Classic Tuna Salad

Cooking for TwoFamily-FriendlyBudgetCanned TunaTuna Salad

Scoop this quick and easy tuna salad over a bed of greens, sandwich it between slices of bread, add some cheese to make it a tuna melt, or snack on it with crackers. This creamy, crunchy tuna salad is the classic dish you’ve been craving.

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas | Art Banner Credit: Elena Resko

Our “Cooking for Two” series is all about those of us who love good food but need smaller batches. Maybe you’re single or coupled but with no kids (no kids, before kids, after kids). Whatever the reason, you don’t necessarily want a lot of leftovers hanging around. We had you in mind when we developed these recipes.

Raise your hand if you didn’t grow up eating tuna salad sandwiches. Anybody? That’s what I thought.

Wait! You, in the back. Okay, I’ll allow that not everybody grew up eating these. Your mother probably fed you something far more interesting. But, hold on, there’s comfort in that can of tuna!

TUNA SALAD: A SIMPLE PLEASURE

I have memories as a child sitting atop Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire with my camp friends after a day’s climb. Lunch was always oranges and tuna or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and for dessert, well, let’s just say a Hershey bar never tasted so good.

And now, in these times, that sandwich brings just as much pleasure (not to mention cost savings). Spare me the bells and whistles; I’ll get to them in a minute.

Right now, a classic tuna salad sandwich is all I’m after. And that means canned tuna, mayo, celery, lemon juice, and if you like, red onion. Period. Slather it on some good bread and I’m that happy camper again. In fact, I’m taking my sandwich out to the back porch to eat in the sunshine.

THE BEST TUNA

Any can or jar of tuna will work in a sandwich. Just make sure you drain the water or oil before mixing with the ingredients for tuna salad.

I prefer using water-packed tuna in tuna salad because I’m already adding mayonnaise to the recipe. I save oil-packed tuna for dishes where the oil matters a bit more, such as in this Salad Nicoise, because oil-packed tuna is richer than water-packed tuna.

That being said, tuna salad is no time to get picky—just use what you have on hand.

China with a green salad of sliced cucumbers, halved tomatoes and lettuce topped with a scoop of quick and easy tuna salad.

SWAPS AND SUGGESTIONS FOR TUNA SALAD

I’m strictly a mayo kind of gal, but if you prefer Miracle Whip or light mayo, go for it. I’ve never tried it with yogurt, but Greek yogurt might work, especially if you add a little lemon juice, salt, and pepper.

To toast or not, it’s up to you if you’re turning this into a sandwich. Sometimes I’m in a toasty mood and crave a little crunch, and sometimes I just want the comfort of soft bread. No bread in the house? My better half always prefers tuna salad on saltines(?), but you could make some of these biscuits or homemade soda bread.

TUNA SALAD ADD-INS AND ADAPTATIONS

The best thing about basic recipes is how easily you can adapt them to your own tastes. Use my Classic Tuna Salad recipe as a foundation but then mix things up with some excellent add-ins:

You can also try these great herbs and spices for tuna salad:

  • Thyme
  • Oregano
  • Smoked paprika
  • Chopped fresh parsley

If it sounds good to you, it probably will be. If you want to get fancy, make Elise’s Best Ever Tuna Salad Sandwich, though I’m going to have to talk to her about that claim.

White bread with quick and easy tuna salad inside. A glass of water, sliced cucumbers and halved tomatoes are also on the plate.

HOW TO SERVE TUNA SALAD

For me, the next best thing to a plain ol’ tuna sandwich is a tuna melt. That’s a grilled cheese sandwich with tuna salad. Slap some cheese on the sandwich, butter the bread on the outside, and grill it in a pan until the bread is crisp and golden and the cheese melts.

You could do something similar with a tortilla, too. Just place cheese in the center, top with tuna salad, fold it like a burrito, and grill it to seal it. But there’s more! Make a wrap with pita or flatbread and add some greens and sliced tomatoes or cucumbers.

You could also serve this as a true salad on top of greens with some extra vegetables to round it out.

Tuna salad makes a simple mid-afternoon snack when paired with crackers or spread onto celery sticks. You can also take the virtuous route and top your greens with a scoop of tuna salad for a healthy lunch.

HOW TO STORE TUNA SALAD

Leftover tuna salad can be stored in the fridge for three to five days. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap to keep other refrigerator odors out and the tuna odors in.

MORE EASY TUNA RECIPES

Classic Tuna Salad Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings

This recipe serves two, but it’s easy enough to double or even triple to serve larger families.

Ingredients

  • 1 (5-ounce) can tuna packed in water
  • 1 rib celery, diced
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped red onion
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of black pepper

Method

1 Drain the tuna: Open the can and hold it over the sink. Tilt the can and press on the lid to allow the water in the can to drain.

2 Mix the tuna salad: In a bowl, break the tuna up with a fork. Add the celery, mayonnaise, onion, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Chill or use immediately.

White bowl with chopped celery, mayo, tuna and red onion along with a fork. White bowl with filling to make a tuna salad sandwich.

3 To serve: Spoon tuna salad onto slices of bread to make a sandwich, scoop onto crackers for a snack, or serve it atop a bed of salad greens.

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

More from Sally

2 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Dollyw

    Have not made your tuna salad but have read thru the article and really enjoyed it. Can assure you I will try each one. I love good tuna recipes. Really tired of my overused winter foods. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Dollyw

  2. Teresa

    I plan to make it this week, sounds like a winner.

Crusty sandwich bread with the best tuna salad inside. A green salad of lettuce and tomato halves is to the left on the china.Classic Tuna Salad