Make Ahead

Our Best Tuna Salad

May  7, 2020
Photo by Ty Mecham. Props: Meghan Hedgpeth. Food: Anna Billingskog.
Author Notes

A superlative tuna salad for sandwiches, melts, crackers, you name it. Much of this recipe is old-school, as it should be, but a couple small additions make all the difference.

Technically speaking, any canned tuna works here, but a few thoughts: We tested this recipe with light tuna in oil, light tuna in water, white albacore tuna in oil, and white albacore tuna in water. The light tuna, which usually comes from either skipjack or yellowfin, is rosier in color, with a deeper flavor, while the white albacore tuna is meatier, yet also drier. In the end, the light tuna did a better job of absorbing the dressing, but we disliked its watery, shredded texture. Our favorite type is solid white albacore in oil, which has a meaty texture, but isn’t noticeably dry.

To help the tuna taste even better, a little dash of fish sauce goes a long way. With just ½ teaspoon called for, this ingredient is hard to put your finger on—but it works to round out the dressing, making the tuna more flavorful.

While some tuna salad recipes lean on olive oil or even Greek yogurt, it’s hard to beat creamy, savory mayonnaise. To keep things from getting too heavy, fresh lemon juice and a little Dijon mustard bring balance and brightness. (If you want, you can withhold one tablespoon of mayo and replace it with a tablespoon of your favorite olive oil.)

When it comes to vegetables, you could add anything—bell peppers, fennel, jalapeño, cucumbers—but diced celery and sweet onion is a simple, tried-and-true combo. After chopping the celery ribs, go ahead and chop the leaves too. These provide a nice, vegetal counter to all the other savory flavors.

Beyond that, you can off-road this template and add raw apples, hard-boiled eggs, briny capers, vinegary hot sauce, sweet relish, whatever you like and have around. But our recipe skips such flourishes. Sometimes less is more. —Josh Cohen

Test Kitchen Notes

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  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Makes 1 pint
  • 2 (5-ounce) cans solid white albacore tuna in oil, drained
  • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup finely diced celery
  • 1/4 cup gently packed celery leaves, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons finely diced Vidalia onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 handful roughly chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, basil, and/or tarragon (optional)
In This Recipe
  1. Add all of the ingredients to a large mixing bowl and stir until the mayonnaise is fully incorporated. Taste, and adjust with more salt, lemon juice, or mustard if needed. Eat immediately or store it in the fridge for up to 3 days. Just before serving, sprinkle the herbs on top if you're using them.

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Josh Cohen

Recipe by: Josh Cohen

Born and raised in Brooklyn, I’m perpetually inspired by the diversity of foods that exist in this city. I love shopping at the farmer’s market, making ingredients taste like the best versions of themselves, and rolling fresh pasta. I learned how to make fresh pasta in Italy, where I spent the first 6 months of my career as a chef. I've been cooking professionally in New York City since 2010.