When it comes to summer, we're all about dishes that require as little cooking as possible. Cold salads and no-bake desserts are the way to go for all your casual picnic needs, but if you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, try a tartare. More specifically: tuna tartare from a chef known for his, ahem, raw skills, making everything from tartare to carpaccio.
Enter Ignacio Mattos of NYC's celebrated Estela, Café Altro Paradiso and, most recently, Flora Bar. Mattos walks us through his no-frills recipe for tuna tartare, which just so happens to include potato chips (see the recipe), proving there's nothing intimidating about this dish.
Chef Ignacio Mattos | Photo: Tuukka Koski
The most important step of preparing seafood is finding the best and freshest fish possible. "It's all about sourcing," says the chef, who recommends trying your local farmers' market, or, if you're in NYC, stopping in at Manhattan's Lobster Place or Brooklyn's Mermaid's Garden. Mattos recommends developing a relationship with your local fishmonger so that you can ask him or her for recommendations on everything from the right cut to the right kind of fish to use in a dish. Another pointer? Look for shiny and vibrant fish whose flesh doesn't tear apart.
Once you've purchased the fish, the next step is making sure to handle it with care. Like a Japanese chef might handle tuna from market to sushi bar, "it's a respect and pride for having a special product," Mattos says. That includes being delicate when you're touching the fish but also using a sharp knife when filleting it. "But also," he warns with a smile, "don't take it too seriously."
And that's more important advice than you might think. A dish like Mattos's tuna tartare, or his now-famous beef tartare at Estela or slightly heartier beef carpaccio at Café Altro Paradiso, might scare off home cooks who are afraid to make a mistake. But Mattos supports experimentation and says there's no wrong way to do things. "Don't be afraid of fucking it up and doing it all over again." Sure, it sounds easy when a James Beard Award-nominated chef says it, but take a look at the recipe, and you'll see that putting your fish-purchasing skills to the test really is the hardest part.
Another tip the chef offers once you get cooking is to pat the fish dry; this removes some of the water content. "The whole idea is to make it firmer and make a smooth mouthfeel," he explains. Next, pay attention to the order in which you add ingredients. Otherwise, "it'll be like when your sunscreen doesn't rub in all the way when you're at the beach, but sort of melts off your skin," the chef warns. Olive oil and salt first, acid last—or else the latter will start to cook the fish, like a ceviche.
Finally, as in all his dishes, Mattos adds texture. For this one, he adds crunchy potato chips right into the chopped tuna mixture. At home, he suggests serving the dish alongside chips instead of mixing them in for two reasons: One, the potato chips aren't meant to sit in the mixture for very long, lest they become soggy; and two, it's more playful and interactive to let guests chip at will.
At Flora Bar, Mattos serves the dish in an elegant, assembled disk that perfectly matches the ambiance of the refined restaurant. But when it comes to your kitchen, think about how the presentation best suits the mood. And above all, have fun with it.
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