The Best Tuna Salad Recipe
Here’s how to make the best tuna salad recipe you’ll ever meet. It’s classic tuna salad with a few gentle tweaks, plus some optional add-ins.
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 tuna salad by the time I was five years old (even before cans had the tab on the lid to help you open them). And over the years, I’ve tweaked and tweaked and eventually perfected this recipe for our tastebuds. Our recipe has gently amped up flavor (from shallots, a pinch of additional salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice right before serving, among other things) and a great, versatile texture for everything from salads to sandwiches to tuna melts. Hope you’ll love it as much as we do.
Tuna salad ingredients
For this tuna salad recipe, you will need:
- 15 ounces (3 standard-size cans) canned tuna. See the section below for more details on what kind of tuna we prefer for this recipe.
- Lots of celery, diced very small (see the video for a visual guide)
- A medium shallot, minced
- Dijon mustard
- A little bit of salt (tuna is salty on its own, but a little more goes a long way toward amping up the other flavors in this salad). We used homemade basil salt in the video, but you definitely don’t have to.
- Freshly ground black pepper
- If you like: some minced sour pickles or capers and fresh or dried dill
- Just before serving, I like to squeeze on some fresh lemon juice
How to make tuna salad
Here’s all you need to do to get lunch on the table in 10 minutes. You can watch the whole thing in action in the video that accompanies this post.
- Drain all of the water or most of the olive oil from the tuna. The easiest way to do this is to leave about 1/4 inch of the lid attached when you open the can and press down on the lid to squeeze out the liquid. Then hinge open the lid and empty the tuna into a medium mixing bowl.
- Break up any big pieces of tuna with a fork.
- Dice the celery very small, and mince the shallot.
- Add celery, shallot, mustard, mayo, salt and pepper, and any of the add-ins that you’d like to use, to the mixing bowl.
- Mix everything together well. That’s it!
What kind of tuna to use for tuna salad
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. We 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. We find it to be super-helpful when faced with a zillion options at the grocery store.
Tuna salad 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 1/2 cup shredded carrots, two seeded and diced plum tomatoes or a handful of cherry tomatoes, and the pickles.
- 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.
What goes with tuna salad?
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!
- With salt and vinegar fingerling potatoes
- On a buffet alongside other salads like simple kale salad, white bean salad, and roasted eggplant salad with brown rice
- 15 ounces canned tuna (see note)
- 3 stalks celery, diced very small
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 3/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup minced full-sour pickles OR 2 tablespoons capers
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill OR 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
- Fresh lemon juice (right before serving)
- 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, mustard, mayonnaise, salt, and pepper, along with any of the optional additions. Stir to combine well.
- Serve with salad or on a sandwich or tuna melt. For salads and sandwiches, I like to add a little freshly squeezed lemon juice right before serving.
Any kind of canned tuna will work, but we 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.