When Americans honor their Independence Day on July 4, they might grill a great burger or barbecue ribs. When the French celebrate Bastille Day or la Fête nationale on July 14, they often choose tuna.
Chef Mano Rafael, born into a Marseille family of chefs, is fou (crazy) about tuna. A summertime staple, tuna can be grilled over rosemary branches, poached for a Niçoise salad, or used as a filling for a popular beachside sandwich. “In every bistro, cafe and comptoir in the south of France you will find the sandwich called pan bagnat,” says Rafael, co-owner of Le Fou Frog in the River Market with his wife, Barbara. “Pan bagnat is basically a tuna Niçoise salad served on olive-oil soaked bread. It was originally made for the working class, especially those who worked on the docks. Now it is a staple and is often served at picnics.”
Since 1997, Le Fou Frog has partied every Bastille Day. Mano and Barbara have served up a Gallic atmosphere over that entire weekend with great food, plus a cabaret of singing, dancing, and games. Maybe even a mime or two. Instead of pan bagnat, they do a more ooh-la-la version of tuna—tuna tartare—delicious with a crisp, chilled rosé, also from the south of France. “Bluefin tuna is the variety from the Mediterranean Sea,” adds Barbara. “At the Frog we use sushi-grade Ahi tuna for our tartare. We also use yellowfin when doing more of a Provençal preparation. We get our sushi grade through our fish purveyors—Seattle Fish Company in Riverside.”
Mano’s approach to food is what inspires him at any given moment. “For every season there is a yearning to replicate childhood memories of seasonal changes,” he says. Memories of warm summer days encourage him to make foods that are light and refreshing.
Le Fou Frog’s Tuna Tartare
5 ozs. fresh sushi-grade Ahi tuna
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2-3 drops Tabasco
½ tsp. finely diced shallot
½ tsp. light soy sauce
1/4 tsp. chive oil
Pinch of salt and pepper
Prepared wasabi cream
Hand chop the tuna into ¼ inch squares. Transfer to a mixing bowl add all the ingredients. Wear food-service gloves to incorporate. Set in a ring mold and turn out in the middle of your chilled plate. Decorate with dollops of wasabi cream and dots of chive oil.
For chive oil:
1 cup snipped fresh chives
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Combine in a blender. Blend until the oil starts to feel warm. Slowly pour through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl and let strain for 1 hour. Discard the solids in the strainer. Chive oil can be refrigerated for 1 day. Let come to room temperature before using.