Let’s say you’re a woman who never wears hats. One day you spot an outrageously stylish hat, the kind of hat Hollywood startlets from the forties wore when they put their handprints in that sidewalk wherever it is where they do the handprint thing while flashbulbs popped and adoring fans cried at how fabulous they looked in the hat. You buy the hat forgetting that your normal daily wear is ripped jeans and a faded t-shirt you bought from The Onion ten years ago. As soon as you see yourself in the mirror in this hat it hits you: You have no business wearing this hat, anything like this hat, or anything in the remote family of this hat. You dweeb.
Food styling is my fancy hat. My pictures usually end up worse when I mess with the dish too much than when I leave it alone. So I do a minimum of arranging, focus on the natural state of the food, and hope one of the shots comes out okay. Besides, I’m hungry, and I don’t feel like eating cold, congealed food (unless it’s pudding).
Then I saw this intriguing recipe for Tuna and Goat Cheese Tartare in Anne Willan’s Good Food No Fuss and tried the damned hat on again. Willan describes this dish, a creation of Australian Chef Tetsuya Wakuda, as a combination of Asian and Western flavors “to brilliant effect.” I had a vision—food styling! presentation!—of the tartar molded with a criss-cross of chives on top.
In my head, the smooth disk of tartare had distinct red tuna and alabaster squares of goat cheese. On the plate, the disk ended up ragged, the tuna paled to pink, and the goat cheese dissolved into white smears. If my family had been around, they would have started making fun of me around the third time I picked up the chives, wiped them off, then repositioned them. Then they would have called me a dweeb or its Korean equivalent. Babo (바보), maybe.
But never mind my herb-arrangement skills. The tartare is rich from the tuna and cheese, almost too rich. It would be great served alongside warm grilled fruit like pineapple or melon to counter the richness and provide a temperature contrast. A squeeze of orange juice in the dressing might be a good touch too. I spooned it on romaine leaves with a side of crusty bread. Endives or sesame crackers would go just as well.
TUNA AND GOAT CHEESE TARTARE
Adapted from Good Food No Fuss, by Anne Willan
Serves 2-3 as an appetizer
· 1/2 pound raw tuna steaks, very cold
· 1 ounce goat cheese, diced or crumbled
· 1 large shallot, minced
· 1 1/2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
· 1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
· 1 teaspoon soy sauce
· 1/2 teaspoon Thai fish sauce
· 1 Tablespoon capers, rinsed, drained, and minced
· 1 Tablespoon snipped chives, plus extra for garnish
· 1/2-inch piece of ginger root, minced
· Pinch cayenne pepper
· Fine sea salt to taste
· Lettuce, endive leaves, or crackers, optional
1) Remove skin and bones from tuna, if any. Slice tuna into 1/4-inch strips and dice. Place in chilled bowl with shallots and goat cheese. (If the goat cheese is very soft, place in freezer for 20 minutes to make it easier to chop.)
2) Whisk together the dressing ingredients until well-mixed. Pour over the tartare and mix gently with a fork. Taste and adjust for salt.
3) Serve immediately on chilled plates with extra chives for garnish.