Burnt is the 2015 film about a chef, played by Bradley Cooper, who self-destructs thanks to drug, alcohol, perfectionism and a bad temper and who burns out, leaving a path of destruction through his own career and those of his co-workers and friends. After a couple of years of sobering up and a self-imposed penance of shucking a million oysters in New Orleans, he heads to London to rebuild his career and attempt a coveted third Michelin star.
I saw this film on when it hit Netflix last year and couldn't help but be pulled in by the cooking and restaurant scenes--especially having seen Bradley Cooper and his co-stars Sienna Miller and Matthew Rhys talk about the training and practice they did to appear professional in the cooking scenes. The film is full of food inspiration and delicious-looking dishes and it was good to watch it again with my food goggles firmly in place.
My inspiration comes from an insult given by Adam Jones (Cooper) to Tony the maître d'hôtel of his friend's restaurant Tony (Daniel Brühl). who now manages his father’s hotel.“You’re serving seared tuna. What happened to your self respect?" I assume the comment is because of the frequency that seared tuna, especially crusted in sesame seeds or another Asian-inspired preparation appears on restaurant menus, that it lacks originality. Well, I don't care how 'tired' seared tuna may feel to Adam Jones, I am always happy to find a well-prepared seared tuna on the menu, I make it myself at home, and I decided it would be my dish for the film--served with PLENTY of self-respect!
When thinking of how I wanted to prepare my tuna, I was also thinking about some of my favorite "burnt" foods, and Yotam Ottolenghi's Burnt Eggplant came to mind. I love how he blistered the eggplant, scooped out the flesh and made a sort of salad with it, so I decided to make a variation of his recipe, changing the quantities of some of the ingredients and adding in feta cheese, mint and lemon.
Since I was going with those more Mediterranean or Middle Eastern flavors and ingredients, I wanted to take my seared ahi there too, and to crust it with pistachio nuts to add a pop of color. It turns out Ottolenghi has a pistachio crusted tuna recipe and I used his idea for a mustard sauce (adding some additional spices to mine) to adhere the nuts to the fish and add flavor.
Finally, wanting even more color on the plate I added one of my favorite simple couscous dishes, Diana Henry's Pomegranate Couscous--a salad of pearled couscous, pomegranate seeds, toasted pine nuts, lemon and herbs.
Pistachio-Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna
Adapted from Ottolenghi, The Cookbook via The Washington Post
2 pieces of fresh ahi tuna loin (about 6-oz each)
2 Tbsp olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup roasted unsalted pistachios
3 Tbsp Dijon-style mustard
1 tsp sumac
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Heat a grill pan or large cast-iron skillet over high heat.
Brush tuna pieces all over with the olive oil, then season with salt and pepper to taste. When the pan is very hot, add tuna to the pan or skillet and sear on each side, for a total of no more than 2 to 3 minutes; the tuna should be rare at the center and just cooked on the edges (a 1/2-inch margin or so). Transfer to a plate and refrigerate until well chilled (about 30 minutes).
Chop the roasted pistachios, preferably in a food processor, to the consistency of fine crumbs. Scatter them on a rimmed baking sheet and mix with the lemon zest. Mix mustard, sumac, cumin and cayenne together in a small bowl. Lay 2 or 3 good-size pieces of plastic wrap on the work surface.
Place a piece of the cooled seared tuna loin on one piece of plastic wrap. Brush with some of the mustard mixture on the three visible sides, then invert and transfer to the crushed pistachios. Press gently to completely coat on the three sides. Brush the top of the tuna with mustard, then invert to coat the fourth side, pressing gently so the mixture adheres. Transfer to a piece of plastic wrap; wrap tightly and refrigerate. Repeat with the remaining tuna pieces, mustard and coating. Chill for several hours and up to overnight.
To serve, unwrap the tuna and cut it crosswise into 3/4-inch slices.
Adapted from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
2 medium eggplant (about 1 2/3 lb)
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbsp fresh mint
2 Tbsp crumbled feta
zest of 1 lemon + 1 Tbsp of the juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Either char eggplant over a gas range, rotating sides for 15-18 minutes, or broil in the oven for one hour--turning to get all sides. Allow eggplant to cool, scoop out flesh and drain flesh in a colander for at least 1 hour. Once flesh well drained, coarsely chop it and combine in a bowl with the yogurt, garlic parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
Adapted From Crazy Water Pickled Lemon by Diana Henry
1 1/4 cups pearled couscous
2 1/2 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 cup pomegranate seeds
2 oz pine nuts, toasted
3 Tbsp each chopped flat-leaf parsley and mint
lemon juice to taste
sea salt and black pepper to taste
Cook the pearled couscous to package instructions. Drain well and while warm, mix the couscous with the olive oil, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, herbs, and lemon juice, and check the seasoning. Add a squeeze more lemon if you think the dish needs it and sea salt and black pepper to taste.
To plate: Place a scoop of the Burnt Eggplant and one of the Pomegranate Couscous on a small plate. Place the sliced Pistachio-Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna on top. Garnish with mint and preserved lemon if desired. Serve with warm grilled pita or naan bread.
Notes/Results: This was a delicious plate--the flavors work so well together and my self-respect is fully intact with each bite of the perfectly seared and tasty ahi tuna! ;-) The couscous with its pomegranate and pine nuts and the firm tuna add texture to the softer burnt eggplant and the bread allows for dipping and scooping. I kept the tuna slices thick to enable the pistachios to stay in place and it mad for wonderful bites of the rich and meaty tuna. All of these recipes are simple to make but do require a bit of prep and hold time--although once you have the three components ready, it goes together very quickly. Although I know I "overplate" a bit according to restaurant standards (there should be a small scattering of couscous and some smears of the burnt eggplant I suppose), I think it is a pretty plate of food. I would happily make this again.
The deadline for this round of Food 'n Flix is November 30 and Caroline will be rounding up all the dishes on her blog shortly after. If you missed this round and like food, films and foodie films, join us for December when Food 'n Flix's founder, Heather of All Roads Lead to the Kitchen will be hosting that heartwarming holiday classic (NOT!) Krampus.