Not that there’s anything wrong with traditional American tuna salad, but there are lots of other things to do with tuna. I like tuna, but I don’t want “tuna salad” in the traditional sense every time, so I’ve come up with lots of variations. Some of the best are made with the “leftovers” from grilling a lovely big tuna steak or with my homemade tuna confit.
My “salad” might have onion and celery (if present in the refrigerator) but it’s certainly not a requirement; no mayonnaise either (though I do like the stuff). Home from work, not going back out to the grocery store; it’s warm enough that I don’t want anything hot for lunch. What have I got to work with from the pantry and the refrigerator?
If you think about the basic American tuna salad, it has very few ingredients: usually mayonnaise, celery, onions, and maybe hard-boiled egg, or sometimes pickle relish.
Personally I find the usual supermarket canned tuna to be unappetizing–dry and crumbly if it’s water-packed white albacore, sometimes mushy and fishy lacking in any real texture, so I understand why it’s often hidden in the mayonnaise, but there are now reasonably priced alternatives available. If I don’t have homemade confit, I’ll be using a single-cooked canned tuna that more nearly approximates the quality of European canned tuna.
Starting with good quality tuna, unless you want to go all the way and make salad à la niçoise you really don’t need many ingredients. You don’t really want to overwhelm the tuna (since we are using good tuna here) so the components you need are:
- some contrasting texture and flavor ingredients
- just a bit of oil
- a little acid to brighten it up.
- fresh-ground black pepper
- some fresh herbs for extra flavor
Starting with a six-ounce can of tuna, here are some possible things to do:
- For something light, refreshing and crunchy for a sweltering day, I like to use diced cucumber, scallions, red onion or sweet onion like Vidalia (depending on what’s in the fridge), fresh-ground black pepper, salt (if the tuna has no added salt), about a teaspoon of very fruity extra-virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, and some finely chopped spearmint.
- For something really quick, I’ve added some fresh onion, sweet bell pepper, diced chile peppers for texture and some salsa from a jar. Chipotle salsa can give you a warmer, smoky taste.
- If you want a heartier salad, add to your tuna some drained, rinsed white beans (great northern or cannellini are my favorites), tomatoes, chopped onion, green or black olives, some extra-virgin olive oil or aïoli (easy to make a quick version if you have decent mayonnaise in the fridge) and some fresh oregano.
- If you have some pesto in the fridge, try chopped onion (almost always use this), diced tomato, capers, or olives. If there’s pasta around, that can be added too.
- I usually have a jar of a fruit salsa in the fridge as well and that makes a good start. Add sweet onion like Vidalia or Walla Walla, more fruit such as peaches or mango, some ripe bell peppers.
- Black beans, diced tomatoes, onions, chile pepper, ripe bell pepper (I’m just not fond of green bell peppers so I don’t use them), celery, and even some corn and a vinaigrette with a light touch of chilli powder added.
- For an oriental take on the tuna salad, a bit of sesame oil (the kind from roasted sesame seeds) with some ginger, green onions, a little garlic if you like, with cucumbers, celery.
- That extra serving of roasted vegetables–even potatoes–with cherry tomatoes, and a splash of vinaigrette, maybe some fresh thyme.
Obviously, a many of these suggestions would work equally well with chicken if you have that instead, or don’t like tuna. It’s easy to improvise a quick salad if you start with a serving of meat. The possibilities are really almost endless–just follow your own taste.
A son goût!