Photographer: Duane Tinkey
This unique twist on tuna tartare, the first recipe developed for R I Restaurant, transports chef and co-owner Jacob Demars back to childhood tuna-fishing with his dad.
“A lot of the dishes I make for R I are inspired by the important people and places throughout my life” in Rockport, Connecticut, and Iowa (hence the name R I), Demars says. “So I really wanted the first dish I made for the restaurant not only to taste great, but also to connect personally to me.”
As a boy, Demars would fish for tuna with his dad, sharing 12-hour days on a 23-foot Grady-White fishing boat. On their drive to the boat, they would pass under tree canopies and over broken concrete that—if you looked closely—showcased weeds and flowers popping out of the cracks. That scene inspired the plating for the tuna tartare, which was one of the top sellers when Demars opened the restaurant with his wife, Kathleen McGuire, in Windsor Heights last September. The dish will return to the menu this summer. Here’s how it’s made:
1. Rice wine vinegar meringue: You’ve likely tasted sweet and fluffy egg-white meringues atop lemon and banana cream pies or in crunchy meringue cookies, but Demars is on a mission to prove that they can go savory, too. The lightest of the three meringue styles (the others are Italian and Swiss), Demars whips up a French meringue with a splash of rice wine vinegar, and then dehydrates it to create a nice light “chip” to scoop up the tuna. “I had all the components for this dish pulled together except for the meringue, and it didn’t feel quite finished,” Demars says. “I thought back to the fishing trips with my dad and the broken concrete with weeds pushing through. That inspired me to add the meringue so it looked like the microgreens on the dish were pushing through the cracks in the meringue.”
2. Diced tuna: While Demars doesn’t dust off the Grady-White boat to catch it himself, the tuna is fresh. “We order wild-caught AAA sushi-grade yellowfin tuna weekly from Empire Fish,” Demars says. He tosses the raw fish with homemade hoisin sauce that has a hint more sweetness and slightly less acidity than typical bottled hoisin sauce. “The sweeter flavor helps balance the dish,” he explains.
3. Arugula powder: Arugula, which you might recognize better in its leafy green, sold-by-the-bag form, is transformed into a dust that Demars sprinkles over the tartare. The dust is also a savvy way R I goes green. “We try to be a no-waste kitchen, and drying the arugula at the end of each week to turn into a powder gets us one step closer,” Demars says.
4. Fried hominy: For a pleasant crunch, Demars fries hominy. Like puffy, supersized corn kernels, hominy “takes really well to different types of seasoning,” he says. Here, he seasons it with salt and cayenne pepper to add a dash of heat to the dish.
5. Jam: While the tuna requires zero cooking time, the apple-mint-grapefruit jam is cooked low and slow for four hours with the skins of the grapefruit. The result: a condiment that offers a bitter counterpoint to the sweet hoisin.