Tuna steaks can be a quick yet super satisfying weeknight meal. They just need a quick sear in a hot pan for as little as 30 seconds and up to 2 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the cut and desired level of doneness. Fresh and frozen tuna steaks are typically sold skinned and pre-cut, so seasoning is the only real prep work required. Plan on having side dishes just about ready so you can give your full attention to the tuna steaks and avoid overcooking.
Types of Tuna Steaks
Bluefin tuna is prized for its silky, tender texture and pronounced meaty flavor. However, the fish is endangered due to overfishing, so just forget about this one. (It's not readily available anyways since it's so scarce.) Yellowfin and bigeye, or ahi tuna as they're both often referred to, are great alternatives to bluefin. Both have a tender texture and mild flavor that benefits from a bolder seasoning. Albacore is the lightest in flavor and least expensive—a great option for those conscious of sustainability and cost.
Buying Tuna Steaks
Purchase fresh tuna steaks the day you plan to cook them, if possible. Look for tuna steaks that appear moist and are firm to the touch; avoid those with a noticeably fishy smell. Tuna steaks that are around 3/4 to 1 inch thick are best for pan searing because they can stand up to high heat without overcooking.
Frozen tuna steaks should be thawed in the refrigerator overnight and used within two days.
Pat tuna steaks dry with a paper towel to remove excess moisture, and season simply with a few dashes of salt and pepper, if you like. Tuna steaks also benefit from a brief marinade to keep them moist during cooking. Try a simple garlic-and-ginger soy sauce or shallot-and-sesame marinade. Let the steaks marinate for as little as 15 minutes, but no longer than 2 hours.
Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a pan, and bring it to medium-high to high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the tuna steaks to the pan. Sear a 3/4-inch- to 1-inch-thick steak for 30 to 45 seconds per side to achieve a rare doneness. For medium rare, cook for 1 to 2 minutes on each side. The tuna begins to dry out if cooked any more than that.
Insert a cooking thermometer into the center of the tuna steak to determine doneness; 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit indicates rare, and 125 degrees Fahrenheit indicates medium rare.
The United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service recommends cooking fish to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit for maximum food safety.
- Men’s Health: The Best Way to Cook Tuna Steak
- BBC Good Food: Tuna
- Cooking Channel TV: Pepper-Crusted Tuna Steak With Teriyaki Sauce and Wasabi Smashed Potatoes
- Food and Wine: Pan-Seared Tuna Steaks With Capers and Oregano
- The Joy of Cooking; Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker
- United States Department of Agriculture: Keep Food Safe! Food Safety Basics
Christina Kalinowski is a writer from the Twin Cities who began her career in 2011. She contributes food and drink related articles to The Daily Meal. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from Purdue University.