Tuna salad with capers or pickles (or both!) is a best-in-class version of itself. It's classic tuna salad with a few gentle amplifications. You'll never look back.
Why we love this recipe
Classic tuna salad is a versatile, inexpensive, quick, and reasonably good-for-ya staple of the American kitchen. In our household, kids and adults request it in equal measure.
I think I knew how to make the basic version of this dish by the time I was five years old (even before cans had the tab on the lid to help you open them). Over the years, I've tweaked and tweaked and eventually perfected this recipe for our tastebuds.
Our recipe has:
- Gently amped up flavor from capers and/or pickles, shallots, dill, a pinch of additional salt, and a big squeeze of lemon juice
- A great, versatile texture for everything from salads to sandwiches to tuna melts
- An ideal flavor profile as-is, but also the ability to adapt easily to your tastes
I first published this recipe here in 2020. I've since updated the post a bit for clarity, but the recipe remains the same.
What you'll need
Here's a glance at the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe.
- You can use any canned tuna that you like. See the section below for my recommendations.
- Use a very small dice for the of celery, shallot, and pickles (if including)
- Mayo, Dijon, and lemon juice make a next-level sauce, accented with a bit of salt, pepper, and fresh or dried dill if you like
How to make it
Here's what you'll do to make a dreamy batch of the best tuna salad with capers or pickles and get lunch on the table in 10 minutes. You can see the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.
- For the best texture, dice the celery, shallot, and pickles (if using) very small. This move lets you pack in tons of flavor and a welcome crunch that doesn't get in the way of the whole.
- Drain all of the water or most of the olive oil from the tuna. The easiest way to do this is to leave about ¼ inch of the lid attached when you open the can and press down on the lid to squeeze out the liquid. Then open the lid and empty the tuna into a medium mixing bowl. Break up any big pieces of tuna with a fork. Add the celery, shallot, capers, and/or pickles.
- For the dressing, you can choose between adding everything to the same bowl and mixing very well, or using a smaller bowl to pre-mix the mayo, mustard, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and dill. Either way, add it all to the bowl with the tuna.
- Mix everything together well. That's it! Tuna salad with capers and pickles is ready to serve or use in recipes.
What kind of tuna to use
Shopping for canned tuna can be more confusing than you'd think. You can use whatever canned or jarred tuna you like for this recipe, but here's what we like to use, and what it means.
We prefer either solid white tuna or solid-packed light tuna that's salted and packed in olive oil. I also look for pole-and-line caught, troll-caught, or MSC certified designations. Here's what it all means:
- White tuna is albacore, a larger fish with a firmer, more steak-like texture. That's great, but not strictly necessary for tuna salad. Albacore tend to be less sustainable these days, though this isn't a hard and fast rule.
- Light tuna is usually skipjack, a smaller fish that can have a darker color, less-firm texture and fishier taste. If you buy light tuna (which we often do for tuna salad), look for "solid-pack" in olive oil. Both these terms yield light tuna with a good texture and flavor. Light tuna tends to be less expensive than white.
- Pole-and-line fishing and troll fishing are the two best ways to avoid trapping other animals when fishing for tuna, so those designations are a good bet that your tuna brand is making good environmental choices. You can read about the Marine Stewardship Council's criteria for certification at the link above. I find it to be super-helpful when faced with a zillion options at the grocery store.
Recommended additions and substitutions
We love this recipe as-is, but here are some ideas for substitions:
- To make a healthier tuna salad, substitute Greek yogurt for half the mayonnaise.
- To add more color, include ½ cup shredded carrots, two seeded and diced plum tomatoes or a handful of cherry tomatoes
- Not to get all crazy on ya, but you can substitute half or all of the tuna in this recipe with canned chickpeas to make a delicious chickpea salad with all of the other flavors the same. Mash the chickpeas roughly with a fork or potato masher, leaving lots of different-sized pieces. It works great, promise.
Expert tips and FAQs
Oh, you guys. What doesn't go with tuna salad? This recipe is such a classic that it pairs well with lots of other American classics. We love it:
With a simple salad of dark leafy greens (like arugula), some heirloom cherry tomatoes sprinkled with flaky sea salt, and a squeeze of lemon, like you see pictured here
Tucked into a sandwich on good rye bread with lettuce and tomato
Layered onto toasted bread with extra-sharp cheddar on top for a classic open-faced tuna melt
With potato chips and pickles. No-brainer!
On a lunch buffet alongside other salads like the ones listed below
Yes! Tuna salad keeps well in an airtight container in the fridge for a week. Just give it a good stir before serving to reincorporate any ingredients that have settled to the bottom.
More favorite savory salad recipes with protein
- 15 ounces (425 grams) canned tuna
- 3 ribs celery, diced very small
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 2 tablespoons (30 grams) capers
- ½ cup minced full-sour or dill pickles, optional
- ¾ cup (180 grams) mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon (15 grams) Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill OR ½ teaspoon dried dill weed
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Drain water or oil from tuna and place into a medium mixing bowl. Break up any large pieces of tuna with a fork.
- Add celery, shallot, and capers or pickles (or both).
- Add mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, dill, salt, and pepper, and mix to combine well.
- Serve with salad or on a sandwich or tuna melt.
- Any kind of canned tuna will work, but I especially like a good-quality white or light tuna, salted and solid-packed in olive oil. Try to look for tuna that says pole-and-line caught, troll-caught, or MSC certified on the label.
- If you like, you can use a separate mixing bowl to combine the mayo, lemon juice, mustard, dill, salt, and pepper before stirring into the tuna mixture.
- Tuna salad will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week. Give it a stir to mix in any settled ingredients before serving.
I first published this recipe here in 2020. I've since updated the post for clarity, but the recipe remains the same.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 301Total Fat: 23gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 817mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 18g