how to eat tuna

Some years ago, after reading about overfishing and the horrendous state of our oceans, I vowed to stop eating tuna. Certain species of tuna are on the brink of extinction, thanks to soaring demand and modern fishing methods. Plus, the "eating fish is good for you" equation has changed because of the presence of mercury in many fish, especially tuna. I decided to put tuna in the same category as veal and lobster -- animal products I no longer eat.

Alas, while I have no problem foregoing lobster or veal, tuna was a promise I couldn't keep. I don't know how long I lasted, but five years later I was writing about homemade vs. Whole Foods tuna salad. (If you're reading the old posts, there's an update here.)

Fish and shellfish are mainstays of my diet. We eat a lot of salmon (Pacific only) and shrimp, occasionally halibut, Pacific cod, squid, and other shellfish -- and I eat a lot of tuna. I joke that I'm going to turn into a thermometer. But I don't stop eating it. In fact I eat more tuna now than I ever did.

In an effort to ameliorate the ill effects on both my health and the environment, I've now changed from albacore (so-called "white") canned tuna to skipjack (strangely called "light") tuna. Albacore is much higher in mercury, and the fish are threatened; skipjack is lower in mercury and can be fished sustainably. Skipjack is also (supposedly) more ocean-friendly: if the label says "pole-and-line-caught," supposedly it actually is, whereas claims of "dolphin safe" albacore are likely false. Skipjack is also less expensive than albacore, although I don't find the price difference significant.

But changing from white to light -- from albacore to skipjack -- meant more than just a change in buying habits. Albacore is mild enough to use in salads with just a bit of dressing, and it needs very little help to become delicious tuna salad. Skipjack has a stronger, "fishier" taste. Most people would agree it needs more preparation.

I've been experimenting with this new tuna, and have landed on the Best Tuna Salad, more accurately called the Best Tuna Salad that I'm Willing to Make Myself.

I normally don't use measurements for something like this, I just throw everything together, but that's not very useful as a recipe to pass along. So this week I carefully measured, tasted, and measured again, and this is what I came up with.

The recipe is meant as a ratio, to be multiplied depending on how many cans you're making. I usually make three or four cans at a time. Be sure to use tuna packed in water, not oil.

For each six-ounce (170 grams) can of tuna, drained well to produce four ounces (120 grams):
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- 1.5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
If you're feeling ambitious, also add:
- shredded carrots
- minced celery
Combine all ingredients in food processor. (Personally, I can't eat this if it's blended by hand. I find chunky tuna salad unpalatable.)

This tuna salad is great on whole-grain toast with sliced tomato and cucumber, or my favourite, whole-grain crackers like Triscuits or Wheat Thins.


Amy said...

Hmmm, I hate mustard and relish so this would never work for me. I do like celery and carrots in tuna. My MIL used to add chopped apples, and that added a sweet-tart flavor that I liked a lot. We often just mix tuna into a salad, so the dressing and veggies combine with it also to cut any fishiness. (We do usually use albacore, but we eat canned tuna almost never these days. We do, however, love fresh tuna.

laura k said...

I love fresh tuna. I always ate albacore in salads, but that won't work with this stuff. Plus I like to eat my tuna salad for breakfast, and green salads for breakfast.. . no.

M@ said...

I'm surprised by the amount of mustard. Interesting!

Not sure if you're an olive person but green olives are awesome in tuna salad. Also diced cucumber. That's for me at least.

I wasn't aware that skipjack tuna was so much better than albacore. Noted!

Amy said...

Tuna for breakfast----I can't imagine that at all!!

laura k said...

I often eat non-breakfast food for breakfast. :)

I love olives and definitely like them in tuna salad -- something I know thanks to Whole Foods' "Roman tuna". I think olives would drive up the sodium content a lot, though.

Cucumbers, definitely yes -- could sub for celery.

Skipjack better for everything except taste! Ha! Although now that I'm used to this, the albacore might taste bland.

The Mound of Sound said...


Completely off topic but I thought you would enjoy this:


laura k said...

Thanks Mound, that's a classic. I don't even have to click, I know what it is from the URL. But I'll click anyway. :)

johngoldfine said...

I usually add chopped pickled egg, chopped swiss or raclette cheese (especially when I'm making grilled sandwiches or quesadillas), olive tapenade, celery.

laura k said...

Do you pickle the eggs yourself?

I wonder if anyone else (here) puts the mixture through a food processor or blender.

johngoldfine said...

When we had three dozen bantam hens (before Mr or Mrs Fox arrived), I would pickle them myself. Nowadays, storebought.

What I have come back to after decades away is making sauerkraut at home. Pickled eggs, home and store, not that different. Sauerkraut, home and store, the difference between heaven and earth.