Cook's Country

Ask Matthew: How to Use Canned Tuna Fish

Those extra cans of tuna in your cupboard? There's gold in there.

Published Mar. 18, 2020.

Before Associate Editor Matthew Fairman joined Cook's Country, he cooked in many restaurants and taught college literature and writing. When he’s not pitching a new take on fried rice to his editors or whispering to his slow cookers, Matthew is usually scaling plastic mountains at the climbing gym or running food experiments on his wife, Lauren, and cat, Daisy. One day, he hopes to pay for climbing trips by selling fried rice from a food truck to hungry people stumbling out of bars after last call.

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Dear Matthew, It's close quarters in the apartment these days, me and my spouse and our two cats. (Full disclosure, I only like one of the cats. I'm picky about cats.) Here's where it gets weird. My father-in-law, who considers himself a cat expert, recently dropped off 48 cans of oil-packed tuna fish from the big box store. He told us cats love the stuff. We tried, ours don't. This left us with 47 cans of tuna. Now is the time to use it. Right? Any ideas? We both are fine with canned tuna, but it's not like we love it.

— Locked Down in Delaware


That’s a great question. Lately, I’ve been staring into my cupboards and doing a lot of wondering, myself. I’m trying to only go out to the grocery for necessities for the time being, so I feel a little like a contestant on a reality TV cooking competition. “Okay, these are the ingredients I’ve got. So what’s for dinner?” Luckily we’ve got access to a website full of recipes I know we can count on to help us make good food out of what we have on hand.

First though, if I may, I’d like to address the cat you don’t like (whom I will call Stinker for the sake of convenience).

Listen here, Stinker. We’re all in this together. Now is not the time to be snobby about what we’re willing to eat. If 47 cans of oil-packed tuna fish is what we have, then 47 cans of oil-packed tuna fish is what we’re eating. You can help by eating your fair share, and I’ll try to offer a little help by giving your owners advice on what to do with all that tuna. Deal? Deal. 

Now to address the humans (and the good cat, whom I will call Louise) of the apartment. The good news is that there are plenty of surprisingly appetizing (dare I say delicious) ways of gussying up tuna fish beyond licking it straight off of a saucer on the floor (I’ve still got my eye on you, Stinker). 

First thing’s first, have you tried our Classic Tuna Salad? I know, I know . . . but there’s a reason tuna salad is a thing; it’s because of recipes like this one. Plus, we’ve got a handful of variations that will help to keep things spicy. That recipe calls for water-packed tuna and has you pat it dry and toss it in oil, but I’d bet you could use your oil-packed, drain it, and reduce the oil in the salad recipe to achieve great results. Louise will be impressed. 

But if that didn’t convince you, then maybe our new recipe for White Bean and Tuna Salad is just what you need. It’s different; more wholesome and a little fresher. Not only will it help put that tuna to good use, but it’ll also give you something to do with that stockpile of dried beans. (You can use canned if that’s all you have on hand.) 

Enough with the salads though. The heart wants what the heart wants, and right now, if I’m making anything with canned tuna, it’s comfort food. That means a big helping of homey, cheesy Tuna-Noodle Casserole. Check out the comment section below the recipe to see what I mean: there’s a whole host of satisfied casserole cooks and eaters down there just begging us to make it. That’s how you know it’s a keeper. If you make it, be sure to tell us what you think!

Welp, I’m getting long-winded, and I’m willing to bet that Stinker is getting impatient with me. In fact, I can almost hear her, meowing loudly over by her food bowl, just daring you to put more of that tuna down. I hope these recipes help you figure some things out. At their best, they offer the promise of a shared moment of pleasure with your family, the kind of instant that just might distract you from an uncertain future. Heck, who knows! Maybe with some recipes at your disposal, you, your spouse, Stinker, and Louise will start to even love canned tuna.

Anyways, since I’m being optimistic, now’s a good time to look forward and mention that my colleague, Senior Editor Cecelia Jenkins (AKA "The Test Cook" of Youtube fame) is putting the finishing touches on a recipe for Tuna Melts. Some of us were a bit skeptical at first, but, man, let me tell you; the sandwiches Ceceila has been making might truly be the best use of canned tuna I’ve ever tasted. We’re in the process of sending it out to see what our army of home testers thinks about it. If you sign up here, you might be one of the first lucky home cooks to taste the recipe. 

Thanks for writing to me, and thanks for continuing to read us here at Cook’s Country. We’re truly honored that you let us help you prepare food for your family. 

Take care of yourselves, take care of each other (and even take care of Stinker),

Matthew Fairman

White Bean and Tuna Salad

An herby dressing gives this a super fresh finish.
Get the Recipe

Classic Tuna Salad

Basic, but not bland.
Get the Recipe

Tuna Noodle Casserole

Crushed potato chips make a crunchy top.
Get the Recipe

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