Salmon Macaroni Salad

I distinctly remember the tall cans of dark pink salmon that used to be in our pantry when I was a kid. Although we could any time open a can of tuna or sardines and eat to our hearts content without permission, the canned salmon was off limits. Although the excuse my dad gave was, “it’s special” (followed by “keep your hands off”), I think the real reason was that he loved the stuff and always wanted to make sure there was a can or two in the pantry when he wanted it. Nothing lasted that long in the pantry of a family with six kids.

One of my favorite things to do with canned salmon is to make a simple salmon macaroni salad with it, a riff off our family favorite tuna macaroni salad. You can choose to add sliced lettuce (iceberg works best) to the salad, but it works best as is, without lettuce, if you are planning to bring it to a picnic or have it last for leftovers.

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Salmon Macaroni Salad Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4.

Tip: add the macaroni to the salmon mayo mixture when it is still warm. That way it will absorb the flavors better.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound (about 2 cups) macaroni pasta
  • Salt
  • 2 (7-ounce) cans salmon
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (plus more to taste or for added smoothness)
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped shallots, red onions, or green onions (with onion greens)
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill (or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill)
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • Tabasco to taste (we used about 10 drops)
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Method

1 Bring a pot of water (2 quarts) to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt. Add the dry macaroni pasta and cook, uncovered, in a rolling boil for about 10 minutes, or until the macaroni is al dente (slightly firm). Remove from heat, drain, rinse briefly in cold water (macaroni should be still warm after rinsing) and drain again.

2 In a large bowl mix the salmon, mayonnaise, mustard, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Mix in the shallots, parsley, dill, and celery.

3 Mix in the cooked macaroni while it is still warm. Add Tabasco and freshly ground pepper to taste. As the macaroni absorbs the mayonnaise, you may need to add some water to the salad to keep it from being dry. Adjust seasonings.

Chill before serving.

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34 Comments

  1. soopling

    How perfect, I have pasta and canned salmon languishing in the pantry, as well as an abundance of dill, scallions, and celery in the fridge. I’m so excited to make this!

    I also used to make a salmon-pasta salad that featured mayo, cilantro, and fresh green peas. I should revisit that too.

  2. Greg Walker

    In concept, this recipe sounds great. And, strangely, I have the same memories of the canned salmon in my sainted mother’s pantry when I was a youth – it was the “good” stuff, and off limits to small hands.

    In later years I came to the conclusion that the reason for this was that she was a teen during the depression and the canned salmon might have been the best stuff they had. I realized recently, when making my mother’s fondly remembered salmon croquettes that I HATE sorting through the bones and skin and junk in canned salmon, which is sad, as I love many old recipes that call for it. Yes, I know that you *can* leave the bones in, but I don’t want to!

    I am going to experiment with subbing some well-done grilled salmon in lieu of the canned in this recipe. It will be more expensive, but I think it could be a knock-out.

    We had fresh salmon for dinner tonight and I was thinking how good the leftovers would be in this macaroni salad. ‘Cept there weren’t any leftovers. But it is a great way to use up grilled, baked, or poached salmon leftovers if you have them. Like using fresh tuna for tuna salad, takes it to a whole other level. ~Elise

    • BB

      Canned salmon is really wonderful to have on hand, bones and all. I hate the sorting, too, so I do it with sandwich baggies over my hands and it takes all the ick out ;)

  3. jonathan

    I’m still trying to visualize the Bauer children fighting over the last available can of sardines.
    If there was any in my family’s pantry twenty years ago, I’m sure it would still be there had we not moved. ;^)

  4. Cookin' Canuck

    This is very reminiscent of the pasta salad that my mum used to make all the time (canned salmon and all) and that I now make for my kids. I can’t stop eating the stuff! I like your addition of lemon, which probably brightens it up nicely. For my kids and me, the best part of our salmon pasta salad was the loads of capers we added.

  5. DebbieWS

    I also remember the salmon cans in the pantry but my Mom made salmon patties. She would mix the salmon with egg,soda crackers and some other stuff. And fry them in oil. She made a Tuna salad a like like yours but it was served on lettuce (not mixed in).
    I love your family stories, Thank you

    My parents made salmon patties too and my mother’s favorite way to serve canned salmon was just a chunk of it in the center of a platter surrounded by lettuce, chopped pickles, mayo, etc. like a salad nicoise, but with canned salmon. ~Elise

  6. Renni

    This looks tasty! I’ve done something similar with tuna (with capers or sweet relish) instead of salmon but I’m definitely going to have to try this recipe, especially since I love salmon with lemon and dill! Yum!

  7. Nina

    I just tried this tonight and it was delicious, and very easy to make! Since I don’t really like the crunch of celery, I tried putting in 1/2 tsp of dried celery leaves which worked for me too.

  8. Edith

    Sounds great. For those who don’t like picking thru skin and bones, try the salmon in the pouches. Much cleaner and more dry. I make a twist on the hot tuna noodle casserole by using salmon, capers, mustard, grated swiss cheese, noodles, mayo and some type of green veggie (usually asparagus cut into 1″ pieces). Bake thru and serve.

  9. CJ McD

    Edith,
    I love the salmon casserole idea. Why didn’t I think of that before?

    Elise, Your salad picture is tempting with the beautiful pink salmon and the cool macaroni.

    I usually make our macaroni salad with peas in it and no mustard. I love your flavor variation and am definitely going to give it a try. It will be a perfect, refreshing lunch on this hot, muggy day.

  10. Chez US

    Elise, that is too funny, I remember the same thing being a kid. My grandfather use to go to Alaska and salmon fish and then they would have it canned. The difference between us, I hated it, I never understood why they would put Salmon in a can just as I never really understand why my dad would throw back that perfectly good fish instead of cooking it. My mother use to make salmon cakes with it. I will have to forward your recipe to her. It looks delicious and I am sure as an adult who now appreciates food, I would love it as well.

  11. Alex

    Why do you call so many of your non salad recipes “Salads” when there are barely any vegetables in it?

    Macaroni salads typically have no vegetables in them. Well, maybe pickles. They’re served cold which is probably why they are called salads. I didn’t make up this naming convention. ~Elise

  12. Kimi @ The Nourishing Gourmet

    I love several things about this recipe. First, it has noodles in it which I love. Second, it has salmon, which I also love. Third, it’s such a frugal recipe!

    I’m doing frugal/nourishing carnivals every Thursday starting this week. I may just have to work a similar recipe into the carnival soon (we have some dietary restrictions), because this is so perfect!

  13. 5 second rule

    I really attended the Sustainable Foods Institute at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and learned that canned salmon is generally sustainable since nearly all of it is wild. I bought a few cans to squirrel away until inspiration struck. I think I’ve been waiting for some fancy recipe idea to come to me, but treating the canned salmon humbly as you did is probably the best way to go.

    Looks really good.

  14. chandani

    I agree with 5 second rule. Well I even tried the mayo on its own with veggies and loved the taste.

  15. kime

    This recipe (or at least one extremely similar to it) has been a staple of my mom’s for years. As far back as I can remember it is what she always brought to potlucks – by request from many. Her dressing had less ingredients, and she always put in diced celery and celery seed. To this moment, eating anything with celery seed reminds me of this salad. It is a simple but great food, and easy to keep the essentials on hand.

  16. Jim Price

    I prepared 1/2 pound of macaroni and it produced 4 cups of cooked macaroni, so I’ve got 2 cups to use in another recipe. Do you use red or pink salmon? I made your recipe with red salmon and the results were outstanding!

    Either one. The last batch I made was with canned wild caught pink salmon, Whole Foods house brand. ~Elise

  17. Susan B

    I have always left the bones in the canned salmon — just smoosh ‘em between your fingers. I’d guess they ramp up the calcium content?

    I made this today and it’s outstanding — no fresh dill, so I chopped up two dill pickles, used whole wheat macaroni, added a splash of rice wine vinegar (it’s my new “secret ingredient” for lots of dishes), and used dijon mustard. Yum.

    I eat the bones too, they’re pretty soft, and definitely good for you. Love rice vinegar! It’s become the base of our go-to salad dressings these days. ~Elise

  18. Keith

    Skin and bones? Leave them in! The bones are high in calcium and easily chewed. The skin is high in nutritious omegas.

  19. Sarah

    This salad is lovely. I made it this morning with the addition of chopped capers and cornichons. It will make terrific bag lunches for work this week.

    Thank you again Elise.

  20. Karl

    I’m not sure why this recipe caught my eye, maybe because I love salmon so much. So I gave it a try.

    First, I don’t know about your cans of salmon, but one 8oz. can was MORE than enough for the other other ingredients. Second, I didn’t have parsley handy, so I went with cilantro (and dropped the dill). Cut down on the shallots a bit as well. Ends up, I really like the “fresh” taste of the cilantro in this salad.

    Super yum!

  21. vicki in GA

    Do you think I could use smoked canned salmon?

    You could try it and see if you like it. ~Elise

  22. Miriam

    Just thought I would leave a comment. I love your blog and have found some killer recipes here but I have to say so far this is my absolute favorite. I grew up in a house where tuna macaroni was the norm and don’t get me wrong I love it to this day. But what a nice twist on an old favorite. My daughter who refuses to eat tuna macaroni declared this to be delicious. So score one for mom. I also have to say that I make at least two loaves of your banana bread a week. Its just such a quick recipe. Thanks for sharing your love of food with the rest of us.

  23. Beth

    Elise, every recipe I’ve made of yours has been a winner. When I saw this one, I thought it sounded yummy, and tonight turned out to be the perfect evening to make it. We had spent most of the day outdoors, and came home at dinner time hot and starving. It uses mostly pantry ingredients, which was perfect since it started raining as we walked through the door and I did not want to run to the store to pick up ingredients. I modified it liberally, as my pantry is a bit sparse at present :-) No celery, but plenty of those little french mild radishes, so they subbed for it (diced up they were crunchy, and the touch of heat blended, I thought). I thought I had dried dill, but I apparently used it up last week and hadn’t restocked. Enter dried chervil. Not as good as fresh, but I like it with fish. Once I made the salad up, it looked a little gray (my salmon had a lot of dark skin in it, which I’d included) so I threw in some still-frozen peas to add color and help cool it down to serving temperature. When I tasted it with everything in it except the Tabasco and lemon zest I thought it seemed a bit bland, but with them added it was AMAZING. They gave it just the piquancy it needed. Since I’d added the peas, I used about 20 good shakes of the Tabasco, which was perfect for our taste–tangy but not overpowering. I always have canned salmon around because my “instant dinner” in the winter is a salmon chowder that takes about 5 minutes to make and uses about 4 ingredients. This will be my new instant summer dinner, I think. Thanks!

    Great! So glad you liked it and were able to modify it in a way that worked well for you. ~Elise

  24. Janet

    I too love reading the family stories (memories) and the comments regarding what everyone would have for family meals, etc. I’m making this tonight, this will make great meal when we’re in the heat of summer. I’m going to try fresh grilled salmon (instead of canned) & might add in pearl onions (just depends). Thanks for the great website!

  25. Aya

    Hi Elise, I am a newlywed bride who is always on the lookout for new recipies to delight her hungry husband and in-laws. A dear friend of mine introduced me to your site and we love ooo-ing and ahh-ing over your recipes. You always use the ingredients and techniques that match our taste and there’s no other cooking resource that compares to yours.

    This is the very first recipe I tried and it came out amazing. The canned salmon I used was a little bit light and I had a hard time convincing my husband that it wasn’t tuna until he found some bones. We loved it! Thanks so much.

    Hello Aya, I’m so glad you are finding the site useful. Glad you liked the salmon macaroni salad! ~Elise

  26. Chris

    This salad was excellent. Made it last night for my daughter (22 months) because she loves pasta, but we are trying to expand her horizons. She loved it. Of course we halved the recipe when it came to salmon and pasta, but forgot to half things like mayo and lemon juice. We scraped out some of the mayo, but left all the lemon juice (our family loves lemon), which gave it a nice tangy flavor. My daughter followed it up with some blueberry frozen yogurt.

    Bottom line, very good salad. Have you ever thought of meal planning for toddlers?

  27. Emiko

    I know this is an old post, but I just want to express how much I love this recipe. I now keep canned salmon in the pantry just for this salad. I usually omit the onion, since I never seem to have these milder onions on hand, but the result is still perfect. Since spring is finally showing itself in New England, I decided to make some for a beach picnic. And as usually, I found myself eating a good amount of the salad before I could pack it away. It’s just that addictive for me.

  28. uwe meller

    Great recipe. We are in Mexico so I had to do a little substituting, but no problem turned out wonderfully.

  29. Carmen

    My kids love Mac and Salmon as I call it…. Salmon is so easy to cook with.

  30. Wendy S.

    Excellent! This one will make it into the regular rotation. It is also easy to make substitution and additions based on what we have on hand. I really like having an excellent base recipe that I can adjust as needed.

  31. Suzy

    Hi Elise,
    This recipe sounds really yummy! My mom used to make a salmon macaroni salad when I was little that was fairly similar – I think instead of celery, she had cucumber & sweet pickles in it. We didn’t really do tabasco growing up – my mom had a little bottle of it that she would point out to us as having lasted since the year mom & dad got married! I think I’ll give this a try tonight for dinner.
    Suzy

  32. Sharlene

    Delicious and simple. Thanks.

  33. Victoria

    Just tried this and it was so delicious. Surprisingly filing and customizable. A great base.

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