of my favorite things to order in restaurants is Ahi tuna. Now, with the availability of frozen, I also enjoy making it at home. With just a few ingredients, you can have the same fancy fare in your own backyard at a fraction of the cost.

The Gear

It can be simple, Or extravagant. I fall somewhere in between. I got a very inexpensive butane burner single burner from my local retail restaurant supply house. It’s easy to find them online too. They cost about 30$ and you can find the butane canisters there too. And I have a grill and a nice-sized prep table.

A good sturdy, large cutting board Is also recommended. The bigger the better. You want to set up your station Moving your food from left to right during the cooking process. Particularly if you are going to have raw food, do you want to keep it always separated from the cooked food. A nice prep table, like a folding table from Sam's Club or Costco, works great.

Don't forget about a garbage can. And tools That you'll need if you're going to chop outside and do your mise en place there. Have a bucket along with bleach water or sanitizer if you have raw foods around.

I love to use my butane burner to cook outside Because I can do everything from sautéing shrimp scampi to Searing tuna, to flipping pancakes. A Cast iron rectangular griddle is a great investment for cooking outside for making pancakes and cooking several types of flat Items like fish and chicken breast. In Australia, The Barbie, as we like to call it, it's a flatiron-like shape with no grates. It was really fascinating when I traveled there that I get to experiment, and I forget how versatile a flat grill is on a barbecue.

Ahi Tuna; is fresh best?

So today I'm going to tell you about how I cook Seared Ahi tuna. Where I live in the Midwest Frozen tuna Is quite acceptable, What I have learned from years and the restaurant business is that just because fish Is Frozen, that does not mean it is not fresh. In many landlocked areas, Frozen fish is a better Idea than Fresh depending on how long it's been out of the water. When I worked in the seafood business many years ago, even back then, Fresh fish in landlocked areas was at least seven days from the water.

Now boats can pick up fish from the Fishing boats and freeze them Very quickly and package them. You see this quite often with salmon That's caught in Alaska. I like to buy Ahi tuna. It is yellowfin tuna, which is still sustainable, And I can find them at about any grocery store. They are just the right portion size, and they could even be cooked frozen.

The equipment for cooking Ahi tuna Outside Al Fresco is simple. You need a burner or heat source, And a nonstick skillet with a lid. You sear them, Flip them over, take them off the heat and cover them and let them sit for 10 minutes. If you want them more done, you can let them sit longer, or you can sear them longer. It takes a bit of practice, but once you get the feel for how long it takes and if you cook them frozen versus fresh, you will get the hang of it easily. It is a great Meal On a spring salad with a few garnishes and dressing.

All you need is a little wasabi vinaigrette for the top and some sesame seeds, and you got delicious Dinner in a flash.

So here are some tips for cooking Tuna al fresco with a wasabi drizzle.

Tip #1. Have all your mise en place done before you start because, the Tuna is going to cook very quickly, and you do not want to be mixing and doing things at the last minute because your tuna is done and you're ready and you're not.

Tip #2- You need a high smoke oil like avocado oil or grapeseed oil. Not sesame oil or olive oil. Because it burns too quickly.

Tip #3. Next, you want to gather your sesame seeds. I sometimes use a 50/50 mix of half black and half toasted White sesame seeds. Next, you want to brush the tuna with the oil. And dredge them in the seeds.

Tip #4. Make sure your pan is hot. So, this will ensure a good sear.

Tip #5. Do not forget to add salt and pepper. Especially black pepper, it gives it a nice flavor.

Tip #6. If you do not have a nonstick pan, a cast-iron skillet works great too. You want to get it Hot, so you will get a quick sear.

Tip #7. Wasabi Paste in a tube works best, but dry Wasabi will work as well.

Tip #8. If you are cooking thawed Tuna. You only need about 1-2 minutes on each side. On each side and about 10 seconds on each edge when searing.

Tip #9. Toss your greens with your dressing before you put your fish on top.

Tip #10. Always cut against the grain. And remember, tuna will continue to cook. After it is off the heat. That is called carryover heat.

How do I make Pan Seared Ahi Tuna?

Seared Tuna with Wasabi Sauce

Serves 4


4- Frozen Ahi Tuna steaks (4-6 oz size)

4 teaspoons avocado or canola oil

¼ cup toasted sesame seeds, more for garnish

1-2 tablespoons wasabi paste

1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil

1-4 tablespoon soy sauce depending on your taste

4 cups fresh spinach or baby greens

½ cup French fried onion strings


Wash hands before cooking.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat over medium-high heat. Coat fish with oil and crumb with sesame seeds on one side. Place the fish on the side with the seeds down on the hot skillet, searing the tuna. Continue to cook for 5 minutes until the bottom of the fish touching the pan starts to turn white. Turn fish and sear on the other side for 2 minutes. Take off the heat, cover, and let sit in the pan for 10 minutes. Slice tuna, place on a bed of spinach. Drizzle with sesame oil mixed with soy sauce and wasabi sauce on top of fish. Sprinkle additional sesame seeds as garnish. If tuna is too rare for your diners, cook on medium heat in the microwave for 30 seconds.

Storage: Store raw fish in the freezer until ready to use. If thawed, store below 40F degrees until ready to cook. After it's cooked, let cool and store for 3-4 days in the fridge. Great for Tuna Nicoise Salad or a Tuna sandwich.

Serve with my Sesame Green Beans for a side, find the recipe here. For a beverage pairing, I suggest a crisp French Chardonnay like Macon Lugny Les Charmes it's my favorite with any kind of seafood.

Want to learn more recipes that are easy, healthy, and perfect for cooking with friends? Stop on over at my website and register for my monthly newsletter at

So, remember, whether you cook on a campfire or a fancy Taj Ma Que, cooking outside is a wonderful way to mix it up this season and get outdoors. I love this dish because it can be made on the fly as a weeknight salad entree or served as a first course for a dinner party. It can be a great culinary secret weapon in your stash of recipes and cooking charms.

Want to learn more recipes that are easy, healthy, and perfect for cooking with friends? Stop on over at my website and register for my monthly newsletter at Also while you are at it, follow me on Facebook and Instagram.

I will leave you with this quote this week from Fennel Hudson, a British countryside author and broadcaster-

Cooking and eating food outdoors makes it taste infinitely better than the same meal prepared and consumed indoors.” Fennel Hudson


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