Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Chuck, Charlie®, Charles.

Tuna croquette with plum salsa and jalapeño honey mustard. © Ryan Schierling
In food circles I will never run in, there are Chihuly-blown glass jars of Japanese-auction-sold, million-dollar Pacific bluefin tuna scraps, packed in the oil of olives so extra-virgin they’ve been immaculately conceived and harvested by eunuchs. This tuna detritus – the least of the leftovers of the left-overs from the best of the biggest of the big-bucks maguro – will find their way to children of the nouveau riche for tuna salad sandwiches with the crusts cut off by a butler, or governess or au pair. These children will still turn up their noses. Or so I imagine.

I grew up with tinned tuna that on the good days might have been StarKist® spokes-fish Charlie®. On bad days, it might have been down-on-his-luck Chuck – generic label, definitely not dolphin-safe, extra-mercury-packed, probably not even actual tuna canned tuna. My beloved childhood tuna salad sandwiches always tasted predictably perfect – smashed, flaked fish, heavily-laden with mayonnaise and sweet pickle relish, served on Roman Meal wheat bread (crusts on) by mom.

You can buy whatever tuna you want for this recipe. Maybe you went sporting in the Sea of Japan and got big, fresh and lucky. Perhaps some spendy Italian tonno in oil or just cheap chunky albacore in spring water? Maybe some of that new-fangled tuna in packets. Don't care. We do this recipe fast and cheap, so use whatever you want or feel morally, socially or financially inclined to.

What you will get is a surprisingly bright, nuanced plate. The jalapeño honey mustard is an anti-tartar sauce – sweet, spicy and with a tang that when paired with the plum salsa is a left-right combination punch. The tuna never knew what was coming. We've made this dish so many times with just the mustard sauce, and it's still wonderful. Visually, the now in-season plums suggest a pretty tuna crudo preparation, and paired with Texas sweet onion, jalapeño, cilantro and lemon juice, they'll take you from Chuck to Charles in no time.

Tuna croquettes

15 ounces (3 5-ounce cans) chunk light tuna in water, drained
6 green onions, finely chopped
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups panko, divided
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons butter 
pinch of salt and black pepper

Mix tuna, onions, eggs, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and 1 cup of the panko, then form into six equally-sized patties.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until the patties firm up. When ready to cook, dredge each patty through the reserved 1/2 cup panko. In a heavy skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter and cook croquettes until nicely browned, about 3 minutes on each side. Serve with jalapeño honey mustard and plum salsa.

Plum salsa

3 ripe plums, chopped*
1 jalapeño pepper,  seeded and finely chopped
1/4 cup sweet onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
juice of 1 lemon
pinch of kosher salt

Mix all ingredients. Adjust salt and lemon juice to taste.

*If plums are not available, you can use hybrid weirdos pluots, or plumcots. Nectarines or peaches are another nice sweet/tart option for this salsa.

Jalapeño mustard sauce

1/4 cup jalapeño mustard*
1/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon mayonnaise

 Whisk all ingredients together until smooth.

*If you can't find prepared jalapeño mustard, you can mix 1/4 cup yellow picnic mustard with finely-minced pickled jalapeño slices – two or three should do the trick.

For the record, this is only the second of my canned tuna dishes that Julie digs and we prepare often, the first being tuna melts with Mexican mint marigold. Check it out.

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