Celebrity Chefs Tell Tasting Table Their Best Canned Tuna Tips

When it comes to American canned classics, there aren't many staples you'll find in pantries more than tuna. Its delicious versatility makes it both the perfect everyday snack and savory addition to an elevated dining experience. Created in Southern California, it was first released to the public in the early 1900s. Success was slow to start but canned tuna exploded during World War II as a source of high protein. Eventually, it became America's most popular seafood from 1950 to 2000. Along with being high in protein, people were attracted to canned tuna because of its low-fat content, affordable price, and incredibly long shelf life. Today, canned tuna is a billion-dollar industry in the United States and beyond.

Although its popularity has somewhat declined due to increasing levels of mercury in the ocean, the numbers behind canned tuna consumption in America are stunning. Almost half of all U.S. households eat canned tuna each month. Depending on the tuna variety, the taste can range from salty and firm with a mild fishy flavor, to soft, full-bodied, and ocean-scented. It goes great with everything from saltines to salads and even spaghetti. Endlessly versatile, tuna is beloved by humble home cooks and celebrity chefs alike. If you've been fishing for a new spin on tuna, tune in — we've compiled a list of the best canned tuna tips from some of the world's most successful chefs.  

Lidia Bastianich turns tuna into a simple pasta

From successful restaurateur to Emmy Award-winning television personality, Lidia Bastianich has played a pivotal role in American cuisine. According to Lidia's Italy, with the help of her then-husband, Bastianich turned a desire to share her Italian and Istrian heritage into a massive family business that includes several restaurants in New York and across the U.S. — and that's just scratching the surface. Fun fact, her son Joe Bastianich is one of the hosts of the hugely-popular competitive cooking show "MasterChef."

Bastianich was fortunate to turn the American dream into a reality despite being new to a foreign country. When it comes to her Italian immigrant roots, she recalls what it was like to live with food restrictions in communist-occupied Italy. This culinary icon is clearly no stranger to humble meals. Speaking of modest eats, what says "humble" like a can of tuna? Even with a restaurant empire and legendary television career, Bastianich loves herself some "swimming poultry."

Growing up in a sea town, canning seafood in oil to save for later was common. She also loves tuna because it's super versatile; it can be made into a salad, sauce, and even pasta. Bastianich in particular enjoys adding tuna, Gaeta olives, parsley, and pepperoncini to basic marinara. For more texture, she recommends leaving the tuna chunky rather than breaking it up completely. Next, drizzle a bit of raw olive oil, then toss it all together with some fresh basil or parsley.

Buddha Lo enjoys vitello tonnato with tuna sauce

"Top Chef" alum and restaurateur Buddha Lo knows a thing or three about carefully crafting quality cuisine. He started working at his family's restaurant in Port Douglas, Australia at age 14 before moving to Melbourne at 17, where he enrolled at the William Angliss Institute. Impressively, he also worked for a "two-hat" restaurant at the same time. Two-hat refers to the "Australian Good Food Guide Chef Hat Awards," which is a Michelin-esque system of awarding local restaurants — two hats pretty much equates to two stars. Lo's prodigious beginnings were only the start of an award-winning career.

The master chef owns a small eatery named Huso that specializes in caviar, which denotes his particular skill with seafood. Since caviar is pricey, Lo says there's a way to capture the same fine-dining seafood experience at home by just whipping out some canned tuna. As a commonly overlooked pantry staple, there are countless delicious ways to use tuna. Lo's favorite dish to infuse with canned tuna is vitello tonnato, a pasta composed of cold, sliced veal that's covered with tuna-flavored cream sauce. It's popularly enjoyed during the summer as a main course or antipasto.

"It's an absolutely amazing sauce," Lo shared with Tasting Table. The sauce has a mayo-like consistency and is made with eggs, lemon, tuna, oil, and sometimes Dijon mustard. Aside from pasta, vitello tonnato tuna sauce also pairs well with tuna tartare and as a dressing for sandwiches.

Richard Blais blends his tuna salad perfectly

Being the winner of "Top Chef: All-Stars" is only one of the amazing things Richard Blais has accomplished in his successful career. Whether you visit one of his restaurants, try out one of his recipes, or tune into his latest food competition show, you can find his unique approach to American cuisine in almost every digestible medium. Speaking of digestible, Blais has a reputation for knowing how to make excellent seafood dishes. Funnily enough, in his best seafood tips and tricks he mentions one of the most affordable and easy go-to's: tuna salad.

It's all about how you blend the ingredients when it comes to making tuna salad the Blais way. Using too much or too little of an ingredient can result in a mushy pet food-like consistency — Blais prefers chunky tuna. In order to achieve that, he first drains the canned tuna liquid. The next step is important. Contrary to how many of us make this classic comfort food staple, i.e. mixing everything together at once, he says the sauce should be mixed separately before it's combined with the tuna.

When you mix everything together at once, you risk mashing the tuna chunks into mush. Adding the sauce after allows for a more delicate blend, giving you a heartier salad. To take your tuna salad to new heights, Blais recommends blending mayo with curry powder, grated ginger, minced onion, salt, pepper, citrus juice, and a drop of soy sauce.

Marc Murphy makes tuna-infused tomato sauce

Marc Murphy had the benefit of a cosmopolitan upbringing. Before the age of 12, he'd already lived in such culinary capitals as Milan, Paris, Villefranche-sur-Mer, Washington D.C., Rome, and Genoa. Traveling gave Murphy first-hand experience in learning French and Italian cuisine. Although his original dream was to become a race car driver, he put that aside to race up the ranks of the cooking elite. From Europe to America, Murphy worked at critically acclaimed restaurants and eventually earned the skills of a master chef.

Today, even with enviable talent in the kitchen and an incredible list of accomplishments, Murphy keeps a can of tuna handy. Along with being long-lasting and delicious, he loves using it to make pasta al tonno, or pasta with tomatoes and tuna. It's actually one of his best tips to elevate your pasta. Unsurprisingly, Murphy likes to purchase high-end Italian brands that hit the pockets a bit more, yet are preserved perfectly for quality taste.

Fancy fish aside, traditional canned tuna is more than satisfying enough to deliver great-tasting pasta al tonno. Ripe tomatoes are of course key and should be chopped then cooked down to a stew consistency. Next, Murphy suggests adding in capers for a kick of saltiness, something with acidity like white wine, and chili flakes for a touch of spice. Thanks to the tuna and capers, you won't need much more salt. Finish it with a sprinkle of breadcrumbs for texture.

Gordon Ramsay keeps it classic with salade niçoise

The only thing topping Gordon Ramsay's larger-than-life personality is his passion for the culinary arts. Fiery-spirited yet teddy bear-esque, Ramsay brings an infectious flare to cooking that has made him a global household name. If you've never heard of him, the loudness of his commanding voice might beg to differ. Ramsay learned the skills of the trade in some of Europe's best restaurants, received his first Michelin star before the age of 30, and would continue on to earn a total of 17 throughout his distinctive career.

As a master in French cuisine, it's no surprise that one of Ramsay's favorite tuna-infused dishes is salade Niçoise. He likes to make his with lightly seared ahi tuna, French green bean salad, and quail eggs — clearly, an elevated take on a reliable classic. If you've never tried salade Niçoise, it traditionally included only tomatoes, anchovies, and olive oil, before tuna, veggies, and eggs were added in subsequent years.

While we don't blame Ramsay for preferring quail to chicken eggs, for those without access to Hell's Kitchen, canned tuna and regular eggs can still make a mean salade Niçoise (or Nice ... if you catch the drift). It's a lettuce-free salad that's super easy to toss together and goes great with casual and dressed-up occasions alike. If you're hungry for something hearty, healthy, and refreshing, look no further than this colorful salade Niçoise recipe.

Tom Colicchio turns tuna into a tailgate classic

The head judge of "Top Chef," Tom Colicchio, earned the coveted position for a reason: he's just that good at cooking. Colicchio is a self-taught chef. He studied Jacques Pépin's legendary manuals on French cooking, "La Technique" and "La Méthode," which featured easy-to-follow pictures. He began his professional career at age 17, working at a spot called Evelyn's Seafood Restaurant in his hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. It was the first step towards becoming one of the most awarded chefs in the world. 

Today, as the owner of seven restaurants across the U.S., Colicchio has found the perfect intersection between quality cuisine, sustainably-farmed ingredients, and considerate hospitality. When you've got that many restaurants under your belt, you obviously know how important food is to social gatherings. In an interview with Tasting Table, Colicchio shared his canned seafood go-to for friends during Super Bowl parties: thinly sliced fennel, bitter greens like radicchio or endive, and a little vinaigrette tossed together with tuna. 

While not your typical "game day" snack, it's a savory and refreshing option that can be enjoyed solo or in a wrap, and even atop a bed of savory nachos. Who knows? It might just be your new favorite tailgate classic. If Colicchio's special tuna mixture isn't your speed, not to fret, any unique combination of your choosing is a worthy addition to your game day menu. It's also a healthy alternative to fried foods.

Geoffrey Zakarian uses a particular tuna for Niçoise salad

Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian already had 30 years of experience working in hospitality before joining the "Chopped" roster. He's a multi-hyphenate master chef whose "About Page" includes everything from executive chef to restaurateur, television personality, cookbook author, and more. Zakarian specializes in classic American cuisine, which means he's more than acquainted with the wonders of canned tuna. Even though he sits comfortably alongside the giants of gastronomy, he still prefers to use it over fresh seafood for certain recipes.

When it comes to canned tuna, one of Zakarian's best tips involves the classic Niçoise salad. He feels strongly that in order to truly capture the authentic taste, you must either use Portuguese or Spanish tuna. As it turns out, fresh tuna fish was an American innovation to niçoise salad, whereas traditionally, canned tuna was always used. With Niçoise salad being an Italian invention, it's curious why Zakarian believes that Portuguese and Spanish tuna are the best. There could be several reasons why. 

Portugal in particular has a history of preserving fish that dates back to the Iron Age. It's home to the oldest commercial cannery in Europe. The Spanish carry a similar passion for canned seafood. Known for its high-quality and freshness, chefs from around the world clamor for a clam. When you have centuries of experience preserving seafood, it makes sense that the canned tuna you produce will enhance any dish.

Nadia Munno removes fishy odors with lemon

Canned tuna is delicious, versatile, and affordable, yet for all of its qualities, the odor it emits can be overwhelming. It's especially pungent when you first open the can and the aroma hits your nostrils with the intensity of a long shelf life. If you happen to love the smell of fish, we envy you, but for those that rush to mask the aroma with seasoning, "Pasta Queen" Nadia Munno has just the right ingredient hack: lemon juice. The simple fix only takes a couple of minutes and will save your kitchen from becoming a miniature fisherman's wharf.

Speaking of fishy odors, the smell comes from the fish being pre-cooked before it's canned. When pre-cooked tuna is stored it begins to build up a naturally occurring amino acid named histamine, which produces the stench. Munno is known for incorporating canned tuna into her all-time favorite dish, pasta. Sticking to her Italian roots, she uses it as an ingredient in puttanesca sauce along with anchovies, olives, garlic, chile flakes, tomatoes, and capers. It's a pretty popular sauce back in her hometown of Rome, where canned seafood is considered some of the best in the world and is an inseparable part of the local cuisine. Munno's nifty hack doesn't only work for tuna, it can be used on canned mackerel, herring, and sardines, or to reduce the fishy scent in recipes that include seafood.