This seared tuna with sweet and sour sauce is a quick and easy and healthy weeknight recipe from Dr. Andrew Weil made with tuna drizzled with a soy, sugar, and black vinegar sauce.
Let’s be very clear about one thing. Though this recipe shares the name of a sauce that’s ubiquitous on menus—and oft insipid, gloppy, cloying, and all manner of other undesirable traits—it couldn’t be more different than all that. This sweet and sour sauce is, quite simply, sweet and sour and lovely. Nothing else. It draws on the flavors of just four ingredients—soy sauce, sugar, garlic, and Chinese black vinegar, which is well worth tracking down for use in this recipe alone. [Editor’s Note: Many, many thanks to the kind and gracious older gentleman in New York City’s Chinatown who, when he saw us looking at the various labels on different brands of black vinegar to suss out which were the real deal and which were just caramel coloring and sugar, pointed us to the perfect bottle. Thank you, my dear man.]
Seared Tuna with Sweet and Sour Sauce
For the sweet and sour sauce
- 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar
- 2 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 4 garlic cloves mashed
For the tuna
- Four pieces tuna loin preferably albacore
- 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 3 to 6 tablespoons grapeseed oil
Make the sweet and sour sauce
- Whisk together all of the ingredients in a bowl.
Cook the tuna
- Remove the tuna from the refrigerator 30 to 45 minutes before you intend to cook and let it rest at room temperature.
- Press the salt and pepper onto all sides of the fish.
- In a large, preferably nonstick skillet, heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Place the tuna in the hot oil, 2 pieces at a time. Sear on each side to the desired doneness, 1 to 2 minutes per side for rare or more to your desired doneness. (Tuna is arguably best when rare in the middle.) Transfer the cooked tuna to a platter. Cook the remaining 2 pieces, adding more oil to the pan if necessary.
- Slice the tuna into 3/4- to 1-inch pieces and transfer to individual plates. Strain the sweet and sour sauce if desired or whisk to recombine. Dribble the sauce over or around the tuna.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
A very simple and elegant meal. The tuna was just delicious with the great flavors of the dipping sauce.
I divided the sauce between a couple bowls and kept one warm in the warming drawer and the other at room temperature. I definitely preferred the warm sauce as it did not further cool the tuna and I could eat a warm meal. The key in the sauce is to really mash the garlic into a pulp so it blends well with the liquid, making it very tasty. I served it with sautéed baby bok choy.
This was simple, easy, and delicious. Once you hunt down the Chinese black vinegar the recipe is a snap. Buy the best quality tuna you can afford and cook it rare.
I used ground Szechuan peppercorns and yellowfin tuna loin, as my store didn’t have albacore. I warmed the sauce gently to incorporate the sugar. We served this over puréed peas and it was stunning visually.
I’m not a fan of sweet and sour sauce, so this seemed like a stretch for me, but I was pleasantly surprised. I found it impossible to find albacore tuna, so I used ahi tuna steaks from Trader Joe’s.
I had the black vinegar on hand. I made the sauce and let it sit for a number of hours then strained it. The sauce wasn’t too sweet and was perfect with the tuna, which I sliced a little thinner than directed.
Very nice recipe. The sauce is made very quickly and accompanies the tuna perfectly. I used olive oil to sear the tuna, and that worked just fine. A very pretty, nice summer dish for a hot day, with just a simple green salad on the side.
This was a very simple but satisfying dish. I don’t often cook fish, and when I do I try to find sustainable species, so it was nice to have some guidance there. I could only find albacore tuna at Trader Joe’s in the form of 1/2 -pound frozen steaks. I was able to find the Chinese black vinegar and the sauce was flavorful enough as is, though I’d add some ginger or scallions next time.
Whether you sauté it or grill it, the tuna for this recipe is very easy to prepare. And the sweet and sour sauce? Even easier.
It’s best to make the sauce when you bring the tuna out of the fridge. This gives the ingredients time to mingle while the fish comes to room temperature. The sweet and sour sauce is a very nice mix of Asian-inspired flavors, but I’d recommend using a light hand when dipping as the sauce is robust enough to overpower the tuna. There will be leftover sauce but this would work well with sushi, too. The sweet and sour sauce should still work well, even if the soy sauce was scaled back to 1/4 cup, allowing the sweet and sour parts to assert itself more.
Just searing the tuna wasn’t quite enough for me. It took 2 to 3 minutes per side to bring my 1-inch-thick steaks to medium-rare. The sauce looked rather unsightly with garlic pieces swimming in it, so straining it first may be a good idea.
After being unsuccessful trying to find albacore tuna for 3 days, I did test the sweet and sour sauce using swordfish. Thumbs up all around. It reminds us of a sauce that’s served with a miso-marinated black cod dish that a favorite restaurant makes.
I think that this would work with rice and vegetables, broccoli comes to mind. It might go well with pork, I’d also like to see it over Asian noodles that I sauté after they are cooked, so that they get a crispy exterior and yet stay a bit tender inside. The recipe says to whisk the ingredients together which did work. However, I found that simmering the sauce over a low heat infused the garlic into the sauce nicely.
Originally published March 16, 2020
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
A good piece of tuna rarely needs much in the way of improvement but this little sauce does just that. Don’t be lulled into thinking this is your typical sweet and sour sauce, as this is so much more. Why aren’t the horrible sweet and sour sauces in Chinese restaurants like this, when it’s so easy?
The Chinese black vinegar is certainly worth the small price. I only used 2 tablespoons sugar (rather than 4), and I found the sauce amply sweet. I then proceeded to ladle it on everything on my plate: the tuna, the steamed rice, and the sautéed veggies, all with glowing results.
Certainly this is my new fave sauce!