No matter how creative or spontaneous or inventive I aim to be with my weekday lunches, at some point I always end up craving just simple a tuna salad sandwich. It's lunchtime comfort food. Has it been a while since you last had tuna salad? Here's my favorite, most basic recipe. I think it's just about perfect.
There's not much to making tuna salad, really. My husband often just mixes the tuna with mayo and a few cracks of black pepper and calls it good! I like to add some crunch to balance out the cream, and so I mix in some chopped celery and shallots when I make it. A spoonful of pickle relish might not be the way you grew up with it, but try it — the sweet-and-sour pickles add just a little something extra to each bite.
I also like water-packed tuna, partly because I think it has a cleaner tuna flavor, and also because I figure I'm adding enough calories to my sandwich with the mayo. But if you're a fan of oil-packed tuna, by all means use that!
And of course, sandwiches are just one of many dishes you can make with tuna salad. Mix in some macaroni for an easy pasta salad side dish, or pack it into avocado halves or scooped-out tomatoes for a gluten-free lunch. A few spoonfuls of tuna salad with crackers is also one of my favorite afternoon snacks.
While I have settled on this particular combination of ingredients for my "perfect" tuna salad, the beauty of this dish is how different and equally delicious it can be in someone else's hands. How do you make your tuna salad? What else do you add when you make it?
Water-packed tuna, mayo, celery, shallots, a scoop of pickle relish, and a squeeze of lemon
Makes about 2 cups of salad
2 5-ounce cans water-packed tuna fish
2 to 4 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 rib celery, diced small
1 small shallot or 1/4 red onion, diced small
1 tablespoon lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
1 tablespoon pickle relish, optional
Salt and pepper
Use a can opener to cut open the cans of tuna fish, but leave the lid in place. Holding the cans over the sink or a bowl, press the lid into the tuna fish and tilt the can to drain all the liquid. Remove the lids and transfer the tuna fish to a mixing bowl.
Add 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise, celery, shallot, lemon juice, pickle relish (if using), a sprinkle of salt, and a few cracks of fresh black pepper to the tuna fish. Stir with a fork to combine, breaking up any large chunks of tuna fish as you go. Add more mayo if you'd like smoother, creamier tuna salad. Taste and add more of any of the ingredients to taste.
Use immediately or store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Tuna Salad Variations
- Use yogurt instead of mayo for a lighter salad.
- Use extra-virgin olive oil instead of mayo for a looser salad.
- Use canned salmon, smoked trout, or leftover chicken in place of the tuna.
- Add diced apples, raisins, or dried fruit to the basic recipe.
- Add diced fennel, shredded cabbage, diced cucumbers, or any other crunchy vegetable.
- Add a dash of curry powder, dukkah, harissa, chopped fresh herbs, or any other spice mix in your cupboard.
- Tuna and mayo — it's as simple as you can get, and a perfectly acceptable lunch.
(Image credits: Emma Christensen)