Grilled Tuna with Fried Manchego: That really fries my cheese.

The Grilled Tuna with Fried Manchego recipe was mocking me. The need to put one’s money where one’s mouth is… and as a result the food one makes where one’s mouth is… is especially strong when one is hungry and it is dinner time.

In my nabe there are two grocery stores- Whole Foods and Giant (which is regional, I think). Each is good for different things. At Giant you can get very good meat and poultry for cheap; at Whole Foods you can get herbs, spices, and prettier produce. At Giant I found chicken, a bunch of radishes and a shallot smaller than my head. At Whole Foods I found a tub of sesame seeds for less than $4, a yellowfin tuna steak that wouldn’t break the bank and a Haas avocado that was larger, and healthier looking, and twice as expensive as what I saw at Giant.

Then I took a stroll by the cheese counter for the Manchego and suffered an acute case of sticker shock. Yeow- $3.50 for slightly under a 1/4 lb. of the mild stuff. A 1/2 of the tangier, more flavorful type was about $9.75. Ow ow ow. Whine. Did I mention I am broke?

I asked the guy behind the counter what he’d recommend for frying and he mentioned, big shock, the more flavorful variety. As he talked, this nice cheese guy, I rooted through the piles of wrapped wedges for something in my price range.

Nice Cheese Guy: “You want a smaller wedge of that kind? I can cut it for you.”

Me: “No, don’t do that. I can’t buy much. I don’t want you to break into a whole new… cheese just for a tiny wedge for me.”

NCG: “How about I give you a sample and if you like it you can come back for more.”

Me: “???”

NCG: “Here. If you like it, you come back, okay?”

He handed me a $12 wedge with a new sticker on it. That said, “FREE SAMPLE. SPECIAL.” I goggled. A lot. Prize in hand I scampered away like a bunny to cook dinner.

Grilled Tuna with Fried Manchego done Liz-style
(Serves 4, but I’m adapting it for 1, and takes roughly 30 minutes to make.)

Tomato vinegarette:
1 large tomato, diced
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp diced shallot
1 tsp chopped flowering thyme
1 tsp honey
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup EVOO
Salt

Grilled Tuna:
grill pan (Don’t have one! woo-HOO! Off to a good start.)
1/4 lb. yellowfin tuna steak
Freshly ground pepper
Salt

Fried Manchego:
1 wedge of Manchego, sliced into 1/4 inch triangles
1/4 cup flour
1 large egg, beaten

“Garnish” with a handful of baby spinach (not the E.Coli-infested bagged stuff, but the stuff in the plastic tubs.)

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients for the tomato vinegarette, season with salt and put aside. Mmm… salt.

Heat sautee pan and toss in a splash of olive oil. Brush tuna steak with EVOO and season with salt and pepper. Mmm… salt. Cook over moderately high heat, turning until seared on the outside but rare inside- I followed the directions and cooked it for 13 minutes, but if you aren’t using a grill pan stop after 5-8 minutes or the steak will be cooked through. Let it rest and then cut into slices.

Heat 1/4 inch of EVOO in a large skillet until shimmering. Set up a little assembly line for yourself with the flour, egg, and breadcrumbs- dipping the cheese in each then slipping them GENTLY into the heated oil so that it doesn’t splash on your arm. (I’m fine, by the way.) Fry over moderately high heat, turning once, until crisp- approximately 2-3 minutes. Drain on a rack and season with salt. Mmm… salt.

Add the spinach to the vinegarette and toss well. Pile the salad on a plate, arrange the tuna on the side, stacking the Manchego by the salad and serve immediately.

Wine: a fresh, berry-flavored rose is recommended. A dry, slightly fruity Reisling was consumed.

(Food&Wine September 2006)

The tuna went okay. I went to great lengths to get the tuna- at Giant it looked very sad and unappetizing for $12/lb. and paying $5 made me cringe. At Whole Foods it was $23/lb, but looked a lot yummier- $8 worth was a lot less of a wrench. Although I didn’t have a grill pan I was careful to cook it properly. It turned out less rare on the inside but was still succulent and juicy.

Let me say that fried cheese is not an easy thing. Grilled cheese- yes. Do it all the time with a drizzling of Texas Champagne between the bread and cheese before slapping it in the pan. Yum. Fried cheese- not so much. I went through the process of dipping the cheese in flour, egg and crumbs then tossed it rather cavalierly into the pan of “shimmering” oil. “Shimmering.” I mean really. Who comes up with this stuff, I ask you?

The first piece was more of a sliver and turned out burn-y on the outside and not really all that melty on the in, so I tried again 4 more times because cooking is a learning experience. And then, per the directions, I put the slices on a rack to drip and then sprinkled them with salt, which not only pretty much killed the tangy flavor of the Manchego, but resulted in my guzzling half a bottle of Reisling at one go.

So I learned several things:

  1. Go easy on the salt.
  2. If you’re not using a grill pan, decrease your cooking time to compensate.
  3. Did I mention the salt thing? It totally bears repeating.
  4. Rice wine vinegar is not a bad substitute for white wine vinegar (which the recipe called for).
  5. Shopping around can be a good thing if it nets you some free cheese. Can’t wait to go back and buy something really good.
  6. Taking pictures of freshly fried cheese is a bad idea because it gets hard and cold really fast.
  7. Less salt is a good idea.
  8. Cooking is fun. Cooking for other people is fun-er. Eating what you cooked yourself rocks.
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