Sesame seed tuna tataki

What is tataki?  Although I am not a Japanese cuisine aficionado, I do enjoy a good tuna tataki.  Tataki is seared, sliced tuna with a citrus dressing.  This sesame seed tuna tataki with pickled onions is inspired by my recent East coast trip with a final destination to Nantucket where I spent a week eating all the fresh seafood my body could handle! From Maryland blue crabs with Old Bay seasoning, lump crab cakes, scallops, cod, soft shell crabs, lobster, self caught porgies that were eaten within two hours of being caught to delicious fresh tuna!

Fishing with the locals!

Fishing with the locals!

Michelle catching a porgy

Caught a porgy with help from Francisco!

Porgies dredged in flour seasoning

Porgies dredged in flour seasoning.

Porgies simply fried in olive oil and butter

Porgies simply fried in olive oil and butter

This sesame seed tuna tataki with pickled onions is a simple outer crust made up of a combination of black and white sesame seeds, coarse sea salt and coarse ground pepper. Pickled onions are added for crunch as well as to provide the acid that the tataki needs. Serve this will ponzu sauce which is a combination of soy and citrus that can be bought in most grocery stores and it's a winner. 

Tips for making tuna tataki with pickled onions.


Make sure you buy your tuna from a reputable vendor.  Some purveyors sell defrosted tuna steaks which are perfectly fine.  Look for tuna steaks that are either light pink or deep red, but not oxidizing and turning brown.  There may be a strip of darker muscular meat within the steak which is perfectly fine.  The muscle of the steak should also not be separating as this is an indication that the fish has been on display too long.  The fish should also not smell overpoweringly fishy.  Buy cuts of tuna about one to one and a half inch (~3-4 cm) thick.  The thinner the steak, the quicker the sear to avoid overcooking the tuna.

Calculate about 1/3 of a pound of tuna per person as the meat is dense so it goes a long way when sliced and served as an appetizer.  If you are at a dedicated fish store like Gliddens Island Seafood in Nantucket, you may be able to request a "block cut" piece of fish which is perfect for this tataki.

Block cut tuna

"Block cut" tuna

Pickled onions

Thinly slice onions and sprinkle with salt.  Using plastic gloves or a plastic bag to avoid the smell of onions on your hands, squeeze the onions to break down the cell membranes that hold the juice.  

Squeeze the thinly sliced onion

Sprinkle thinly sliced onion with salt and squeeze to remove the juice.

Sliced onion ready for pickling

Sliced onion ready for pickling.

Placed the squeezed onion in a bowl without its juice and add sugar and vinegar.  The onions will absorb the vinegar.

Tuna tataki dry rub

This tuna tataki dry rub combines white and black sesame seeds, coarse black pepper and coarse ground salt.  Place these in a bowl.

Sesame seed mixture

Sesame seed mixture

Coat the tuna steak on all sides with the sesame seed mixture.

Coat tuna with sesame

Coat tuna with sesame

Ensure that all sides of the tuna are well coated

Ensure that all sides of the tuna are completely coated


Heat a cast iron skillet until really hot.  Add cooking oil to prevent sticking and sear the tuna steak briefly on all sides. Do not burn the sesame seeds.

Searing tuna

Searing tuna

Plating sesame seed tuna tataki salad with pickled onions.

Allow the tuna to cool.  Layer the salad with arugula and pickled onions. 

Arugula with pickled onions

Arugula with pickled onions

Slice the tuna a little less than half an inch (1 cm).n  Drizzle the ponzu sauce onto the tuna tataki or serve on the side. Enjoy!

Tuna sashimi with toro

Tuna sashimi with toro

Sesame seed tuna tataki


Michelle Sam
Seared tuna with a delicious dry rub of black and white sesame seeds, black pepper and salt. Served with pickled onions and arugula.
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Course Appetizer, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Japanese
Servings 2 servings
Calories 408 kcal


  • 340 g sushi-grade tuna steak
  • 1 Tbsp cooking oil.
  • Ponzu sauce

Dry rub

Pickled Onions

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp sugar


  • 113 g arugula leaves or equivalent


Prepare tuna

  • Wash tuna and pat dry with paper towels. Allow some moisture to remain so dry rub will attach.
    Block cut tuna

Dry rub

  • Combine the black and white sesame seeds, coarse salt and medium ground black pepper.
    1 Tbsp black sesame seeds, 1 Tbsp black pepper
    Sesame seed mixture
  • Mix well.
    1 tsp coarse salt
  • Place mixture in a flat container.
    Coat tuna with sesame
  • Place tuna steak in dry rub mixture until well coated.
    340 g sushi-grade tuna steak
    Ensure that all sides of the tuna are well coated

Prepare pickled onions

  • Finely slice onion with a mandoline or knife and place into a bowl.
    113 g arugula leaves
    Sliced onion ready for pickling
  • Squeeze onions with a gloved hand or plastic bag to extract onion juice.
    Squeeze the thinly sliced onion
  • Sprinkle with salt.
  • Pour ⅔ the dressing into the bowl with sliced onions to marinate.

Sear tuna

  • Preheat cast-iron skillet over high heat and add oil.
    1 Tbsp cooking oil.
  • Sear crusted tuna 30 seconds to a minute on each side depending on the thickness of the steak. Less time for thinner steaks.
    340 g sushi-grade tuna steak
    Searing tuna
  • Place on a cutting board to cool.

Assemble plate

  • Place arugula and pickled onions on the bottom
    Arugula with pickled onions
  • Slice the seared tuna into ¼-½" strips.
  • Add the sliced tuna on the top.
  • Drizzle with ponzu sauce.
    Tuna sashimi with toro


Serving: 2servingsCalories: 408kcalCarbohydrates: 14gProtein: 44gFat: 20gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 6gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 65mgSodium: 2412mgPotassium: 824mgFiber: 4gSugar: 5gVitamin A: 5070IUVitamin C: 14mgCalcium: 214mgIron: 4mgNet Carbohydrates: 10g
Keyword Fish, fusion salad, seafood, tuna
Tried this recipe?Let me know how it was or if you have any questions or suggestions!
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