I remember when my mom got the call. It was from Mrs. Adler and she wanted to know what made my mom’s tuna salad so good that her son came home raving about it. I remember her listing off the ingredients, tuna, mayo, celery, lemon juice. “Lemon Juice” I heard screamed from the other end of the phone. That was her secret and in fact should not be much of a secret at all. Most seafood benefits from lemon or lime juice so why not canned seafood. I also remember being invited for lunch at one of the neighbors, I don’t remember his name, only that we called him Dippy, and that their tuna was just tuna and Miracle Whip. I asked for lemon juice, a 10 year old kid giving cooking advice to a grown woman, and was ignored. Being a polite kid I choked it back but that stuck in my head forever. I have experimented endlessly with tuna salad over the years but the ultimate comfort version is still the one I turn to most often and am amazed when someone compliments me on such a mundane dish as a tuna salad sandwich.
Comfort Tuna Salad
1 can of chunk light tuna packed in water, thoroughly drained
1 rib celery, chopped
1 or 2 tbs mayonnaise depending on your tolerance
1 tbs lemon or lime juice or to taste
Salt and pepper to taste (sorry, it just came out of me)
I like to put the tuna in a strainer and mash as much of the liquid out of it with the back of a spoon as I can. Chop the celery and just dump all of the ingredients in a bowl. Try not to completely pulverize the tuna and you will have a much more pleasant experience. The lemon just wakes everything up and cuts any remnant of fishy aroma or taste. Here is a list of things that I have juked my tuna up with that actually worked:
Avocado – Be careful not to stir too much or you will wind up with tuna guacamole.
Relish – I tend towards dill relish but if your mom served it sweet be my guest.
Radishes – Substitute for or add to celery, cut in half moon pieces and it really perks things up.
Olives – Gives it that nicoise flair but stay away from jarred green olives…too salty.
Ginger – So Kim comes home last night from a happy hour at a wine bar with a case of the munchies. I guess she discovered the leftover tuna from lunch and did some mad scientist work on it. She offered me half a sandwich and made me guess what she had done to it. The tuna was noticeably better than it had been earlier that afternoon but I just couldn’t put my finger on what she had done to it. It was some coarsely chopped ginger and it was a revelation. She added about a tablespoon of the chopped fresh ginger to a batch of the basic tuna salad and it gave it an ineffable and mysterious quality but not so over the top that you said “hey, nice tuna with your ginger salad.” It is the true secret ingredient that makes a dish better without being too obvious, like the addition of a little lemon juice to wake things up. I am always delighted that with the countless variety of ingredients available to us today there are literally millions of combinations available to us and it is possible to serve something that it is not likely that anyone has served before. Not all of these permutations will be good but sometimes magic happens and you come up with something like this.
Ginger Tuna Salad – Killer Delicious