These ahi tuna tacos are bursting with flavor! They pair seared ahi tuna with cilantro lime slaw and creamy chipotle crema.
Love a good fish taco? Here’s a new spin that you’ll fall for just as hard: Ahi Tuna Tacos! Meaty tuna steak is the ideal filling for a taco, contrasted with fresh cilantro lime slaw. Top it off with chipotle sauce and another sprinkle of cilantro, and it’s a little bit of everything: savory, spicy, fresh, cool, and creamy. It’s ideal for an easy weeknight meal, but impressive enough for entertaining. If you’re a tuna steak lover like we are, you’ll love this unique way to serve this versatile fish.
Elements in tuna tacos
These tuna tacos are a spin on the fish taco, invented in the 1950s in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. In fact, both the cities of Ensenada and San Felipe, Mexico claim to have invented the fish taco! The idea then quickly spread across the border to San Diego, where they became popular in America in the 1980’s (much in part to a restaurant called Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill).
This recipe seeks to honor the traditional Mexican flavors, using seared tuna instead of the typical breaded fish and pairing it with a zingy fresh slaw. Here are the elements in these ahi tuna tacos:
- Ahi tuna steaks
- Spices: Cumin, chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder
- Cilantro lime slaw
- Chipotle crema (or alternative sauce; see below)
- Red onion (for garnish)
Tips for buying ahi tuna steak
Ahi tuna, aka yellowfin tuna or bigeye tuna, is a mild, lean fish commonly served as sushi, in poke bowls, or cooked rare or medium-rare. Here’s what to look for when buying tuna steaks for these tuna tacos:
- Make sure it’s sushi or sashimi grade. There are no specific regulations around the label “sushi-grade,” but it means it’s a high quality fish that is safe to be eaten raw.
- Check at the fish counter. You should be able to find ahi tuna steaks at your local grocery counter.
- Look for frozen steaks. Or, it’s possible that your grocery might have frozen steaks. These can be even fresher than fresh tuna if they’re flash frozen right when they’re caught. You’ll just need to thaw the night before in the refrigerator.
- Find wild caught. Fish that is wild caught is usually a sustainable choice. There are also quality options in well-regulated farms; see Seafood Watch Consumer Guide.
How to cook tuna steak
Once you’ve got a great piece of fish, the hardest part of this recipe is searing the tuna. Here are a few tips on how to cook tuna steaks:
- Allow it to come to room temperature first! This is important: otherwise the inside is still cold when the exterior is cooked! Allow it to sit at room temperature for at least 20 minutes prior to cooking. You can use this time to prepare the slaw and sauce, then sear the fish right before serving.
- Use a food thermometer to assess temperature (130 degrees Fahrenheit). Add the steaks to a skillet and cook 1 to 2 minutes per side, until lightly browned on the outside but still rare the inside. For a medium-rare tuna steak, the internal temperature should be 130 degrees Fahrenheit when measured with a food thermometer at the thickest point.
- Rest for 2 minutes. This helps it to set and become easier to cut.
For the cilantro lime slaw
A great fish taco often has a creamy slaw, and this one is no exception! The cilantro lime slaw in these tacos is so good, you’ll find yourself continually sneaking bites. This recipe has a bit of a shortcut so you’re not spending too much time chopping. Use a bag of coleslaw mix, then combine it with shredded red cabbage! It makes for a lovely mix of color and texture.
Tip: Got any leftover cilantro lime slaw? Eat it as a side dish for the tacos!
Sauces for tuna tacos
These tuna tacos are fantastic drizzled with chipotle crema, which adds a savory creaminess and a bit of smoky heat. Mix it up while your tuna comes to room temp, or try one of these alternative sauces based on your preferences and what you have on hand:
- Chipotle crema: A sour cream-based sauce with adobo sauce, garlic and lime
- Chipotle sauce: A zingy vegan sauce with tahini, adobo sauce and lime
- Yum Yum sauce: A mayo-based savory sweet sauce that originated at Japanese steakhouses (not spicy)
More tuna recipes
Tuna is one versatile fish! Here are a few more great tuna steak recipes with ideas for how to cook it:
This tuna tacos recipe is…
Pescatarian, gluten-free and dairy-free (with chipotle sauce).
These tuna tacos are bursting with flavor! They pair seared ahi tuna with cilantro lime slaw and creamy chipotle crema.
For the cilantro lime slaw
- 14 ounce bag coleslaw mix (7 cups)
- 2 cups shredded red cabbage
- ¾ cup chopped cilantro, plus more for serving
- ¼ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup Greek yogurt
- 4 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
For the tuna tacos
- Allow the tuna steak to come to room temperature by letting it stand for at least 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the slaw: Shred the red cabbage and chop the cilantro. Place it in a large bowl with the coleslaw mix. Mix in the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, lime juice, maple syrup, chili powder, kosher salt, and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
- Make the sauce: Make the Chipotle Crema, Chipotle Sauce or Yum Yum Sauce.
- Cook the tuna: When ready to cook, pat the tuna dry. In a small bowl, stir together the salt, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, and onion powder. Sprinkle the seasoning mix liberally on all sides of the tuna. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium high heat. Add the tuna steak and cook 1 to 2 minutes per side, until lightly browned on the outside but still rare the inside. The tuna will continue cooking while sitting. For a medium-rare tuna steak, the internal temperature should be 130 degrees Fahrenheit when measured with a food thermometer at the thickest point. Cool for 2 minutes. Then slice the tuna against the grain into ½-inch slices. Taste and add additional salt if necessary.
- Warm the tortillas: Warm and char the tortillas by placing them on an open gas flame on medium for a few seconds per side, flipping with tongs, until they are slightly blackened and warm. (See How to Warm Tortillas.)
- Assemble the tacos: Add generous spoonfuls of cilantro lime slaw, then slices of tuna. Top with Chipotle Sauce and more fresh cilantro. Enjoy immediately.
*Frozen is okay, just thaw in the refrigerator before serving.
- Category: Main Dish
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Mexican Inspired
- Diet: Gluten Free
Keywords: Tuna tacos, ahi tuna tacos