Serious Tuna

Tuna. It conjures up any number of images. Doesn’t it?

There’s the kind you eat raw at the sushi bar. Particularly sublime is the fatty variety that comes from the belly – the otoro. But you can feed a family of four for what a single piece of that costs.

Then there’s seared tuna, nicely charred and peppery on the outside, often still pretty rare on the inside. “Black & blue” the chefs call it. Delightful.

Of course the most popular is canned tuna, blended with mayo and whatever else, generally served in a sandwich or scooped over salad. This is the tuna I recall from childhood. With disgust. It’s not that I didn’t like “tuna fish salad”, as they called it. It’s just that by the time I got to school with the sandwich my mother had made for me, the white bread was completely soggy, the tuna was warm, and it smelled, and looked…like cat food. Yich.

Not all tuna salad was as dreary. There were many improvements to be made. You could have it on toast…with a crispy, healthy wedge of iceberg…and top it with cheese for a tuna melt  All good, but my recollection is still tarnished by the stinky mess in my third grade lunch box.

Not any more. I have been enjoying some really wonderful tuna salad these days due to my interest in clean protein (well, not counting mercury) and to the addition of a variety of readily available ingredients that bring flavor, texture and excitement to yesteryear’s “tuna salad.”

If you are perfectly happy with the classic Bumble Bee or StarKist and mayo, go for it. However, you might also be interested in trying some of the high-end canned tuna brands now on the market, like As do Mar, for example, imported from Europe and packed in olive oil. And if you do, you probably don’t need to add much else to it. At twice the price of the basic brands, there’s little reason to adulterate it.

My mother’s recipe always included finely chopped celery and onion, which does provide taste and texture, but it adds work too—cleaning, peeling and chopping. Eh. Since my goal is to get the most taste with the least effort, I use ready-made and readily available ingredients to amp up my tuna to the max.

For example…

– Sweet relish. Yeah, that’s right, the same kind you put on hot dogs and hamburgers.

– Pickles. Same concept as relish, except you do have to chop them up finely. I even toss in some of the pickle juice.

– Pickled peppers. Again, same idea, but these bring crunch, heat and brine. All good.

– Hot sauce. Choose your favorite. I use both Sriracha and Lingham’s.  Added to a touch of mayo (you can use less mayo now because all these other ingredients provide moisture), you also get a wonderful orange tint to the dish.

– Health salad. In my case, the Geshmak brand from Costco. It’s essentially cabbage with a touch of carrot and red pepper, residing in a plastic bottle of vinegar-based liquid. Good on its own, but wonderful as a crunchy counterpoint in your tuna. Again, I add a little of the “juice” to the tuna.

– Capers. Why not? And that juice in the bottle does not hurt. The acidic component plays well against the tuna.

You could also squeeze in a squirt of fresh lemon, chop in some fresh herbs, like dill, and why not even mash up some potato chips and throw those in as well. The point is that canned tuna never has to be bland, boring or yich again.

What’s your favorite way to make “tuna salad”?

Rob Rosenthal is Short Order Dad.


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Comments (2)


  1. I definitely add pickle juice and recently tried a little leftover sweet corn. A little texture, a little sweetness. It was delicious!

  2. Love all these ideas. I’ve been doing many of them for years – especially the sweet relish and capers – separately. Hadn’t thought about the health salad and have some in the fridge right now – maybe that’s lunch?

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