You’ll want to stockpile this staple long after the crisis is over.

By Stacey Ballis
March 24, 2020
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In this time of serious pantry cooking, many of us have stocked up on an extraordinary amount of canned tuna. And there’s a good reason: Canned tuna is a powerhouse of protein and nutrients, shelf stable, and fairly versatile. Before we get to our favorite creative ways to use this handy protein, let us count the classic ways we're all using it right now.

2 Classic Uses for Canned Tuna

Classic use #1: Whip up a tuna salad!

Let’s face it: we all grew up on (and still love) tuna salad. Everyone has a favorite way to do it up: Some love it super old-school with onion and celery; others crave it fancied up with curry powder, brightened with lemon and dill, or slightly sweetened with dried cranberries. And there are plenty of ways to deploy tuna salad: in a simple (and yet great) sandwich and an open-faced tartine, or as part of a classic melt with an English muffin or bagel.

Classic use #2: Create one of these always-good tuna combos!

We know the drill, and it’s still a winner: Crank open that can, drain the tuna and pop it into a halved tomato, bell pepper, or avocado. Mound some on top of any salad, or flake it into a bowl of beans with a light vinaigrette for a simple lunch. And everyone knows that the best way to stretch one or two cans to feed a family is by pulling out a beloved standby like tuna noodle casserole.

3 Creative Uses for Canned Tuna

But once you have exhausted all of those standard uses for your canned tuna, what should you cook next? Here are 3 unexpected things to do with canned tuna that will make you rethink your whole repertoire.

Creative use #1: Whip up a tonnato!

Caitlin Bensel

Tonnato is a creamy tuna sauce invented by the Italians, traditionally served over chilled veal cutlets. But that’s asking a little much during pantry-driven times, so try this version (using pretty much all pantry ingredients) as a whip for appetizers. I often make tonnato to use as a dip for vegetables or pita chips, or to use as a schmear on crostini. You can stuff mushrooms or cherry tomatoes with it or drizzle it on steamed vegetables (take advantage of asparagus season for this one). It’s also a shockingly good dip for your next steamed artichoke. I’ve also used tonnato instead of mayonnaise in sandwiches (your avocado toast never had a better upgrade).

Finally, go full tonnato at dinnertime with this pasta recipe that features it as a tasty sauce with white beans.

Creative use #2: Make a rillettes!

Photo: Iain Bagwell Styling: Kellie Gerber Kelley

Rillettes is really just a fancy French name for a meaty spread, which can be made from any number of proteins. Traditionally the meat in question is slow cooked in fat until it can be made into a chunky spread. And while you will most often see this made with duck or pork, the premise is easily adaptable. In this recipe, using canned tuna packed in oil (which has technically already been cooked in fat), and amping up the richness with mascarpone, you end up with a spread that is an unexpected and delightful addition to any happy hour. If you can’t find mascarpone, use softened cream cheese, and if you only have water-packed tuna, drain it well and add a teaspoon of olive oil.

Get the recipe: Mascarpone Tuna Rillettes

Creative use #3: Reinvent the crab cake!

Greg DuPree

This tunafied take on a crispy cake will remind you of everything from a croquette to a crab cake. You can make these small as one-bite wonders for appetizers, medium-sized to serve on top of a salad for a light lunch, or big enough to serve on a hamburger bun for a hearty dinner sandwich. Genius!

Get the recipe: Crispy Tuna Cakes