Tonno all Griglia con Pepe Ammaccato

Grilled Tuna with Cracked Pepper Lemon Butter

One day at the restaurant, the cooks and I were in the kitchen admiring the gorgeous tuna that had just been delivered. Someone remarked it was so red and meaty that it looked like steak. Today, I thought, let’s treat it like steak—let’s serve it au poivre, or with cracked black pepper. We felt very happy with our decision, and the tuna was truly delicious.

Weeks later I was researching a special menu for the restaurant featuring Italian Renaissance food. My son, Evan, had recently returned from Venice with a new cookbook for me called La Cucina Veneziana by Maffioli. In the list of fish dishes was tonno con limone e pepe ammaccato. Tuna with lemon and cracked black pepper! Ammaccare means to bruise or smash. Some novel idea. Only centuries old!


  • ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 pieces yellowfin or bigeye tuna fillet, 6 to 7 ounces and ¾ inch thick
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup cracked black peppercorns (not too fine nor too coarse)
  • 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (optional)
  • Salt


For the lemon butter, place the butter, lemon zest and juice, and salt in a food processor and process until blended. Taste and add more juice or salt if needed.

Heat the grill or broiler. Coat the tuna with the olive oil. Mix the black and red peppers (if desired) on a plate and coat both sides of the fish with the mixture. Sprinkle with salt. Grill or broil about 3 inches from the heat 2 to 3 minutes each side for medium-rare. Transfer to a serving plate and top with the lemon butter. Sautéed spinach is an ideal accompaniment, and you may want to extend the steak theme a little and serve french fries too.