RECIPE: Open-face tuna tacos are easy summertime appetizer

Open-Face Tuna Tacos can be prepared quickly. (Ligaya Figueras /
Open-Face Tuna Tacos can be prepared quickly. (Ligaya Figueras /

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

My husband and I have two traditions when we visit St. Simons Island: dancing to live music at the Village Inn and Pub and ordering a dozen oysters from the Half Shell, slurping them down on the green near the lighthouse and chasing them with a fizzy drink.

The pandemic put a pause on my sideline as an Island Kings cover band groupie, but not oysters to-go. However, during our latest trip to the Golden Isles, I noticed open-face tuna tacos on the Half Shell menu. Described as “not your typical taco,” it piqued my curiosity.

Sesame-seared ahi tuna, crunchy sweet chili slaw and cilantro-lime cream perched on fried wonton wrappers is a tasty oceanside appetizer — unique yet uncomplicated enough that I was inspired to re-create it at home.

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There’s a lot of room for variation. The restaurant makes its slaw with red cabbage; I used green because that’s what I had on hand, and I stirred in minced jalapeno rather than slicing them into thin rings as a garnish. Making the slaw first allows the flavors to meld while you fry the wontons and sear the fish.

The Half Shell presentation is flecked with white and black sesame seeds, but Japanese seasoning blend furikake gets you seeds plus briny sea flavor thanks to flecks of nori. Add a dab of wasabi if you want to ramp up the spice. Mexican crema or creme fraiche would approximate the original; I took the lazy route and grabbed a tub of sour cream.

This recipe comes together very quickly, so have all of your ingredients ready before you start.

Open-Face Tuna Tacos
  • 2 cups shredded green cabbage
  • 2 tablespoons minced jalapeno
  • 2 tablespoons sweet chili sauce
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  • 12 wonton wrappers
  • 2 (4-ounce) skinless yellowfin tuna steaks, 1-inch thick
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • Sour cream, for garnish
  • Wasabi paste, for garnish (optional)
  • Black or toasted white sesame seeds (or a combination of both), for garnish (substitute with furikake)
  • Lime wedges, for garnish
  • In a small bowl, combine the cabbage, jalapeno and chili sauce. Set aside.
  • Heat 2 to 3 inches of vegetable oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven until a deep-fry thermometer inserted in the oil registers just under 350 degrees. Fry the wonton wrappers, in batches, 15 to 20 seconds on each side or until golden brown and crisp. Drain on a wire rack or baking sheet lined with paper towels.
  • Pat the tuna dry with paper towels and lightly season both sides with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the tuna and cook, uncovered, for 2 minutes. Using a fish spatula, gently flip tuna and continue to cook 2 minutes longer (the outside will be opaque; the center will be translucent red and register 110 degrees). (For medium rare, cook each side 2 1/2 minutes.) Transfer to a cutting board and immediately slice into 1/4-inch-thick slices.
  • To assemble: Place a spoonful of slaw on top of a fried wonton, followed by a piece of tuna. Top with about 1/4 teaspoon sour cream, a sprinkle of sesame seeds and wasabi, if using. Repeat with remaining wontons. Serve with lime wedges. Serves 2-3 as an appetizer.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving, based on 2: 481 calories (percent of calories from fat, 37), 39 grams protein, 36 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, 20 grams total fat (3 grams saturated), 58 milligrams cholesterol, 637 milligrams sodium.
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