Steve Huff

For Steve Huff, much was at “steak” with our latest meal — so he came up with something downright fishy.

The Yankton man planned a grilling session, but our evening meal didn’t contain the typical sizzling red meat. Instead, the menu featured slabs of thick, juicy tuna.

“This is wild caught Philippine albacore tuna,” he said. “You want to buy the large chunks, not the sub parts.”

This wasn’t the stuff found in your tuna salad sandwich. It wasn’t even the same as Steve’s tuna spread previously made for Super Bowl snacks.

Instead, Steve and his wife, Tracy, chose a prize from the waters. “In many ways, I’m going for the salmon retrofit,” Steve said, referring to another one of his favorite seafood.

As an attorney, Steve uses his words with care. As such, he doesn’t use the blanket term “steak” for all seafood, even when it’s common usage.

“When I hear the word, I think of swordfish steak and tuna steak,” he said. “You hear the terms cod and halibut steak, but they aren’t steak in the same sense of the word as swordfish and tuna. Steak is generally regarded as over one inch thick and 8 ounces.”

And seafood definitely doesn’t need to taste bland or, well, fishy.

Steve likes to spice things up. He combines a cup of Johnnie Walker black, toasted sesame oil, black pepper, soy sauce, greens, oregano, dill and herbes de Provence.

But when it comes to taste, some habits die hard for many people.

Midwesterners may prefer steak over seafood many times. The reasons can include disliking the taste or uncertainty in preparing it. Many people associate seafood with only certain times of the year or having had bad experiences with it.

Many people associate fish with high prices or as a luxury item. In addition, many people don’t have access to fresh fish on a regular basis, unless it’s something caught in the local lake or river.

Steve seeks to knock down all those fears. Fish can be purchased at reasonable prices and offer a culinary change of pace. Also, seafood is good in the freezer for about six months, he said.

In addition, fish — particularly salmon and tuna — offer tremendous nutritional benefits, Steve said. Even in the Midwest, good seafood can be found at the supermarket. Frozen fish can offer as good a taste as the fresh variety, he said.

That said, Steve acknowledges a major concern with seafood — a fear of food poisoning from that may arise from poor handling or preparation.

“Tuna is very nutritious and tastes great, but you need to beware of the mercury angle,” he said. “You can’t see mercury. It’s like lead, in that you don’t know it’s there. Pregnant women are advised to watch out for mercury in fish. But you’ll be fine if you follow (U.S. Department of Agriculture) guidelines.”

Steve pointed out red flags when it comes to tuna.

“It should be fresh and pink. You don’t want to see discolored tuna, such as chocolate or purple,” he said. “And normally, steak (red meat) is good if it’s marbled. But if tuna is marbled — run, don’t walk, away from it immediately!”

For this meal, Steve encountered some problems with his grill. He switched over to a second grill for the tuna, with another compartment used for scalloped crab meat.

Steve seared his tuna, going for the medium rare. That may not sound appealing for those who like their meat and seafood well done. However, the tuna came out moist and tender, not dry and overcooked.

“You should grill the tuna at 350 degrees for 6-7 minutes a side,” he said. “It should be bubbly at the edges, and then you can flip it over.”

The tuna fell apart with a fork and easily melted in your mouth. And it did the double task of satisfying the palate while filling up the stomach.

“Fish is very filling,” Steve said. “Tonight, we have an entire meal without starch, except maybe for the stuffing that’s part of the scalloped crab meat.”

Tuna can also provide a great base for leftovers, Tracy said. “We like to have tuna and ramen noodles,” she said.

When it comes to a little libation with their seafood, the Huffs throw out the rule book.

“White wine is usually associated with fish, but Tracy likes Cabernet (Sauvignon), and I’m joining her tonight,” Steve said. “As we’ve said before, don’t get stuck in a rut. Don’t be afraid to pair different foods and wines.”

Fresh From The Garden

While firing up the grill, the Huffs created a garden salad. But this wasn’t a lettuce wedge or similar fare. Steve went straight to the garden to create a fresh veggie combination. He topped off his creation with the kick of a special homemade sauce.

His prize selections include radishes purchased at the Yankton farmer’s market.

“These radishes came from a Menno garden,” he said. “The radishes are really dirty and need to be cleaned, but it shows they came from good soil. I’m cutting it up for the salad.”

Steve also showed off a prize cucumber. This wasn’t just any cuke — the long veggie made for a tasty and bountiful part of the salad.

“Cucumbers are nearly all water, but they can be really crunchy and tasty. You can also make chips from the cukes,” he said. “For this salad, you bring together the cucumbers and radishes. Then you can have salt, pepper, cayenne pepper and sesame seeds. It gives it a really tangy flavor that you can savor with the cut-up chunks of vegetables.

The veggies remained in the sauce as a type of marinade. Steve offered a small skewer for picking out samples from the main bowl. The flavor provided zip without overwhelming the radishes and cucumbers.

No bland veggies here.

So why do so many people skip vegetables, often referring to them with disdain as “rabbit food?”

Steve thinks he may have the answer.

“Fresh vegetables are awesome,” he said. “People who don’t like vegetables usually have had a bad experience early on, back when they were kids.”

Next to the backyard grill, Steve showed off a horse trough converted into an herb garden. He planted a wide variety of herbs, including basil, oregano, cilantro, and lemon balm. Simon and Garfunkel fans would appreciate the presence of “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.”

“This was planted two to three weeks ago,” Steve said, pointing to different herbs. “Some of these have really grown in a short time.”

But veggies needn’t be shunted to the side. The Huffs sliced up large slices of beefsteak tomatoes, topped with large slices of mozzarella and basil. For good measure, Steve drizzled wine on some of the tomatoes.

Tracy liked the versatility of the tomato-and-cheese combination.

“It makes for a great appetizer or side dish with the main meal,” she said. “We’ve even had it for a quick meal, all by itself.”

True to form, the Huffs like their just desserts. This night, even the dessert followed the veggie theme. Tracy had earlier shredded carrots for her carrot cake, popping the two separate layers into the grill. Never fear, the cake was separated from the seafood — there’s no fishy taste for this sweet treat!

Tracy carefully placed one cake on top of another. She then rolled out the cream cheese frosting, slathering the icing all over and around the carrot cake. One bite and it melted in your mouth. You took in the whole experience — the sweet icing, the carrots and the nuts.

To round off the meal, Steve offered drinks such as bourbon and Scotch. A lighter summertime drink featured pink lemonade with ice cubes containing aronia berries and pineapple mint.

The ice cubes not only keep your drink cold but are good for you, Steve said.

“The aronia berries are filled with antioxidants that are 1,000 times more powerful than blueberries,” Steve said.

Anthony Bourdain

These meals are usually filled with frivolity. However, there are serious moments. During this evening, we discussed the recent death of chef, author and TV host Anthony Bourdain.

“I knew this subject would come up,” Steve said, showing sadness upon learning of Bourdain’s death. The 61-year-old host of CNN’s “Parts Unknown” is believed to have committed suicide.

For the Huffs, the great chefs provide not only entertainment but also an education. Besides Bourdain, Steve enjoys chefs Eric Ripert and Steve Raichlen along with the programs “Iron Chef” and “The Chew.”

Steve also admired the late Julia Child and her groundbreaking work as a chef, author and television personality. She reached out, offering fine cuisine to the everyday person.

Bourdain also broke new ground with his work, Steve said.

“As far as Anthony Bourdain, I followed him forever,” Steve said. “He was a super chef but also a statesman. I enjoyed seeing him travel all over the world, sharing the different cultures as well as different food. (Journalist) Anderson Cooper did a great 15-minute tribute to Anthony on CNN.”

During the meal, we talked about Bourdain’s connection to Grand Forks Herald food columnist Marilyn Hagerty. I enjoyed the opportunity to interview Hagerty at the University of South Dakota when she accepted the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media.

Hagerty wrote a review of an Olive Garden restaurant in her hometown. Her earnest review went viral and was subjected to widespread ridicule.

At first, Bourdain joined the chorus of critics. But he later stood up for Hagerty, noting she reflected the local food and culture that was often found in the American heartland. She shouldn’t be subjected to the culinary snobbery of others, he argued.

In the end, Hagerty flew to New York to meet Bourdain. After his recent death, she spoke about how much it meant to her that somebody like Anthony Bourdain would support her and take the time to meet with her.

Steve Huff noted that Bourdain recognized the value of all parts of the nation and the world. An appreciation of food isn’t limited to major cities, he added.

“Anthony wasn’t just about food,” Steve said. “He was also about friendship. And he was about sharing good times and good food.”