Friday, February 16, 2007

?Deconstruct? your tuna salad sandwich

By J.M. Hirsch

Generally, I shy away from any menu item modified by "deconstructed."

More often than not, the term serves as fair warning that the dish has more to do with pretense than good taste. For the uninitiated, it usually refers to a meal that has been broken down into its constituent parts and served that way.

And so a deconstructed lasagna might be a plate of noodles topped with a slice of grilled tomato and a sprinkle of cheese. But to me, that's not lasagna; that's a bad plate of spaghetti.

Yet the concept isn't a bad one. The idea is to take something mundane and present it differently. If done well, this won't merely change the appearance of the food, but also will allow the diner to experience and taste the food in a new way.

I was toying with this idea while considering how to turn a classic tuna salad sandwich into a simple dinner with enough "wow!" factor to serve guests. That's when I got the idea to break it down into its major components.

I came up with four — the bread, the tuna, the greens and the mayonnaise or dressing.

After much tinkering, I settled on a recipe for marinated and grilled tuna steaks set over a lightly oiled and toasted slices of sourdough bread accompanied by mixed greens and drizzled with a garlic aioli.

The result was a fast and flavorful meal that contained the many tastes associated with a traditional tuna sandwich. But here they are prepared and presented to allow the diner to appreciate each with or without the others.

To marinate the tuna steaks, I used a basic purchased oil and vinegar dressing. Fifteen minutes in the refrigerator with a healthy drizzle was plenty to impart tons of flavor. I used a grill pan to cook mine, but an outdoor grill would work nicely, too.

Traditional aiolis are made by whisking oil, lemon juice, garlic and egg. I simplified this by doctoring a purchased mayonnaise with a bit of lemon juice, black pepper and garlic. A restaurant-style condiment squeeze bottle is ideal for drizzling this over the dish.

Deconstructed Tuna Salad Sandwich

· (Start to finish: 30 minutes)

Four 8-ounce tuna steaks (about 1 inch thick)

1 cup oil and vinegar salad dressing

1 cup purchased mayonnaise

Juice and zest of one lemon

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

6 garlic cloves

Olive oil cooking spray

4 thick slices of sourdough bread

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups mixed baby greens

Preheat oven to broil.

Place the tuna steaks in a baking dish and drizzle with salad dressing. Use a fork to gently lift each steak to allow the dressing to flow under. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, mustard, black pepper and garlic in a food processor or blender and pulse until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. If the mixture is too thick to drizzle, add water 1 tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.

Lightly spray both sides of the bread slices with olive oil cooking spray. Set aside.

Set a grill pan or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Coat it well with cooking spray.

Season the tops of the tuna steaks with salt and pepper, then carefully place each, seasoned-side down, in the pan. Season the tuna again with salt and pepper. After several seconds, use tongs to gently move the steaks a bit to prevent sticking.

Cook the steaks 5 minutes, then use tongs to carefully turn them and cook another 5 minutes. During the final few minutes, place the bread in the oven to toast.

To serve, cut each piece of toast in half and set both halves on a serving plate. Arrange 1/2 cup of greens on one half of the toast, and one tuna steak on the other. Drizzle the aioli over everything.

Makes 4 servings.

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