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Mesquite-Grilled Tuna with Flame-Charred Tomato Salsa Recipe

Course: Main Course
Total Time: Under 2 Hours
Skill Level: Moderate
Cost: Moderate
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Mesquite-Grilled Tuna with Flame-Charred Tomato Salsa

Photo by: Joseph DeLeo

If you like smoke and fire, you’ll love this simple grilled tuna dish from the north of Mexico. The mesquite gives the fish a heady smoke flavor-a flavor reinforced by the northern Mexico-style fire-charred tomato salsa. Chiles de árbol are long, slender, fiery, dried red chilies.

Yield: Serves 4


  • 6 chiles de árbol, stemmed
  • ½ pounds fresh tuna, cut into 4 (½-inch-thick) steaks
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus a few sprigs for garnish
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice

For the flame-charred salsa:

  • 2 large ripe red tomatoes
  • ½ small white onion, cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon oil for the grill grate
  • Warm flour tortillas for serving
  • Mesquite wood chunks for building your fire, or ½ cups mesquite chips to toss on the coals


1. Place the chiles de árbol in a small bowl with warm water to cover. Let soak until they are soft and pliable, about 30 minutes.

2. Rinse the tuna and blot dry. With a pestle in a mortar or in a small bowl, mash together the garlic, salt, pepper, and chopped cilantro. Coarsely chop two of the soaked chiles de árbol and add them to the garlic mixture with the lime juice. Arrange the tuna steaks in a baking dish just large enough to hold them, and pour the marinade over the fish. Marinate in the refrigerator for 20 minutes, turning once.

3. If you are using mesquite chunks, build a brisk fire. If you’re using a charcoal or gas grill, preheat to high. Toss ½ cup of the mesquite chips on the coals.

4. To make the salsa, grill the tomatoes until the skins are dark and blistered, 8 to 10 minutes, turning with tongs. Thread the onion and garlic onto a skewer and grill until lightly browned, 4 minutes per side. Transfer the tomatoes, onion, and garlic to a plate and let cool. Scrape any really burnt bits off the tomatoes. Drain the remaining chiles de árbol and tear them into pieces. (For a milder salsa, discard the seeds.) Combine the chilies, tomatoes, onion, garlic, cilantro, and lime juice in a blender and puree until smooth. Add salt, pepper, and lime juice to taste; the salsa should be highly seasoned.

5. Oil the grill grate. Toss the remaining 1 cup of mesquite chips (if using) on the charcoal or in the smoker box of a gas grill. Grill the tuna until it’s cooked to taste: about 3 minutes per side for medium-rare. (That’s how I like my tuna.) Warm the tortillas on the grill. (You’ll need about 20 seconds per side.) Serve the tuna with the salsa and tortillas.


Grill shops and hardware stores sell chunks of mesquite wood that you can light and use like charcoal. (Light them in a chimney starter, just as you would charcoal.) If you can’t find these, use mesquite chips, which are available at gourmet shops and cookware shops. I suppose you could use oak or hickory, but the flavor wouldn’t be quite the same.

© 2003, 2010 Steven Raichlen

289 Calories; 41g Protein; 9g Fat; 2g Saturated Fat; 9g Carbohydrate; 609mg Sodium; 64mg Cholesterol


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