While rifling through pictures on Instagram last week, I came across a series of mesmerizing, drool-worthy albums from Charleston, South Carolina chef, Craig Deihl. It was like a foodie’s version of a stack of nudie magazines. From cured, heritage-breed pork belly hanging in a meat locker to soft-boiled duck egg yolks running across the plate, this guy knows how to make food sexy.
While wiping the saliva from my iPhone cover, I noticed a dish that inspired me.
Chef Deihl had taken seared tuna to a whole new level. It seems as though every restaurant now-a-days has their own version of seared tuna with this or that on the plate… and it all seems kind of boring to me. If you’ve had one seared tuna, you’ve had them all, for the most part.
Chef Deihl added an element of texture to this dish by wrapping the raw tuna in phyllo dough. Phyllo dough is paper-thin (I mean tissue paper thin) sheets of unleavened flour dough used for making pastries in Middle Eastern cuisine.
Unless you’re truly inspired and adventurous, don’t bother using it. It was a massive pain in my ass!
I have a short temper and after ripping a few sheets in half by barely touching it, I called in my steady-handed, calm wife who gratefully finished the job for me. Using phyllo dough sort of resembles the building blocks of puff pastry.
Multiple layers of thin dough, washed with clarified butter so that when cooked, each layer gets crispy
Siobhan used five layers of the dough and painted each with butter excluding the last. We cut the dough in the shape of the log of sushi-grade Yellowfin Tuna and smeared wasabi over the entire surface.
I made the wasabi by mixing real wasabi powder (most pastes are just green colored horseradish) with a little water. We wrapped the bright red tuna up like a present and sealed the dough with some more clarified butter.
I don’t like following recipes so I kind of just freelanced this dish, putting my own twists on it as we went along.
I made a rich, shiitake mushroom broth with dried mushrooms and soy that simmered over minced shallots, Thai chilies, and some garlic. Once it reduced down to a small, condensed amount of liquid, I added a squirt of honey for a touch of sweetness to balance the heat.
Instead of baking the phyllo-wrapped tuna, I simply seared it in a buttered skillet to make sure it gets crispy without overcooking the precious tuna. It would be a shame to serve this beautiful tuna any temperature more than rare.
It was almost like cooking a grilled cheese sandwich; constantly checking on when to flip without burning the bottom. In the same skillet, I sautéed some shiitake mushrooms and edamame for garnish. Once both sides were buttery and flaky, I carefully sliced it and arranged the magenta cross sections fanned out over my steaming mushroom broth.
To add some heat, and even more flavor, I spooned a sauce over the top made from tamari, fish sauce, cilantro, lime juice, mint, and chilies. Each bite was a whirlwind of flavor. It tasted like French sushi wrapped in buttery puff pastry with Thai influences.
It was really cool to see the contrast in styles of heat; the nose burning, sneeze inducing wasabi combined with the fresh, raw chili burn in the front of your tongue. It truly awoke all of our senses from spicy to sweet, to umami.
I served this unique dish with one of my favorite sakes. Yoshi no Gawa, which is a Junmai Ginjo Sake (which refers to the polish and milling level of the rice before it is brewed) in Niigata, Japan. This is a medium bodied, complex sake. It is rich and buttery, with notes of roasted mixed nuts, cream and anise that blend subtly with fresh cantaloupe fruit. Not to mention it was cold and refreshing against the heat from the dish.
I love getting inspiration from famous chefs who have way more experience than I do because it leads me to try new techniques and flavors. If I ever make it down to Charlestown, South Carolina, I will be sure to stop into Cypress Restaurant to check out Chef Deihl’s menu.