Holiday cooking with Chef Dean Neff: Non-turkey entree that’s off the hook

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to include turkey or ham.  We asked Chef Dean Neff of Wilmington’s Seabird restaurant to come up with an alternative entree–and he reeled us in with his oven-smoked bigeye tuna with homemade harissa.

The fish looks and cooks like a pork tenderloin, with all the health benefits of ahi tuna.  It’s an extra lean protein, low in saturated fat and sodium,  and rich in niacin, vitamins B6 and B12, selenium and phosphorus.  Chef Neff met us at Wilmington’s Seasoned Gourmet kitchen to demonstrate how to season and smoke the fish in your oven — in less than 40 minutes.  Here’s how he did it:

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Oven-Smoked Yellowfin or Bigeye Tuna

Cooking the tuna…

Most tuna cookery is based on searing hot and hard for a very rare center. This method however, relies on cooking fresh yellowfin or bigeye in a low and slow method, which gives a rosy center and is surprisingly juicy because we cook it at such a low temperature. The end result is more like a pork tenderloin because the softer heat does not dry out the tuna.

Slow Smoked Yellowfin of Bigeye Tuna

Preheat your oven to 200F

2 pound tuna loin cut into bricks to create as much consistency in size as possible

Apple wood chips 2 cups

Sea salt

Season the tuna with sea salt and rub with the harissa*… Bake in a 200F oven on a rack until the internal temperature of the tuna reaches 100-110F (10-14 minutes per 1 ½ inches of thickness). Rest and slice into ½ inch slices. Using the smoke-box method, while the tuna cooks. Garnish with shaved radishes tossed with lemon juice, sea salt, and olive oil.

Harissa

5 garlic cloves (whole)

2 teaspoons toasted cumin seed

1 teaspoon toasted carraway seed

3 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 tablespoon Aleppo

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 roasted-peeled-seeded minced red bell pepper

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Muddle in a mortar with pestle until smooth.