A Seasonal Twist on the Tuna Sandwich

Of the many things not to like about a crappy job market, working longer hours for less money has to be near the top of the list; worse still, however, are the all-too-inevitable hours spent working for nothing, the hours spent trying to secure employment instead of actually doing something productive, like riding your bike or cooking. I say this because neither cooks, writers, nor economists of merely mortal stature obtain any special immunity to recessions, which means I’ve spent more time at the margin fretting about paychecks than I have perusing roadside farm stands. It also means that I’ve had to do some thinking about faster, easier ways to serve good food to my family, and what’s faster and easier than the humble tuna sandwich?

Personally, I love the classic deli-style preparation, with properly-chunked tuna and lots of finely chopped celery suspended in a bed of real mayonnaise. But it can get a bit boring – even oppressive to the palate – eating mayo by the bucketful, especially to my eldest daughter, who still regards the invention of mayonnaise as a greasy, evil plot to force otherwise attractive proteins into masquerading as “salads”. My favorite alternative is to make tuna salad in what I think of as the “Mediterranean style”, using olive oil in place of mayo, adorned simply with roughly chopped olives, some of those gorgeous Meyer lemons, still bursting from their branches this time of year, and maybe a little minced red onion. The salty cure of the olives makes a good friend to the mildly bitter and orange-y Meyers, whose citrus-y tang balances out the tuna flavors nicely; add your favorite green for color and texture. And, while I hate to waste bread, I have to admit that I like the crusts cut off…

Mediterranean Style Tuna Salad with Olives & Lemons

  1. Flake a 6oz can of tuna with a fork in a medium-sized mixing bowl (see the note on health & sustainability of canned tuna at bottom). If the tuna is water-packed, drain it well, and then add enough olive oil to make the texture coherent enough for a sandwich; if it’s packed in olive oil, just go with it, or adjust the amount of oil to taste.
  2. Coarsely chop a small handful of Kalamata or oil-cured Provencal olives (regular or oil cured, pits removed) and several slices of Meyer lemon confit. (I realize that you probably don’t have Meyer lemon confit lying around, but that’s only because I haven’t convinced you to make it yet. With Meyers exploding off the trees, I made a huge batch, and I’ve been cooking the stuff into soups, chopping it into Nicoise-esque salads, and serving it with roasted fish and grilled chicken at every turn. It’s a great way to preserve a seasonal crop, and it makes a kick-ass condiment for all sorts of things. In any case, absent the confit, just squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the tuna.) If you like – I’ve done it both ways, it just depends on your predilection for raw onion – finely mince a tablespoon or two of red onion as well.
  3. Mix all the ingredients together and serve on toasted whole wheat, preferably with a nice green, like wild arugula (very tasty and available right now, pre-washed, from Trader Joe’s). I’m quite sure the sandwich would be just as successful on your favorite sourdough bread, and/or with spinach. If you want to be cute, and why wouldn’t you, cut off the crusts before assembly, then spear both halves of the assembled sando with toothpicks, and slice it on the diagonal (see picture inset above).

Footnote: Issues w/ Canned Tuna

Mercury poisoning and sustainable fishing are critically important issues as they relate to tuna, but they’re also well beyond the scope of this post. For those that care, however, I can recommend the excellent website for sustainable seafood published by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and the series of pieces by Consumer Reports discussing toxicity levels in tuna.