Why This Recipe Works
- Slicing the tuna against the grain ensures the most tender texture.
- Spooning the sauce over the tuna right before serving prevents the fish from curing in the lime juice, preserving its buttery texture.
If sashimi is doused in a salty, citrusy marinade and covered with serrano chiles, is it still sashimi? For chefs and home cooks across Mexico, the answer is a resounding yes. Sashimi de atún is clearly Japanese-influenced from the raw tuna to the soy sauce, ginger, and sesame. But ingredients like lime and orange juice, spring onions, serrano chile, cilantro, and avocado is what shapes its wonderfully Mexican identity in the end. While still recognizably Asian in influence, sashimi de atún has taken on a distinctly Mexican flavor.
Though it’s not exactly clear when sashimi first came to Mexico, Japanese immigrants established communities around Mexico over the course of the 20th century and made their mark on Mexican society. The first Japanese restaurant in the country is said to be that of the Asociación México Japonesa, founded in 1960. Japanese food’s popularity may also have been driven by the boom of sushi restaurants in the U.S. starting in the late 1980s—in the early 2000s, some restaurants advertised sushi as a U.S. novelty, according to the newspaper Noroeste, a regional newspaper in northwest Mexico. Either way, Mexican chefs were quick to adapt recipes to their customers’ evolving tastes. Today, sashimi can be found in home kitchens (at least in Sinaloa) and is a common offering at seafood restaurants throughout Mexico.
Sashimi in Mexico can take many forms, from the fairly traditional Japanese sashimi from which it originates to something akin to aguachile with lime juice, chiles, soy sauce, red onion, cucumber, and cilantro. Most variations—including this recipe—tend toward the latter. The dish is usually served with tostadas or saltine-style crackers, and some restaurants offer to lightly sear the tuna before preparing the sashimi (in efforts to allay any discomfort with eating totally raw tuna).
In this sashimi de atún recipe, I aimed for a well-balanced sauce that wouldn’t overpower the star of the dish: the tuna. That meant opting for spring onions rather than red onions, including a little orange juice for citrusy sweetness and making sure not to overdo the lime and ginger. The buttery tuna is cut into thick slices and dressed with a savory soy sauce-based marinade with an assertive lime and orange flavor right before serving. A combination of toppings like serrano chile, cilantro, and tostadas round out the flavor and provide a welcome texture contrast. The result is a refreshing light meal (or appetizer) with both Japanese and Mexican roots, perfect for sharing on a hot day.
How to Select and Cut the Tuna
As with Japanese sashimi, selecting and cutting the tuna is key to the sashimi’s fresh flavor and buttery texture. There’s no question as to the importance of using high-quality, perfectly fresh raw tuna in a recipe like this, but I can’t stress enough just how equally important the cutting technique is to success. Not only do you need a very sharp knife (a blunt knife mashes the fish, rendering the outside pasty and changing how it absorbs the marinade), but you also need to be thoughtful about the angle and orientation of the knife cuts.
If you cut along the grain of the muscle, for example, the long muscle fibers and their strips of sinewy membranes will be unpleasantly stringy. In contrast, cutting against the grain severs those long fibers, creating the smooth, rich texture that sashimi is famous for. If you lack full confidence in your knife skills, I recommend freezing the fish for about twenty minutes until it is firm to the touch, but not fully frozen, which makes slicing easier for those of us less skilled at it. Aim to make each cut in a single smooth motion without sawing, which will tear the flesh.
In restaurants, it’s common for each slice of tuna to be cut to the same rectangular shape and size; any scraps that accumulate throughout the day are typically used in other ways (spicy tuna roll anyone?). At home, though, I don’t see the need to trim each piece like that—it wastes precious fish, especially given the challenge of repurposing the small amount of scrap that such a small amount of tuna yields. Slices that vary slightly in size and shape taste just as delicious.
As far as quality goes, look for something as fresh as possible or flash-frozen at the point of catch (flash freezing reduces the risk of certain parasites). And while “sushi-grade” is not an FDA-regulated term, it’s still a helpful phrase when talking to a fishmonger. This raw fish guide is also a great source. When selecting a cut, look for tuna with less white sinew and more red muscle.
The Secret to the Sauce
A little bit of orange juice sweetens the sauce while sesame oil adds richness and flavor. For this recipe, I opted for spring onions, a less pungent alternative to red onions, though scallions will also work. Freshly grated ginger and black pepper add two dimensions of warmth, and are complemented by a final kick of heat from slivers of serrano chile along with the herbal minerality of fresh cilantro.
While soy sauce and sesame oil are the clear Japanese flavor influences here, it’s the combination of lime and orange juices, fresh serrano chile, cilantro, and onion, that together bend the sashimi in the direction of a clear Mexican flavor profile. Serving the sashimi with creamy avocado and cooling cucumber alongside crispy fresh tostadas further solidifies its unmistakable Mexican identity.
While this sashimi has clear roots in Japanese cuisine, with one bite it becomes immediately clear that this sashimi de atún is unmistakably Mexican. It’s kind of magical how the flavor manages to transcend its origins so completely.
Sashimi de Atún (Mexican Tuna Sashimi With Soy-Lime Dressing)
Mexico’s spin on Japanese tuna sashimi has traditional elements like soy sauce and raw fish, but adds Mexican flavor with lime juice, serrano chiles, cilantro, tostadas, and avocado.
- 1 pound (450g) sushi-grade tuna
- 1/4 cup (60ml) fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup (60ml) soy sauce (see notes)
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) fresh orange juice
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons (5g) fresh grated ginger
- 2 tablespoons spring onion shoots or scallion (6g), finely chopped (see notes)
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 serrano chile, stemmed and sliced into thin rounds
- Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
- Sesame seeds, for garnish
- For Serving:
- One medium garden cucumber (8 ounces; 227g), peeled, halved, seeded, and sliced into crescent moons
- One medium Hass avocado (8 ounces; 227g), halved, pitted and sliced thin
Set tuna on a plate and transfer to freezer until tuna is firm to the touch but not fully frozen, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, orange juice, sesame oil, ginger, scallions and pepper; set aside.
Using a very sharp knife, slice the firmed tuna against the grain of the muscle into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
Shingle the tuna slices attractively in an even layer on a serving platter. Pour the reserved sauce over the sliced tuna.
Garnish with serrano, cilantro, and sesame seeds. Serve right away with cucumber, avocado, and tostadas.
A very sharp slicing knife
This recipe is generally made with a dark, Japanese-style soy sauce. I used Kikkoman Soy Sauce. If you’re sensitive to sodium, consider using low or less-sodium soy sauce. Be careful not to confuse reduced-sodium soy sauce with light (usukuchi) soy sauce, which has a different flavor profile.
Scallions may be substituted for the spring onions.
Make sure to buy extremely fresh fish that is suitable for eating raw; flash-frozen fish is even safer, as the deep freezing process kills some potential parasites.
Make-Ahead and Storage
This recipe should be served immediately.