Coconut Tuna Tartare

Maybe it’s the weather and the fact that I’m tired of eating stew and roasted vegetables already.  Maybe it’s because I’ve been spending more time lately at our local T&T Supermarket where the fish are so fresh that they’re still swimming. I don’t know, really, but I’ve been craving seafood non-stop for the last few weeks…..which means that I’ve been cooking seafood non-stop for the last few weeks, and Mike has been forced to eat seafood non-stop for….okay, you get it.

I would love to lie to you and say that I only buy the freshest fish from the market where it was locally farmed in a sustainable and ecologically friendly way, but that’s not true.  Frankly, it usually comes down to a question of price and the fact that I can’t afford to spend $25 on a filet of sea bass that will only serve the two of us…even though I really, REALLY wanted to the other day.  Sigh.  Anyway, I often suck it up and buy fish frozen (gasp!!) when the mortgage payment has come out and I can’t afford to be discerning, and I do try my best to veer towards sustainable Hake, Cod, Rainbow Trout and U.S. Tilapia.

So there I was in T&T on a hunt for some smoked tofu (Mike:  good news, I couldn’t find any) when I was inevitably drawn to the seafood section…and started to eyeball the Canadian Pacific Albacore tuna steaks. Yes, I prefer Yellowfin.  Or Ahi….especially Ahi….but this is what they had and therefore that’s what I wanted.  I’m pretty easy to please when you really get down to it.

When I have seafood which is really, really fresh – as fresh as fresh can be! – I usually opt for a lighter preparation and often serve it raw, seared or cured.  If it’s frozen, not a chance.  Or if it smells even a bit fishy.  Or if it was sold to me by that greasy haired pubescent boy behind the seafood counter who always seems to be scratching his neck and totally lies to me about when the fish arrived.  Also, as you know, if you’re pregnant or immuno-compromised it may be a bad idea to head out to the sushi bar.  However, since I’m willfully staying barren and I’m healthy as a horse I see NOTHING wrong with a bit of raw tuna tartare in my diet.

Coconut Tuna Tartare

Serves 6 as an appetizer

  • 1/2 fresh coconut *
  • 8 oz freshest tuna steak
  • 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tsp orange zest + juice of half an orange
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 tsp hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 lime
  • 5 green onions
  • black sesame seeds (about 1 tbsp)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 baguette for crostini
* If fresh coconut is too much work (and it is a lot of work, I totally agree) you can use 2/3 cup of dried unsweetened shredded coconut.  

Tuck the tuna steak into your freezer as you prepare the coconut – if it’s firm and just starting to freeze it will be worlds easier to cut when the time comes.

Also, because I’m a total OHS nerd, please find some protective eyewear or safety goggles before starting to hack into the coconut.  Sure, people will make fun of you, that’s okay because your eyesight is more important than a bit of mockery and teasing.

Alright!  So on to the coconut.  When you’re picking your coconut, give it a shake so that you know there is coconut water inside.  Next, inspect the three eyes to make sure that they’re clear and don’t have any funky fuzzy mold or gray discoloration.  A nice sloshy coconut with clear eyes is usually a healthy one, although you never really know for sure until you carve into it.

Stare deep into your coconut’s eyes.  Do you see how there are two which are symmetrical (on the left) and a slightly deeper looking one which is somewhat skew (on the right)?  Poke it in the wonky eye, and mean it.  The best tool for this is a long, thin and sharp knife or a metal skewer.  Gouge at the eye until you’ve bored through into the meat of the coconut and created a dandy little hole.


Drain the coconut’s liquid.  I love (love, love) fresh coconut water so I usually drink this when nobody is looking and then come up with a cockamamie story about how the nut was bone dry on the inside, what a shame.


And now for the most dangerous part of this post.  Please ensure that you are wearing your personal protective equipment (ie, safety eyewear).  Also, if there are any kiddies running around you probably want to banish them.  If I had a mini saw life would be much easier, but in the absence of a saw you want to find that heavy and incredibly sharp cleaver that you never use because you enjoy having finger tips.  WHACK the coconut!  WHACK it again!  AND AGAIN!!!  Go Lizzie Borden with your bad-ass self, but try to stay roughly in the center line with your whacking.

This is not a quick and easy process.  Chunks of shell will be flying all over the house and there will be just the slightest of nicks in your coconut.  It’s daunting and depressing, but persevere!  It’s worth it in the end. Keep at it, turning the coconut slightly when you start to make progress, until you can split it in two.

And just let me tell you how smug and self-satisfied you will feel when that happens….

Put aside one half of the coconut for a future use.

To release the meat, use a sturdy paring knife and start by cutting in on an angle until you feel the shell. Go to the opposite angle to make your second cut, like an inverted ‘V’.  Slide the tip of your paring knife under one edge of this (between coconut meat and shell) and swivel slightly until it pops out.

Again, this is a time consuming process that I will apologize for in advance.  The thing is, you won’t give up at this point because you’ve already invested so much time in this G.D. thing so just breathe through the rage and it will all be over soon enough.

You can hand-grate the coconut meat, but haven’t you suffered enough already?  Pulse it in a mini food-processor until it is in shards and shreds.  From your half coconut there should be a yield of approximately 1 cup of fresh shredded coconut meat.

Spread the coconut evenly on a baking sheet and toast it in a 350F oven until it is fragrant and just slightly starting to brown in areas.  This should only take about 8 minutes.  Don’t forget to give it a quick stir after a few minutes to make sure that it doesn’t burn.  Let the coconut cool as you prepare the tuna.

When the tuna comes out of the freezer it should be slightly firm to the touch and much easier to cut into 1/4 inch cubes.

Finely slice the white and light green parts of the green onions and mix this with the tuna in a medium sized bowl.  Grate about 1 tsp of orange zest into the mixture and follow with 1 zested or pressed clove of garlic.

Squeeze in the juice of 1/2 the orange as well as 1 whole lime.  Add the sesame oil, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste.  After giving it all a nice stir this bowl wouldn’t mind chillaxin’ in the fridge for a half hour to an hour while you toast up some crostini from your fresh baguette.  This just lets the flavors start to meld and blend, softening up some of the citrus, encouraging the garlic to be a bit less shy, and making the sesame oil come to terms with the fact that it’s not the only flavor in the bowl.

Mix the toasted coconut in before serving and check the seasoning one more time in case it needs a touch more heat, salt or citrus.

Mound the tuna tartare on crostini, garnish with the black sesame seeds, and you have yourself an elegant appetizer to feed that fresh-fish fetish when sushi seems ho-hum.


Because I am what I am and I usually eat appetizers as my entree (am I lazy or greedy?  Both? Hard to tell for sure) this was actually our main course.  It was served with a salad of baby spinach, navel orange and scallion in a rice vinegar soaked coconut-cilantro dressing.  On the side we had caramelized sweet and (all)spiced plantain wedges.

And now for your musical interlude:

“I said, Doctor, is there nothing I can take?  Uh, huh DOCTOR!  To relieve this belly-ache…

You put the tuna with the coconut and call me in the mo-oor-oor-oor-oorning…..”


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  • kristie

    That song is why I adore you so much, Ms. Beggar. That said, I’m also really excited that you posted a seafood recipe that includes the ONLY KIND OF SEAFOOD that I eat. Raw tuna. You’re my hero.

    Chris doesn’t eat coconut, but I’m wondering if I could bring him around with this gem.

  • Tina

    Ooh..don’t use the coconut, just do a tuna tartare! I love raw tuna in any incarnation, and considering the area that you live I think you’d be well suited to make a Tex-Mex tartare with some canned adobe chilis, scallion and cilantro….and then tell me if it’s worth it, because that’s what I thought of making (and then promptly wished that I had made, because I’m never satisfied with what’s in front of me) as soon as we ate this one.

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  • noble pig

    Whao, I’m impressed with your coconut cutting skills. How big is that dang knife? Wow. I would be afraid, very afraid. But the dish sounds amazing!

  • Mike

    noble, Tina wields a cleaver like she was born to it. I seriously think she missed her calling as the muscle in some kind of scary street gang.