Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

One Ingredient, Six Ways A quick list of Lent and LTO inspirations with Ahi Tuna

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: LEI’D HAWAIIAN POKE’S POKE NACHOS, THE KEG’S TUNA TACOS, YARD HOUSE’S AHI CRUNCHY SALAD, SWEETFIN POKE BOWL, HANK SAUCE’S AHI TUNA BURRITO ROLL, HOPDODDY BURGER BAR’S AHI TUNA BURGER

Lent is a time to maximize fish and seafood offerings across your menu. It is also a time to enliven your culinary creativity. This article takes a quick look at the versatility of one ingredient—ahi tuna—and the many ways it can transform on-trend seafood items.

Using the best-quality ahi tuna is a smart menu tactic, as it provides operators the flexibility to showcase both high-dollar and value menu items utilizing the same ingredient. You can procure a side or fillets and then portion into cubes, slices or steaks, depending on your application:

  • Cubes – poke, bowls, tacos, burritos, nachos, fries
  • Thin slices – salad, tacos
  • Thick steaks – sandwiches

Ahi takes so well to a wide variety of flavor and texture tricks:

  • Raw tuna cubes + tamari + sesame oil + sriracha + honey
  • Raw tuna slices + citrus yuzu + sweet eel sauce
  • Seared tuna slices + coating of Sichuan peppercorn/cayenne/orange peel dust
  • Seared tuna steak + coating of togarashi

What follows are six menu applications anchored by ahi tuna, intended as thought-starters and snapshots of on-trend inspirations to help spark your signature Lent menu creations.

Lei’d Hawaiian Poke

Lei’d Hawaiian Poke in Tysons Corner, Va., offers build-your-own poke nachos.

1. Poke Nachos

Create a premium offering from a mainstream menu classic by topping crispy chips with chilled poke, fresh fruit and vegetables, crunchy toppings and bold sauce drizzles.

  • Traditional tortilla chips or crispy wontons or taro/tortilla/plantain chip combo
  • Toss tuna poke in either light sauces or creamy spiced sauces
  • Edamame “guacamole” could be an upsell addition

 

The Keg Steakhouse + Bar

The Keg’s Tuna Tacos are stuffed with seared rare ahi, cabbage slaw, cilantro and sesame-soy sauce.

2. Poke Tacos

Poke in a taco format delivers the unexpected, while grounded in the familiar. Menu the premium freshness cues of chilled ingredients or a chilled/hot combination.

  • Pair tuna poke with tofu or raw marinated salmon, or tempura-battered seafood for a textural contrast
  • Use crispy shells as a counter to soft poke—hard tortilla, tempura nori sheets or crisp lettuce leaves
  • Start with a base of seaweed salad, dressed greens, bamboo rice or imitation crabmeat salad

 

Yard House

At Yard House, the Ahi Crunchy Salad is layered with field greens, Asian slaw, crispy wontons, soy vinaigrette and cilantro, and topped with seared rare ahi.

3. Ahi Tuna Salad

This light yet bold salad, with amplified crunch, works in wonderful harmony with thin slices of seared ahi tuna. Be sure to tout wellness attributes during Lent.

  • Season, sear, chill, slice and portion tuna in advance for speed of service
  • Pair with pickled vegetable slaws, marinated chilled soba noodles or spicy greens mixed with a chiffonade of raw vegetables
  • Think bright, fresh, enticing colors and textures

 

Sweetfin

California-based Sweetfin offers signature or build-you-own poke bowls.

4. Poke Bowl

Deliver simple, clean flavors that let the high-quality ingredients shine. Poke bowls resonate with all the trend connections that consumers crave.

  • Offer poke straight up or on a bed of rice, seaweed salad or spicy greens
  • Incorporate layers of textures and flavors
  • Great opportunity to allow guests to customize their own bowl

 

Hank Sauce

Hank Sauce’s Ahi Tuna Burrito Roll has seared ahi tuna, mango salsa, Monterey Jack cheese, wasabi aioli, and chopped romaine wrapped in a mild habañero wrap.

5. Tuna Burrito

Break from the expected norm of traditional burrito builds and showcase tuna here, offering premium upgrades to this humble handheld.

  • Layer a soft flour tortilla with a creative spread, nori sheet, seasoned rice, fresh vegetables, fruit and/or herbs, sliced tuna or poke and a subtle crunch
  • Try non-Asian flavor profiles paired with the tortilla/nori combination
  • Pair with a signature dipping sauce, heightening the tuna burrito experience

 

Hopdoddy Burger Bar

Sushi-grade tuna is the star of the show in Hopdoddy Burger Bar’s Ahi Tuna Burger, with sprouts, teriyaki, honey wasabi and crisp nori chips.

6. Ahi Tuna Burger

It’s no surprise that burgers and sandwiches are huge menu drivers, but this is an area often overlooked for applications with ahi tuna. Tuna can elevate your sandwich offerings and satisfy guests looking for satiating Lent menu items.

  • Fresh sprouts or micro greens are beautiful tuna burger toppers
  • House-made pickled ginger red onion rings add punch to the overall build
  • Go creamy and bold with spreads: miso mayo, kimchi aioli or mango gochujang

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About The Author

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ROB CORLISS is a three-time James Beard House guest chef with more than 20 years of experience that includes running world-class hotels, launching new concepts, working in top marketing agencies and, currently, owning a consulting company, ATE (All Things Epicurean), focused on flavor, menu and restaurant innovation. Based in Nixa, Mo., he has an energizing passion for food and is dedicated to connecting people to their food, environment and wellness.