Grilled Tuna with Harissa-Scallion Mayonnaise

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Ben Gebo Photography

STRATEGY SESSION: Tuna is my main strategic ally in this recipe. Because it is served rare, it retains most of its natural moisture and does not require much additional fat. The moisture  factor is also increased by the sauce, in which light mayo is substituted for full fat. Harissa, scallions, and cumin pump up the flavor.


As anyone who’s eaten my “El Diablo” ice cream can tell you, I love playing with fire and ice. In this particular case, seared tuna is paired with a spicy mayonnaise (tuna hot outside, cool inside; mayo chilly and fiery). The heat comes from harissa, a North African hot sauce. Like kochujang and chipotles in adobo, it’s more than a chili sauce. The hot pepper base is enhanced with various other ingredients, including tomatoes, paprika, cumin, red peppers, garlic, coriander, and lemon juice. Harissa is available in gourmet shops and Middle Eastern markets. If you are unable to find it, you can make your own from one of many online recipes for it. If that’s not your style, you can substitute sriracha or Chinese chili sauce, but the result-while tasty- won’t be as complex.

Serving suggestions: My favorite accompaniments are a chickpea, fennel, and red pepper salad or a Moroccan chickpea, eggplant, and tomato stew, both on the Recipe of the Week docket.

Note: The recipe specifies “sushi grade” tuna because the tuna is practically raw in this preparation. It is not always available, and- even when it is- there is no guarantee that your particular market adheres to industry standards. If you have questions about whether your market’s tuna is really sushi grade, you should ask them directly.


Grilled Tuna with Harissa-Scallion Mayonnaise

  • ½ cup light mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann’s
  • ¼ cup finely chopped scallions
  • 2 teaspoons harissa, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1¼ pounds “sushi grade” tuna steaks, 1¼” thick
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the mayonnaise, scallions, harissa, and cumin; whisk to blend. (May be prepared up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated in a covered container.)
  2. Prepare the grill with an oiled rack and preheat to high. Brush the tuna on both sides with the oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. Grill 2 minutes per side, until nicely seared while remaining rare inside. Serve with a dollop of the mayonnaise.

Makes 4 servings

Per serving: 294 calories, 14 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 7 g total carbohydrate, trace dietary fiber, 33 g protein, 209 mg sodium.


  • May 24 2010, 10:37 PM
    david kaufman

    this looks outstanding — where do you get the great quality Tuna that is safe for near sushi/quality consumption?

  • May 25 2010, 7:14 AM

    Hi, David. It’s just a matter of luck, and there is no absolute guarantee. Whole Foods occasionally carries “sushi grade” tuna, and I will add that qualification to the recipe. Thanks for the reminder.

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