With tuna, think outside the can

February 19, 2014 

Didn't we all grow up with the ubiquitous tuna fish sandwich? All that's required is a can of tuna, a bit of mayo and bread of your choice. How simple can it get?

Another American class is tuna fish casserole, and it can be a warm and comforting food or something pretty grim. Tuna can be good in a salad, turned into a cake, like the classic Southern salmon patty or used to stuff a bell pepper. This is a versatile ingredient indeed.

Certainly most tuna sold in this country ends up in a tin, but not all canned tuna is created equally, so beware. Basically it comes in light, white, solid and chunk. Most often there are three types of tuna available -- skipjack, yellowfin and albacore -- but there are many others, too. Solid white albacore is probably your best choice, unless you just won a jackpot. Then you should look at some of the canned tuna that comes from Spain.

Tuna is also a healthy choice, packed with protein, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. It is very low in fat -- only about 1 gram in a serving -- so it is often sought out by those looking to lose a few pounds, but if you load your tuna with mayo, which has almost 60 calories in a mere tablespoon, you are defeating the purpose. Bodybuilders will enjoy a can of tuna in water, unadorned, and if you are brave enough, it's a great diet food.

But there's lots of other good things to do with tuna, and it doesn't have to come out of a can. A fresh filet is great on the grill, sautéed or even baked. It works well in a salad, with pasta or in a variety of other dishes. Quite a bit of tuna comes from the Gulf of Mexico, so it is quite possible that you will be getting it very fresh. Shop wisely.

Even some of the more upscale delis brag about their tuna fish salad and there is a world of ingredients that can be added, from olives, red onions to capers, but the real

trick is to use your tuna fish fresh. You do not have to steam it like the factories do when it is canned, and you can cook it any way you like, then toss with the other ingredients.

Serve this one on good wheat bread or as a bruschetta on toasted French bread rounds.

BEST EVER TUNA FISH SANDWICH

1 whole filet of tuna about 1 inch thick

1/4 cup diced celery

1/4 cup diced red onion

1 seeded and chopped jalapeño (optional)

1/2 cup mayo (homemade is always best)

2 tablespoons German mustard

2-3 tablespoons good olive oil

Bread of your choice

Dice the tuna in 1/2- to 3/4-inch cubes and toss in 2 tablespoons of mustard. Sear very quickly in a hot pan with just a little oil. Remove and set aside.

Combine the mayo and the rest of the mustard and then whisk in the olive oil to the thickness you desire. If you make it too thick it will not coat the tuna completely. Add the celery, onion and pepper and mix well.

Add the tuna, but be careful when you mix it, as the tuna will fall apart. Toast the bread, load with the tuna and serve at room temperature or piping hot.

GRILLED WASABI TUNA STEAK AND GREENS

1 filet of tuna, about 1 inch thick

1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder or 2 tablespoons prepared wasabi

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

Course ground black pepper

Mixed greens

Combine the wasabi and vinegar and whisk thoroughly. Brush on to both sides of the tuna and let marinate for an hour or so. The tuna can be grilled or sautéed, but it should be served rare, so don't overdo it.

Season with black pepper and grill over a hot flame, but just a minute or two on each side. Remove and cut into thick slices. Arrange the greens on an attractive platter and add the sliced tuna. If you made a little extra of the marinate, use it as a garnish. Serve hot or cold.

You can use fresh tuna or best quality canned for this recipe. If you use fresh, just dice it and sauté in a little olive oil and garlic.

TUNA AND PASTA

1 cup cooked or canned tuna

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 good pinch red pepper flakes

2-3 tablespoons roughly chopped basil

Salt and pepper

1 package spaghetti

12 black olives

Good quality olive oil

Cook the pasta according to package directions, but be sure it is al dente and not over cooked. Heat oil in a sauté pan, add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is tender, but not burned.

Toss in the tuna, olives and the basil, taste and season again as necessary, cook only until it is warmed through. Place a serving of the pasta on each plate and top with a generous portion of the tuna. Serve at once.

SIMPLE TUNA FISH SANDWICH THE KIDS CAN MAKE

1 can solid white albacore tuna

3 teaspoons chopped celery

2-3 tablespoons chopped yellow onion

2-3 tablespoons mayo

Salt and pepper

1-2 tablespoons sweet relish optional

Thinly sliced tomato

1 bunch fresh spinach leaves

Wheat bread

Drain the tuna and combine with the celery, onion and mayo. Season with salt and pepper, taste and re-season as necessary. Spread the tuna mixture onto a slice of bread, top with tomato and spinach leaves and cover with a second slice of bread. Run under the broiler if you want it toasted and warm.

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