Tuesday, October 8, 2013


Red sky at night, sailor's delight.  On the Chesapeake somewhere.

Aboard Fidelio a weekend ago, the tuna I was marinating matched the color of the sunset.  The old adage, red sky at night, sailor's delight, proved true, both for the forecast and our dinner.

Fidelio is a cranky, small, old sailboat that belongs to our dear friend Rob Fawcett, Pennsylvania's family doc of the year, and, a published poet, whose good humor and writings have entertained us on each of our 15 annual trips exploring the Chesapeake.

Capt Rob, with me supervising
Turns out Fidelio the boat is appropriately named.  Beethoven revised and cut short his only opera, Fidelio, but it still didn't make it among 18-th century audiences.   "Fidelio will win me a martyr's crown," he reportedly said.  It seems the singing was too difficult to perform well, and the plot, well, is kinda complicated.

The story goes that Fidelio was the new errand boy in a Spanish political prison, who arrived carrying food and supplies for Rocco, the jailer.  Rocco's daughter thought he was cute, and had her heart set on winning him over .....but ..... Fidelio was really a nobleWOMAN from Seville who had snuck into the prison in disguise to rescue her husband, who had been sentenced to death for his political actions.  A complicated plot ensues, but it all works out in the end, with Leonore, aka Fidelio, freeing her husband from his chains.

Fidelio the sailboat is a noblewoman in disguise, too.  She's a sweet sailing vessel, but she's over 40 years old and a bit rundown.  One year her engine blew on us; another the head stopped working.  We've been over-powered, and under-winded.  Some sailors polish and scrub foredecks and railings, but, well, dusty Fidelio is still well-loved by Rob.  Being onboard is a lot like camping on the water, but it's an annual delight that I wouldn't miss.


Tuna Udon, a recipe from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK by Elizabeth Wiegand
So, in spite of having only a tiny charcoal grill that attaches to a stanchion, and a tiny gas burner, with some advance planning and kitchen work before leaving home, we managed to pull off an awesome dinner.  I had chopped and softened onions, peppers and asparagus, mixed up the marinades in jars, and cooked a package of udon noodles before leaving home.

Both red snapper and tuna are seasonal favorites in our markets this fall.
We found the tuna in Raleigh at Saltwater Seafood off Capitol Blvd, another Earp family venture that features local bounties from NC waters, fresh and cleaned on the spot.  The tuna had just arrived from Wanchese, the intake of fresh, local seafood in the Outer Banks.

Tuna being skinned at the cleaning station at Hatteras Village Marina.
After we dropped sails and motored into an isolated gunk hole for the night, I placed the Ziplock bags of noodles and veggies on top of the covered engine to warm them on the residual heat.  Shook and poured the marinade over the bright, red tuna.  We lit the charcoal and candles.

The red of the setting sun was mirrored in the water.  So, as good sailors do, we paid our respects to one fine day.  We poured a sip (or two!) of rum over ice and squeezed in a lime.  Made a toast to a spectacular day on the water, in the wind, and under the bridge.  We then listened to a new batch of poems from our Captain, mulling over his images and metaphors and the stories they told.

With flashlights, we started putting our dinner together.  Usually I sear the tun in a hot pan, but this time, it kissed the hot grill for just a couple of minutes per side.  The marinated noodles were swirled on our plates, then topped with the red-centered tuna.  We poured a fine temperanillo and cut the bread.

And all was well aboard Fidelio, that fine noble mistress.


TUNA UDON,  from THE OUTER BANKS COOKBOOK, by Elizabeth Wiegand, Globe Pequot Press, 2nd Edition, 2013. (c)  Please credit if reproduced.  
            Beautiful loins of dark, red tuna are available fresh from the day boats at O’Neal’s Sea Harvest in Wanchese or at any of the seafood markets along the Outer Banks.  For a fascinating diversion, catch the charter boats when they return to Oregon Inlet Fishing Center or at the docks in Hatteras Village late in the afternoon, to see them unload or rather heave onto the boardwalk the big, torpedo-like yellowfin tunas caught just offshore.  At Hatteras Village, the local watermen at the fish cleaning stations make quick work of peeling the skin, then quartering the tuna to extract the loin.   Loins are then cut crosswise into steaks. 
            This dish makes a beautiful presentation, with the bright colors of the veggies in the udon noodles.  The tuna is very tender, almost like butter, when marinated in oil.  

For the tuna:
4 tuna steaks, at least 1-inch thick
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chili oil
3 strips lemon peel ½ inch wide
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 large garlic cloves, slivered
salt and freshly ground pepper
For the Udon:
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
¼ soy sauce
¼ cup canola or vegetable oil plus 1 tablespoon
½ teaspoon Tobasco or other hot sauce
½ cup chopped red pepper
3 green onions, chopped
½ pound fresh asparagus or 2 cups sugar snap peas
1 package (8 ounces) dried udon pasta

  1. At least an hour before cooking, marinate tuna steaks.  In a plastic, resealable bag, place the olive oil, chili oil, lemon peel, thyme, and garlic.  Squish it around to blend, then add the tuna steaks.  Place bag in refrigerator until time to cook.
  2. Start to prepare the udon noodles.  In a small skillet, over medium heat, place the sesame seeds, and shake the pan to stir them around as they toast.  When lightly browned, after about 3 to 5 minutes, remove from heat.
  3. In a small mixing bowl or jar with a tight lid, combine the garlic, ginger root, soy sauce, oil, hot sauce, red pepper, and onions.  Whisk, or shake the jar, to combine. Let sit so that the flavors will meld.
  4. If you are using asparagus, snap the tough ends off, rinse, then cut into 2 inch pieces on the diagonal to make it attractive. Place in a skillet, barely cover with water, and set on stove.  Turn heat to medium high, and as soon as the water begins to boil, drain the asparagus, then immediately run cold water over the pieces to stop the cooking process and give it a bolder green color.
  5. When you are ready to serve within 30 minutes or less, put a large pot of water on high.  When it begins to boil, add the udon noodles, and time for about 9 to 10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente.  Drain, and place in a large serving bowl. 
  6. In a small skillet, place 1 tablespoon oil, red pepper and green onions, and if using, the sugar snap peas over medium high heat.  Cook and stir for just about 2 minutes, just enough to warm the vegetables but still keep them crisp.  Remove from heat and add to the udon noodles.  Add asparagus, if using.
  7. Whisk or shake the soy sauce combination, then pour over the noodles and vegetables.  Stir to combine.  Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. 
  8. Remove tuna from the bag and make sure none of the garlic or herbs have stuck to its sides.  Strain the oil into a large saute pan, and place over medium high heat.  When oil is hot, add tuna and season with salt and pepper.  Sear quickly, 2 to 3 minutes for the first side, turn and sear for an additional minute but no more than 3, depending on how rare you desire. We prefer tuna that is still red in the center, about 4 minutes total.  Remove from pan immediately.
  9. Place dressed noodles and vegetables in the center of each plate, and make a well in the center.  Place tuna in center.  Serve immediately. 

YIELD:  4 servings