These tuna salad sandwiches were a huge hit with our testers. They praised the versatility and the flavors that Hank Shaw suggests—capers, chiles, pickles, Dijon, bacon. You’ll discover your own favorite variations, too.
It’s perhaps the most recognizable and loved fish dish in America. Pretty much every man, woman, and child has, at one point, eaten one. I used to eat them for lunch in junior high school. I still eat them. At its core, an American tuna sandwich—why we added “fish” to the end of the word I am not entirely certain—consists of pre-sliced bread, maybe some lettuce or tomato, and flaked canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise, celery, and/or onion, and some other flavoring elements.
Below you’ll see how I like my tuna fish sandwiches (a term I’ve christened here to mean any fish or seafood sandwich made like the tuna sandwiches we all know and love), but first, I want to give you some ideas on how to make this classic your own.
Let’s start with the tuna. It need not be canned tuna or even tuna at all. I’ve made fish salads of this sort with more or less everything that swims or walks on the bottom. Caught walleyes or crappies? Use them. Leftover shrimp? Chop them small and go for it. Lobster salad, especially in lobster roll, is one of the stations of the cross in any New England culinary pilgrimage.
I’ve also used home-canned sturgeon and salmon, as well as pretty much every sort of canned tuna there is. Even there, are you using oil-packed or water-packed fish? Your choice. I prefer oil-packed, but in this one case, water-packed is better because of the mayo you’re about to add.
My secret? I really like to mix simply flaked fish, canned or not, with flaked, smoked fish. You could also use 100 percent smoked fish, too. Firm fish, soft fish, lean fish, fatty fish, seafood—all will work. That is one of the beauties of a tuna fish sandwich.
I don’t need to tell you that anything goes as an accompaniment. Traditional is lettuce and tomato, but I also like a slice of bacon or three (thin cut), shaved fennel, pickled greens, and roasted green chiles. I personally don’t like melted cheese—the venerable tuna melt—but many people do.
What about the sandwich part? Clearly, you can stand over the bowl and eat your fish salad over the sink if you want. But any sort of bread is fine, including wraps and tortillas. I once roasted some chiles, seeded and peeled them, then stuffed them with a Mexican-inspired salmon salad. Toasted bread or untoasted? I like both. You could even get super fancy and stuff some of your salad into a ramekin and serve it on a charcuterie board. After all, tuna salad, cut very small, is basically a rillette.
Finally, there is the salad itself. Flaked fish is the only absolute, although mayonnaise really needs to be in there for it to be a recognizable tuna fish salad. Fish salads without mayo are amazing, but not what we’re talking about here. That said, you can sub in other mayonnaise-like things, like remoulade, or even Miracle Whip if that floats your boat.
You also need something crunchy to offset the soft texture of the fish. Most people use some sort of onion (I like shallots), as well as minced celery. Minced fennel bulb is pretty awesome, too. Anything fun to eat raw, cut small and crunchy, will work.
The salad requires zing, too. Depending on my mood, I do this with either horseradish or Dijon mustard, but you could add any other mustard, or hot sauce if that’s what you like. I will often hit two points at once by mincing pickles into the mix, especially spicy pickles.
Finally—and this isn’t entirely needed—you’ll want something to offset the whiteness of the salad. I typically use the leaves from the celery I’m cutting, as well as a bunch of minced flat-leaved parsley. But this herbal component can be any soft herb you like to eat: cilantro, thyme, chervil, lovage, sage, cilantro—hell, even epazote.
How do you get there? Little by little. The beauty of a tuna fish salad is that everything is cooked, so you can add, mix, taste, add, mix, taste until your salad is where you want it.–Hank Shaw
HOW LONG DOES TUNA SALAD LAST IN THE FRIDGE?
One of the beautiful things about tuna salad is that it’s perfect for making ahead—lunches, snacks, on-the-go. If you’ve made a little extra or if you’re the type who can plan ahead, you can safely store it in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. Make sure it’s in an air-tight container and kept cool.
Tuna Salad Sandwich
- 12 ounces flaked fish smoked or not, drained if packed in water or oil
- 4 tablespoons store-bought or homemade mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup minced shallot
- 1 stalk celery minced
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon minced leaves from the celery (optional)
- 1 tablespoon capers
- 2 tablespoons minced pickles
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 12 slices good-quality bread toasted if desired
- In a medium bowl, mix together the fish, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, shallot, celery, parsley, celery leaves, if using, capers, and pickles. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Divvy the fish mixture between six slices of bread and spread evenly over each slice. Top each sandwich with the second slice, cut in half, and devour.
☞TESTER TIP:If you add onion and celery, many times they will release water into the salad after it's been in the fridge for a few hours. Stir 1 to 2 tablespoons of dry potato flakes into the salad, and let the mixture stand for at least 30 minutes. Then, re-stir and go on with life. No one will ever know, and you won't have watery tuna fish!
Recipe Testers' Reviews
Easy and delicious recipe! I'm a tuna salad sandwich lover and a different version about how to make it is always a plus. The combination of the pickles, celery, and onion was fantastic, I added cilantro instead of parsley. I made my own mayonnaise and added tomato and avocado to my toasted bread.
I'd forgotten how versatile canned tuna can be, always in the pantry but often overlooked. In the past, I've opened a can, added a dollop of mayo, and been done. What I liked about this recipe for tuna salad sandwiches is all the ingredients are almost always readily available and all the variations that are possible.
For the 1st batch, I followed the recipe and really enjoyed the results, and liked the bit of spice the mustard added to the dressing. I made a second batch with red onion, tomato, black olives (no shallot, celery, or pickle) and decreased the mayo. There is no wrong way to make a tuna sandwich, The possibilities are endless.
Originally published May 01, 2021