Gram was a Depression-era kid. She knew how to make the best and most delicious things out of anything and wasted nothing. Her soups, egg sammies, applesauce, chicken paprikash (BEST. EVER.), and her tuna salad are the first ones to come to mind. As I mentioned in the post for my Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Frittata, I often feel like she’s with me in the kitchen. As the anniversary of her passing is coming up (has it really been 5 years?!), I thought this would be a good time to share my Gram-inspired tuna salad recipe. She always made the best tuna salad and I was privy to a few of her “secret” ingredients. Through the years I have made some of my own twists to the recipe, but I always think of her when I’m making a batch. The Russian loves when I make it, often asking for it, so I usually make 2-3 cans at a time. It still doesn’t last and I’m lucky to see half of it. But that is what makes me happy…content bellies full of my food.
A word about the tuna I use. I no longer splurge on the white albacore filet kind. What I have learned is that you should look for the cheap stuff that is made from baby tuna. They have had less exposure to the environment, so the theory is that they will have less toxic things in them, like mercury(1),(2). So I get the huge pack of cans from Costco of regular old Chicken of the Sea chunk light in water. Or whatever is on sale at the supermarket. It’s best to pick up tuna in water in order to retain most of the naturally occurring omega-3s in the fish. When it’s packed in oil, the omegas can leach out into the oil (oil to oil) and you end up pouring this down the drain, but when packed in water, the omega oils stay with the fish – oil and water don’t mix.
On to the recipe. I vary this off and on based on my mood, but this is a good base recipe. Leave out anything you don’t like and add in things that you think would make it better. I love to play around with canned tuna and salmon, switching things up now and then to play around. Here are the basics: tuna, celery, onion, mayo, Dijon, horseradish, parsley, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Gram used to add pickle juice (one of the “secrets”) and I do the same if I have some in the fridge. The veggies are the key. Gram always used fresh vegetables in everything and what a difference they make to the flavor. In a pinch, I have added celery flakes and dried onion pieces from the spice cabinet along with some pickle relish, but fresh is always best.
Celery is one of those things that I only buy organic. Because of this, it doesn’t always last as long and it sometimes looks a little uglier than the rest at the store. If there are some ugly spots, I just shave the celery with a peeler and then it’s perfect and ready to use.
Take the cans, drain them, and put them in a large bowl to flake with a fork.
I LOVE my mini chopper that I have shared with you in the past. This cuts down chopping time and makes the celery and onions come out so finely diced that they blend perfectly with the tuna. Chop up 2-3 stalks of chopped celery (don’t forget the leaves as they add lots of extra flavor!) and a good half of a onion. Add them to the tuna and combine. I like to combine a few things at a time because I feel that it mixes better.
Then add a few tablespoons of chopped parsley. Stir again.
For three cans, I add about 2-3 teaspoons of horseradish, 2-3 teaspoons of Dijon mustard, and several tablespoons of mayo…maybe 4? I’m sorry, but in case you haven’t learned by now, I am not much of a slave to measurements while I’m cooking. This is why I don’t care much for baking. It’s too rigid and I can’t be free to play. And this picture was the first round of condiment additions…I pretty much doubled what you see here after tasting. Then came the garlic powder, salt and pepper, also done to taste. I would guess a good 1+ teaspoon of each. Taste and find what works for you.
So many ways to eat tuna salad. You can put it on a salad of greens, in a wrap, on bread with tomato and cheese and then broiled…mmm…I love tuna melts. Or try one of the following options. I ended up putting a slice of cheese on this oversized tuna cracker because cheese is my downfall.
Served on one of Gram’s plates. I inherited the set 🙂
The next day, I hollowed out this amazing tomato form the market, filled it with the tuna salad, put a slice of cheddar on top, and baked it in my toaster oven, finishing it off with a quick broil at the end to brown the cheese a little. Yum!
Another serving option
A Twist on Gram’s Tuna Salad
Following in the footsteps of my Gram, I whip up some pretty darn good tuna salads. Here is one of my many versions that I wanted to share. So many variations and different ways to eat tuna. This recipe is for three cans, but you can easily cut the quantities if you are only making one or two cans. I hope you like it!
Three cans of chunk light tuna in water, drained and flaked
2-3 stalks of finely chopped celery, including leaves
Generous half of a sweet onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2-3 tsp of horseradish
2-3 tsp of Dijon mustard
4-5 Tbsp of mayonnaise
1+ teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
In a large bowl, combine flaked tuna with celery and onion. Then add chopped parsley and stir to combine.
Add the horseradish, Dijon, and mayo, stirring well until evenly distributed.
Add garlic, salt, and pepper, tasting to find what works for you.
Make a melt, a green salad, a wrap, or whatever comes to mind. Enjoy!
I love channeling my Gram in the kitchen when I use her old cast iron skillet. In fact, there are a lot of times that I’m cooking when I feel like she’s with me, especially around the holidays. I have several of her pans and skillets, but this cast iron one is by far my favorite. I miss her a lot (she passed in 2009, just shy of her 93rd birthday), but I feel her presence every time I use it. My mom says that my fried egg sandwiches taste just like Gram’s and that is the best compliment ever. I don’t use this skillet as often as I should and would like to, but it’s the best thing for frittatas, frying foods (not that I do that very often), and cooking/braising meat. It’s 10.5 inches across and 2 inches deep. Made in the USA, as was almost everything back then.
In case you missed my Cheesy Broccoli Egg Muffins post, breakfast is my favorite type of food and I would eat it all day long if I could. My favorite way to eat breakfast for dinner, or brinner, is in the form of a frittata. To me, frittatas are so much tastier than an omelette and way healthier than a quiche. And you can make up any kind of frittata combinations you want! Trust me, I do it all the time. This combination was created based on what was in the fridge since I was feeling too lazy to get to the store. We love all salmon, especially lox, and I usually have a thing or two of goat cheese in the drawer. Easy peasy.
The easiest way that I have found to deal with packaged lox (the pieces can be very sticky to each other) is to take the slab of slices and cut them all in long strips.
Then I loosen them up and separate them as best as I can. I hate when they all clump together in the egg mix and you are left with huge bites of smoked salmon in random places of the frittata and nowhere else.
The same thing goes for the goat cheese. I have struggled a few times with how to handle the brick of cheese that I usually have in the fridge. Of course if you buy or have goat cheese that is already crumbled, this next part won’t apply, but it’s cheaper to purchase this way and now I have a trick to share.
I cut it up while it’s still in the package. Goat cheese is so soft and very difficult to cut no matter what way you want it to be, so I have learned to do it this way if I want it to be close to the size of crumbles. I make cuts both vertically and horizontally in the package, and everything stays in the plastic until I’m ready to dump it in. It still isn’t as perfect as prepackaged crumbles, but you never know what else might be included in those packages to keep the cheese clumps all nicely separated.
Now I’ll talk about my butter. Unless I’m about to do a bunch of baking for a party or something that will involve a lot of butter, I usually only purchase Kerrygold from the store. If you have time and patience to make your own or spend extra pennies on something better, by all means. For me and my cheap, half-crunchy bum, I’ll go with this one. And I swear it tastes different than the rest of the ones in the dairy case at your regular supermarket. When using cast iron, I don’t bother with anything of low quality. My pan is perfectly seasoned and I’m afraid of using anything that isn’t close to what it has been used to its whole life. You know, like food. Not “organic,” not “non-GMO,” not “grass-fed,” “free-range,” or “rBGH-free” because these things never existed back in Gram’s day. Animals and crops were naturally raised and we dealt with bugs and disease. People still ate. Farmers were respected. People didn’t have all sorts of crazy allergies to food and the environment, and the general population was not nearly as sick as we are today. Okay, I’m getting off my soap box now. Sometimes I just have to rant and get this stuff out.
Back to the recipe. After prepping the salmon and cheese, it’s time to get going on the onion and garlic. Chop a small onion finely and mince two cloves of fresh garlic. Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in the skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, and saute about 3 minutes.
While they are sauteing, whisk 10 eggs in a large bowl with 1/4 milk, if you do dairy, sea salt, and fresh ground pepper. If you don’t do milk and have nothing else to add in its place, use a tablespoon or two of water to help make the eggs fluffy. Add the sliced smoked salmon, the goat cheese, and 2-3 Tbsp dried dill (fresh is WAY better if you have it, but I was all out) to the egg mixture. Pour egg mixture over the onions and garlic, slightly stirring to combine.
Turn the heat up to medium high and cook until the edges start to firm and climb up the side of the pan a little and bubbles start to appear.
Transfer it to an oven preheated to 350ºF and bake for about 25 minutes. It should look nice and golden on the top when finished, and a toothpick should come out clean from the middle.
Slice and serve! It goes well with a nice green salad with a mild dressing.
One last shot to show how well a wonderfully seasoned pan can work. It helps that this pan is older than me and that I have loved on it just as my Gram did. Once you get used to using one, you will be in love as much as I am.
Salmon Goat Cheese Frittata
This simple recipe can help you get dinner on the table in about 35 minutes with very little prep work. It goes well with a small side salad for dinner, and the leftovers are great for any meal!
6 ounce package of smoked salmon, sliced into small strips
4 ounce package of goat cheese, cut into small pieces (or packaged crumbles)
1 small onion, finely diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp butter, lard, or oil of your choice
1/4 milk (or other liquid, I’ve only used water)
2-3 Tbsp dill (dried, but fresh would be better)
1/4+ tsp sea salt
1/8+ tsp fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Heat 1 Tbsp butter in a deep or large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. Once melted, saute onions and garlic for about three minutes.
While onions and garlic saute, whisk together the eggs and milk/liquid, salt, and pepper. Add salmon, cheese, and dill to the eggs and stir to combine.
Pour egg mixture over the onions and garlic, give a quick stir, and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook until the edges start to firm and climb up the pan and bubbles start to form.
Transfer pan to the preheated oven and bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown on top and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.