Why this recipe works
- Slicing the tuna against the grain ensures the most tender texture.
- Pouring the sauce over the tuna just before serving prevents the fish from toughening in the lime juice, thus preserving its buttery texture.
If the sashimi is drizzled with a savory citrus marinade and topped with serrano peppers, is it still sashimi? For chefs and home cooks in Mexico, the answer is an emphatic yes. Atún’s sashimi is clearly Japanese influenced, raw tuna with soy sauce, ginger and sesame. But ingredients like lime and orange juice, spring onions, serrano pepper, cilantro and avocado are what ultimately shape its wonderful Mexican identity. Although its Asian influence is still recognizable, sashimi de atún has taken on a distinctly Mexican flavor.
Although it is not known exactly when sashimi first arrived in Mexico, Japanese immigrants established communities around Mexico during the 20th century and left their mark on Mexican society. The country’s first Japanese restaurant is they say that of Association México Japonesafounded in 1960. The popularity of Japanese cuisine could also be due to the boom in sushi restaurants in the United States beginning in the late 1980s. In the early 2000s, some restaurants were promoting sushi as an American novelty, according to THE Northwest Newspaper, a regional newspaper in northwestern Mexico. Either way, Mexican chefs quickly adapted their recipes to the changing tastes of their customers. Today, sashimi can be found in home kitchens (at least in Sinaloa) and is common in seafood restaurants across Mexico.
Sashimi in Mexico can take many forms, from the fairly traditional Japanese sashimi it originated from to something akin to aguachile with lime juice, chillies, soy sauce, red onion, cucumber and cilantro. Most variations, including this recipe, lean toward the latter. The dish is usually served with tostadas or savory crackers, and some restaurants offer to lightly sear the tuna before making the sashimi (to ease any discomfort associated with eating totally raw tuna).
In this sashimi de atún recipe, I looked for a well-balanced sauce that wouldn’t overpower the star of the dish: the tuna. This meant opting for spring onions over red onions, including a little orange juice for the citrus sweetness and being careful not to overdo it with the lime and ginger. Butter tuna is cut into thick slices and seasoned with a savory soy sauce-based marinade with a strong lime and orange flavor just before serving. A combination of toppings like serrano chile, cilantro, and tostadas round out the flavor and provide a welcome textural contrast. The result is a refreshing light meal (or appetizer) with Japanese and Mexican roots, perfect for sharing on a hot day.
How to Select and Cut Tuna
As with Japanese sashimi, selecting and cutting the tuna is key to the fresh flavor and buttery texture of sashimi. There’s no doubt that using high quality, perfectly fresh raw tuna is important in a recipe like this, but I can’t stress enough the equally important importance of the cutting technique for the success. Not only do you need a very sharp knife (a dull knife will smash the fish, making the outside mushy and changing the way it absorbs marinade), but you also need to think about the angle and orientation of the knife cuts.
If you cut along the grain of the muscle, for example, the long muscle fibers and their bands of nerve membranes will be unpleasantly stringy. By contrast, cutting against the grain cuts those long fibers, creating the smooth, rich texture that sashimi is famous for. If you’re not fully confident in your knife skills, I recommend freezing the fish for about 20 minutes until it’s firm to the touch, but not completely frozen, which makes slicing easier for those of us less expert in this area. Try to make each cut in one smooth motion without sawing, which will tear the flesh.
In restaurants, it is common for each slice of tuna to be cut into the same rectangular shape and size; leftovers that accumulate throughout the day are usually used in other ways (a spicy tuna roll, anyone?). At home, however, I don’t see the need to cut every piece this way: it wastes valuable fish, especially given the challenge of reusing the small amount of waste that such a small amount of tuna produces. Slices that vary slightly in size and shape are equally delicious.
As for quality, look for something as fresh as possible or frozen at the point of capture (freezing reduces the risk of some pests). And while “sushi grade” isn’t an FDA-regulated term, it’s still a useful phrase when talking to a fishmonger. This raw fish guide is also an excellent source. When selecting a cut, look for tuna with less white tendon and more red muscle.
The secret of the sauce
A little orange juice sweetens the sauce while sesame oil adds richness and flavor. For this recipe, I opted for spring onions, a less spicy alternative to red onions, although green onions will also work. Freshly grated ginger and black pepper add two dimensions of heat and are complemented by a final touch of heat from slivers of serrano pepper as well as the vegetal minerality of fresh cilantro.
While soy sauce and sesame oil are the clear Japanese flavor influences here, it is the combination of lime and orange juice, fresh serrano pepper, coriander and onion, which together bends the sashimi in the direction of a clear Mexican flavor profile. Serving the sashimi with creamy avocado and cooling cucumber alongside fresh, crispy tostadas further reinforces its unmistakable Mexican identity.
Although this sashimi has obvious roots in Japanese cuisine, it immediately becomes clear in one bite that this sashimi de atún is unmistakably Mexican. It’s quite magical how the flavor manages to transcend its origins so completely.
Sashimi de Atún (Mexican tuna sashimi with soy-lime dressing)
The Mexican version of Japanese tuna sashimi has traditional elements like soy sauce and raw fish, but adds Mexican flavor with lime juice, serrano peppers, cilantro, tostadas and avocado.
1 pound (450 g) sushi-grade tuna
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lime juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) soy sauce (see notes)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons (30ml) sesame oil
2 teaspoons (5 g) grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp spring onion sprouts or green onions (6 g), finely chopped (see notes)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 serrano pepper, stemmed and thinly sliced
Fresh coriander leaves, for garnish
Sesame seeds, for garnish
- To serve:
One medium garden cucumber (8 ounces; 227 g), peeled, halved, seeded, and sliced into crescent moons
One medium Hass avocado (8 ounces; 227 g), halved, pitted, and thinly sliced
Place the tuna on a plate and transfer to the freezer until the tuna is firm to the touch but not completely frozen, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in medium bowl, whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, orange juice, sesame oil, ginger, green onions and pepper; put aside.
Using a very sharp knife, cut the firm tuna against the grain of the muscle into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Arrange the tuna slices nicely in an even layer on a serving platter. Pour the reserved sauce over the slices of tuna.
Garnish with serrano, coriander and sesame seeds. Serve immediately with cucumber, avocado and tostadas.
A very sharp slicing knife
This recipe is usually made with a dark Japanese-style soy sauce. I used Kikkoman soy sauce. If you are sodium sensitive, consider using low or lower sodium soy sauce. Be careful not to confuse reduced-sodium soy sauce with light soy sauce (usukuchi), which has a different flavor profile.
Green onions can be substituted for spring onions.
Be sure to buy extremely fresh fish that can be eaten raw; Frozen fish is even safer because the freezing process kills some potential parasites.
Advance preparation and storage
This recipe should be served immediately.