How to Cook Tuna

Fresh tuna steaks are versatile and easy to cook. Follow these tips and directions for grilling, skillet-cooking, and baking fresh and delicious tuna.

Tuna is a member of the mackerel family that reproduces at an early age, with plentiful offspring. This, plus tuna's firm texture and mild to moderate flavor, are key reasons it is so widely fished, especially for canning. Chefs love getting creative with fresh tuna, but it's also easy to fix at home.

See Tuna & Fruit Salsa recipe

How to Buy and Store Fresh Tuna

  • Fresh tuna comes in a long loin that a fishmonger cuts into hearty steaks. Tuna season is usually late spring into early fall, but it is available frozen year-round.
  • Depending on the variety, raw tuna varies from light pink to a reddish-brown color. It can have a dark portion on the steak, which is edible but stronger in flavor. Sometimes this part is trimmed out before you buy it.
  • Steaks are sold already skinned. Look for tuna with moist flesh and a fresh and pleasant, not fishy, smell.
  • When purchasing, figure on one 4- to 5-ounce tuna steak per person. For optimum freshness, cook tuna the day you buy it.
  • If frozen, thaw tuna steaks in the refrigerator. A 1-pound package will thaw in 1 to 2 days.

How to Season Fresh Tuna

  • Before preparing tuna steaks, rinse with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Measure the thickness of the fish with a ruler.
  • Fresh tuna loves a good marinade, which flavors this fairly mild fish and helps keep it moist during cooking. A short marinating time is all it needs, from 15 minutes up to 4 hours in the refrigerator. Tuna pairs especially well with Asian flavors.
  • Instead of marinating, you can also brush the fish with olive oil or melted butter, and season as desired. Try brushing tuna with a blend of olive oil and lemon juice, then sprinkle it with snipped fresh herb (such as rosemary or tarragon), salt, and ground black pepper.

Cooking Fresh Tuna

Tuna needs a watchful eye during cooking so it remains tender and moist. Because it gets dry and chewy when overcooked, the center should still be pink when it is done cooking. Some people like their tuna even more rare in the center.

How to Grill Tuna Steaks

  1. Grease the unheated grill rack or spray it with nonstick cooking spray. If not marinated, brush the tuna steaks with melted butter or olive oil, and season as desired.
  2. For a charcoal grill, place the tuna steaks on the grill rack directly over medium coals. Grill, uncovered, for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork but is still pink in the center, turning once halfway through cooking.
  3. For a gas grill, preheat the grill. Reduce heat to medium. Place tuna on the grill rack over heat. Cover the grill. Grill for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork but is still pink in the center, turning once halfway through cooking.
  4. If desired, brush tuna with additional melted butter or olive oil after turning.

See Tuna Steaks with Cumin Tartar Sauce

How to Cook Tuna Steaks in a Skillet

Searing tuna steaks in a hot skillet caramelizes the surfaces of the fish and locks in the moisture. Start with 3/4-inch-thick steaks.

  1. Choose a heavy skillet that best fits the number of tuna steaks you are cooking. Add 1 to 3 teaspoons cooking oil or olive oil to lightly coat the skillet. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat until hot.
  2. Add the tuna steaks. The steaks should sizzle when added. Cook, uncovered, for 6 to 9 minutes or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork but is still pink in the center, turning once during cooking. Adjust the heat as needed if the skillet gets too hot.

See Seared Tuna with Grapefruit-Orange Relish recipe

How to Bake Tuna Steaks

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place tuna steaks on a greased baking sheet in a single layer. If not marinated, brush the tuna steaks with melted butter or olive oil, and season as desired.
  2. Bake for 4 to 6 minutes per 1/2-inch thickness of fish or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork but is still pink in the center.

See California Tuna Parmesan recipe

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