What Are the Best Tips for Searing Tuna?

T. Alaine

The best tips for searing tuna start with the fish itself: using a fresh, high quality cut will go a long way towards successfully searing tuna. After the fish is selected, there are numerous marinades or flavorings that can be added according to preference, and any will work as long as the fish is prepared properly for cooking. The searing should be carried out on a well oiled, very hot cooking surface for the best results.

Thick tuna steaks are best for searing.
Thick tuna steaks are best for searing.

Tuna are large fish that come in several different varieties. Ahi tuna and yellowfin tuna are popular choices for searing, but regardless of what type is selected it is of the utmost importance that it be very fresh and very good quality. Fish that has been frozen for shipment and then thawed for sale will not be as high-quality or have as pleasant a texture as fresh, never frozen tuna. Additionally, since searing tuna generally results in a very rare or even raw center, it is best to select steaks that were cut very recently from a freshly caught fish, and then kept adequately chilled.

Some species of tuna -- which provides the popular canned and fresh fish -- can grow more than six feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds.
Some species of tuna -- which provides the popular canned and fresh fish -- can grow more than six feet long and weigh hundreds of pounds.

The beast cut for searing tuna is a thick steak; definitely no thinner than 1 inch (2.54 cm), but preferably at least 1ΒΌ inches (3.18 cm) thick. Thickness is important because, in order to get a nice brown crust on the outside of the tuna and still retain the rare center, the fish has to be able to cook on the edges without overcooking the middle. Some people might prefer to marinade before searing tuna, often with asian-inspired flavors such as soy sauce and ginger. A marinade is not necessary, however, and simple salt and pepper will still produce a tasty seared tuna.

Before searing tuna, it is important to bring the fish to room temperature so that it cooks evenly; searing chilled tuna might result in warm edges and an unpleasantly cold center. The tuna should be gently patted dry to remove any water from the surface that could interfere with the searing, and either the fish or the cooking surface should be generously oiled to prevent sticking. Whether the surface being used is a grill or indoor frying pan, it needs to be very hot for searing tuna: if the surface is not hot enough, the center of the steak will overcook before a brown crust can form on the outside.

Seared tuna is generally served somewhat rare in the center, often just barely warmed through or at room temperature. This can be accomplished by cooking the steaks over the high heat for a very short time, approximately 60 seconds per side or slightly longer for thicker steaks. If a raw center is not appealing, the steaks can be cooked longer to lessen the rareness.

A pan needs to be very hot for searing tuna.
A pan needs to be very hot for searing tuna.

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Discussion Comments


Searing tuna is very easy. It's just about cooking the tuna quickly and evenly on both sides. For rare, about one minute for each side is enough. Those who want it more cooked can leave each side for three minutes. It's important not to over-cook the tuna. I really can't emphasize this enough because over-cooked tuna is not seared tuna.

I also think that marinating is a must because it adds a lot more flavor to the tuna and really brings out the fresh taste.


@bear78-- Yes, the problem with frozen tuna is that when it thaws it doesn't release all of the moisture it absorbed during the freezing process. A lot of the moisture comes out during the cooking process which actually makes it very difficult to sear the the tuna. The result is unpleasantly chewy tuna that isn't very enjoyable.

I personally will wait for fresh tuna if it is not readily available for seared tuna. My favorite is Ahi tuna and I do slice it slightly thinner than what the article suggests. I actually do not want my tuna very rare. It definitely should be a little pink on the inside, but not entirely raw. This can also be an issue if seared tuna is ordered at a restaurant. Raw fish happens to spoil quickly, so I always prefer to make seared tuna at home.


I made seared tuna with frozen, thawed tuna once and the result wasn't very good. So I agree that fresh tuna is the way to go. It can be difficult to find fresh tuna in some states but many organic markets and Asian groceries sell them.


When pan searing tuna, the type of oil you use also makes a difference in the flavor of the seared tuna. Canola oil is a good choice, because it gives the fish a light, pleasant flavor.

If you prefer a bolder taste for your seared tuna, try using olive oil. It is also good for you, so it's a good choice for a healthful meal.

If you like tuna that is rich and buttery in flavor, you can always use pure butter to sear it. Just be sure to turn your tuna in the pan frequently while you sear it, because butter has the tendency to burn in high cooking temperatures.


If you are going to warm your tuna steaks before searing them, it is best to do this by placing them in your microwave for about one minute. It is not a good idea to allow meat to be at room temperature for very long, because dangerous bacteria can start to grow on it.


I have found that Italian salad dressing makes a great marinade for pan seared tuna. The best kind to use is light and golden colored, not thick and creamy. You should also choose a dressing that has your favorite Italian spices, such as oregano and basil.

For the best results and the juiciest tuna, place it in the marinade in your refrigerator over night. Shake off any excess dressing before searing.

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