French in a Flash: Niçoise Tuna Cakes Recipe

French in a Flash

Quick and easy recipes that prove that great French food doesn't require a tall hat and a fancy kitchen.

French in a Flash: Ni\u00e7oise Tuna Cakes Recipe

[Photographs: Kerry Saretsky]

I love crab cakes. If they're on the menu, I order them. I devised this departure from crab cakes not out of boredom, but in the attempt to create yet another thing to sate my adoration. Crispy on the outside, doughy on the inside; light, briny, and hearty. They're perfect.

In this version, I start with fresh tuna steak, cooked medium, and flaked to the texture of crab meat. Then, I pepper the meat with the flavors of a Niçoise salad: capers, lemon, olive oil, anchovies, garlic, olives, and thyme. Bind with crumbs made from the stale butts of leftover baguettes and mayonnaise, and you have a cake that is altogether unconventional. I serve it with easy tapenade crème fraîche and lemon aïoli that are lessons in how to renovate store-bought ingredients into something that tastes homemade.

Niçoise tuna cakes are inspired by the tuna-crowned Niçoise salad, but modeled into something quite American. I love the unique flavor and heft of the fresh tuna, the pop of the spritely capers, and the bite of the shards of olive and lemon. They're unique and truly honest-to-goodness good. Try it for La Fête des Pères (Father's Day) on Sunday!

  • Yield:makes 6 cakes


  • 1 large tuna steak, about 3/4 pound, seared medium doneness
  • 1 1/4 cups baguette crumbs (fresh bread crumbs make from baguette; or any fresh breadcrumbs)
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 large green olives, minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers, minced
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 green onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Leaves of 2 stems of thyme
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Vegetable oil and olive oil for frying
  • Lemon Aioli:
  • 3 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • Zest and juice of 1/4 lemon
  • Tapenade Crème Fraîche:
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraîche
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons black olive tapenade


  1. 1.

    Cook the tuna by searing it on both sides in a pan over medium heat with a touch of light olive oil, until it is medium done (still pink inside). Set aside to cool, and flake with a fork.

  2. 2.

    Add the baguette crumbs, lemon zest, olives, capers, garlic, green onion, parsley, and thyme.

  3. 3.

    In a separate bowl, whisk together the mustard, mayonnaise, egg, vinegar, anchovy paste, and oil. When well combined, fold into the other ingredients until well combined.

  4. 4.

    Divide the mixture into 6 patties. Heat just enough olive oil and vegetable oil in a nonstick sauté pan over medium heat. Sear 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Serve with Lemon Aïoli and Tapenade Crème Fraîche (recipes follow) and lemon wedges.

  5. 5.

    Sauces: For both sauces, simply mix the ingredients with a small whisk until well combined.