Rosie’s Recipes: Tuna-rrific Delight

By on October 8, 2022

(Photos by Rosie Hawthorne)

By Rosie Hawthorne | Outer Banks Voice

My tuna connection has done a wonderful job supplying me with fillets and it’s quite comforting to know my meals have been swimming just a few hours before gracing my table. It’s been a fun challenge to come up with different ways to prepare this wonderful fish. Today, I’m marinating inch+-thick tuna steaks, then searing the outside, giving it a lovely caramelized glaze and leaving the inside deliciously rare, almost butter-like. The steaks are then sliced and accented with my version of a gastrique.

In my columns, I like to offer new techniques and ideas for you to try and today’s contribution is a gastrique, a French name for a sweet and sour sauce. The sweet component typically comes from sugar and fruit and the sour element from vinegar. The combination is cooked down, or reduced, along with other flavor infusions. The result is a sweet and tart syrup-like sauce which is an excellent complement to round out the tuna, both enhancing the fish and amplifying its flavor.

A gastrique is quite versatile. With one basic technique, you can create many different variations depending on what fruits, vinegars, and flavorings you choose.  For this preparation, I’m using blackberries and balsamic vinegar.

Balsamic vinegar is a dark, syrupy vinegar, glossy and viscous, slightly sweet with a mellow tartness, bold with a rich complexity, and intensely flavored. There are many varieties in stores and you want to find a good one, not a poor imposter.

True balsamic vinegar comes from only two areas in Italy – Modena and Reggio Emilia.  The production of balsamic vinegar is a time-honored tradition and process, dating back to the Middle Ages, so quality balsamic vinegar won’t be cheap because you’re paying for knowledge, tradition, history, craft and time.

So, how do you choose a quality balsamic vinegar? You check the labels. You’re looking for one of two designations on the bottle:  DOP or IGP. The DOP and IGP labels serve to preserve Italian culinary heritage, allowing consumers to distinguish authentic regional specialties from low-quality knock-offs.

The need for guaranteed authentic products began in the mid 1900s when Italian cuisine gained popularity in the United States and other areas. To supply the increasing demand for Italian products, the market became flooded with mass produced, inferior imitations of Italian products, all sold under the guise of the high quality products they tried to copy. (For example, think about the green can of “Parmesan” cheese vs authentic Parmigiano Reggiano.) To protect their culinary reputation and the uniqueness of certain food products, to protect names from misuse and imitation, and to guard against food fraud, Italy worked with the European Union to create legal certifications to insure quality, tradition, reliability, and authenticity. To earn the labels, producers must adhere to a strict set of guidelines, overseen by the government.

The red DOP stamp on a bottle stands for Denominazione d’Origine Protetta,or Protected Designation of Origin. This stamp is a European Union certification and a designation of authenticity that guarantees that the vinegar was made only in Modena or Reggio Emilia, from grapes of those regions, using traditional methods and recognized techniques, with production overseen from beginning to end by a special consortium dedicated to safeguarding the product.

By law, only DOP products can carry the word “traditional” on their labels.

Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP or Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Reggio Emilia DOP are the Mothers of  balsamic vinegars. The sole ingredient is grape “must,” the must being the whole pressed grapes (including juice, skin, seeds, and stem), only from the designated regions of Modena or Reggio Emilia. Aged for at least 12 years in a series of barrels and sold in wax-sealed bottles with unique identification numbers, these vinegars are quite expensive. They are not what I’d recommend for this particular recipe because of the cooking involved. Heating these vinegars would affect the properties of the vinegars, destroying subtle flavors and their distinctive bouquets. These vinegars are meant to be tasted and enjoyed sparingly and judiciously.

For a good quality balsamic vinegar, and one more to my budget, I look for the blue IGP seal. This designation – “Indicazione Geografic Protetta” or Indication of Geographic Protection, is similar to DOP. A consortium controls the production process from beginning to end, but the regulations are less strict. At least one phase of the process must be done in the areas of Modena or Reggio Emilia. To keep up with the demand for balsamic vinegar, derivative methods are employed, using grape varietals typical of, but from outside, the Modena and Reggio Emilia regions. The processing, however, takes place in Modena and Reggio Emilia facilities with consortium approval. The aging process is nowhere near as long and IGP vinegars will likely contain additional ingredients besides the grape must – notably, wine vinegar, thickeners, and caramel.

For my purposes, a balsamic vinegar with the IGP label will work just fine with this recipe.



Cut yellowfin tuna into generous inch-thick steaks.


For the marinade: 

  1. ¼ cup orange juice
  2. ¼ cup soy sauce
  3. 1 TB fresh minced ginger root

Combine ingredients and marinate tuna steaks while you’re making the sauce.


Blackberry and Balsamic Vinegar Gastrique

  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • Zest and juice of two oranges
  • 2 TB honey
  • 2 TB sugar
  • 1 cup blackberries plus more for garnish

Combine all ingredients except blackberries in a small sauce pan and heat low and slow until mixture is thickened and reduced by half.  I use a wooden skewer to check the level of the liquid. Takes 20-30 minutes. Reduction requires a bit of vigilance because sugar can burn quickly, so watch it. I always set the sauce pan in a cast iron pan so the heat is diffused and it cooks evenly.  When reduced, add the blackberries, mashing them into the sauce and heating through. Remove from heat.

To cook the tuna:

Heat a cast iron skillet with a film of peanut oil to approximately 475°. Add in a tablespoon of butter and let it sizzle and melt. Place tuna steaks in hot oil/butter and cook about 90 seconds on the first side, then 60 seconds on the other side.  If your pan is a small skillet, cook only one steak at a time. You don’t want to lower the temperature of the pan by adding 3 or 4 pieces of meat at once. Doing so won’t give you that nice sear you want. Remove tuna from pan and let rest a few minutes before slicing.

To plate, lay the seared tuna slices next to thin orange slices, spoon the reduction sauce over the tuna, and tumble on some whole blackberries.


(Photos by Rosie Hawthorne)


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