Tuna occupies an odd spot in the American food consciousness—we tend to think of it as either a humble canned good, bone-dry and flavorless unless it's cut heavily with mayo, or a luxury seafood to be consumed mainly in the form of sushi or sashimi at Japanese restaurants.
But given the relative ease these days of finding high-quality, oil-packed imported canned tuna, incorporating the pantry-staple version into your cooking is more appealing than ever. (If you're concerned about eating sustainably, and/or mercury contamination, you'll definitely want to do your research before buying any kind of tuna to learn what species are best for you and the planet.)
To inspire you to get tuna out of the sad-lunch realm and into your roster of exciting dinner possibilities, we've assembled a list of 12 recipes calling for canned tuna, from a deliciously salty, savory spaghetti puttanesca to deviled eggs with confit tuna and tomato.
If Americans knew what causa was, we're pretty sure it would start appearing on the table at every potluck. It's a cold casserole of sorts—part mashed potato, part potato salad, and part mayonnaise-dressed salad made with a white meat, such as chicken, crab, or tuna. There's not a thing fancy about those ingredients, yet carefully layering them and applying colorful garnishes creates a surprisingly attractive display. This is one of Peru's most popular dishes, and for good reason.
This list wouldn't be complete without a recipe for classic tuna salad sandwiches. Though some of you doubtless have nightmares of mayo-drenched tuna salad on stale bread, this recipe may be enough to bring you back into the fold. It produces a tuna salad that's packed with crunchy bits of celery, tangy quick-pickled red onion, fresh parsley, and—the key ingredient—a tiny bit of fish sauce or minced anchovy, for greater depth of savory flavor.
Not a fan of mayonnaise? In this mayo-free variation, tuna salad gets plenty of moisture and Mediterranean flavors from olive oil, briny capers and olives, fennel, celery, and a squeeze of lemon juice. You'll want the best-quality oil-packed tuna you can find—preferably ventresca, which is cut from the belly—for this recipe.
Nowadays, we tend to think of tapenade as a spread consisting primarily of olives, but the original Marseillaise version was much more varied, with equal parts capers, olives, and briny fish. This recipe, incorporating both anchovies and oil-packed tuna as the fish component, is based on that tapenade. The tuna here serves a double purpose, both adding flavor and providing protein that leads to a more stable emulsion.
Tuna isn't the primary ingredient in this recipe, but it plays an important supporting role. Here, we take inspiration from the classic Northern Italian dish of vitello tonnato, or veal with tuna sauce—a concept that sounds crazy to the uninitiated, but is genuinely delicious—switching out the mild veal for easier-to-find pork tenderloin. The pork gets cooked in a low oven and briefly seared, sliced into very thin medallions, then topped with a creamy sauce of mayo spiked with tuna, anchovies, capers, lemon, and mustard. It's all garnished with a final drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, and a heap of green herbs and celery leaves.
Unlike the individually formed hand pies of Latin America, the Galician empanada is a single large, baked pie, with a thin wheat crust, to be sliced into squares for serving. The filling is a tasty mix of onions, green peppers, and a protein of some sort, often tuna, bonito, chicken, or even octopus. We like to use oil-packed tuna here, which adds both saltiness and a lovely richness.
Pimientos del piquillo rellenos de atún translates very roughly to "peppers with some well-dressed tuna shoved inside 'em." As far as we're concerned, that's a very good thing. This 15-minute recipe requires mainly pantry ingredients, so it's even more important than usual that you opt for the highest-quality canned tuna and jarred piquillo peppers you can find. Try serving these stuffed peppers as a tapa alongside a glass of sherry.
More than a few canned-tuna fears likely originated with a truly terrible tuna noodle casserole—overcooked pasta, gloppy sauce, bland tuna, the whole bit. And that's too bad, because when it's done right, there's no reason tuna noodle casserole can't be a delicious, and incredibly easy, weeknight meal. We use crème fraîche as the base for the sauce, a lighter, tangier option than the usual sauce made with cream of mushroom soup. A generous dose of lemon juice further lightens and brightens the dish.
Deviled eggs aren't considered sophisticated fare, but they sure taste good—and, since the filling can be mixed or topped with pretty much any ingredient you want, they're very easy to turn into something special. Here, we combine the cooked yolks with good jarred tuna, fresh parsley, black olives, tomato, mustard, lemon juice, and vinegar, for a creamy filling that's both bright and salty. Be sure to follow our tips for making easily peelable hard-boiled eggs, and, when you've polished off the last of these, check out our whole collection of deviled egg variations.
This hearty, homey pasta is loaded with bright sweet peas, meaty oil-packed tuna, and olive oil infused with a healthy dose of chili flakes. It's a light and refreshing weeknight dinner, and it takes all of 20 minutes to put together.
The stories commonly used to explain this dish's risqué name ("pasta in the style of prostitutes") all sound a bit far-fetched to us, but the potent combination of flavors from a sauce of anchovies, garlic, capers, olives, and (often) tuna undoubtedly works. As with all our pasta dishes, we recommend cooking the pasta in a relatively low volume of water, yielding a starchier liquid that can help emulsify the sauce later.
Niçoise salads are often served "composed," meaning that each ingredient is presented separately on the plate, rather than all mixed together. But in our opinion, that's no way to make a salad—those ingredients need to mingle to be at their best. Exactly what goes into a "traditional" Niçoise salad is still up for debate, but ours goes the whole nine yards: hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, capers, potatoes, green beans, olives, tomatoes, and excellent oil-packed tuna.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.