13 Sauces That Pair Well With Tuna

You get home from a long work day, walk into your kitchen, and realize that tonight's dinner is what you least expected: tuna. Despite representing nearly ⅓ of the fish and seafood consumed in the United States, according to the National Fisheries Institute, tuna in any form, from canned or pouched to grilled or raw and served up sushi-style, continues to receive a resounding "meh." So what can you do to make tuna something to look forward to eating? You need to add a saucy sidekick to take it to the next level.

Before you peruse the grocery store shelves for something pre-made, consider the fact that you can make something unique to go with your tuna in any form, and whip up your own at home. As far as fish goes, tuna falls on the medium part of the flavor scale, unlike the stronger salmon or mackerel, meaning you have a blank slate with which to flavor to your heart's content. With that in mind, don't be afraid to get creative with your tuna preparations. No matter what you conjure up, there's a sauce to go with it.

1. Soy sauce

If you're a fan of sushi in any form, you know that raw fish and soy sauce are a match made in hand roll heaven. But what is it about soy sauce that makes it the perfect accompaniment to sushi-grade tuna? It's that salty, sweet, slightly bitter, and most importantly, umami element that makes soy sauce so beautifully balanced and ideal to go along with your raw tuna's mild, meaty flavor.

Soy sauce on its own is delicious, but if you want to go above and beyond with it, it's an excellent canvas to doctor up a bit, enhancing your raw tuna in the most wonderful way. Perhaps a splash of sesame oil, mirin, and sake, or a hit of ponzu citrus sauce for an acidic punch is what that soy sauce needs to truly make it sing. This makes it easy to toss together a simple, tasty meal like tuna donburi rice bowls.

2. Creamy yogurt sauce

Canned tuna gets a bad rap, but considering all the incredible ways canned (and pouched) tuna can be transformed to make a seriously good meal, it truly deserves its flowers and then some. One way to really think outside the can? Scoop it out, fry it up, and serve it alongside a decadent and creamy sauce.

When it comes to anything fried — fish or otherwise — a creamy side sauce is a great way to go. Think fish and chips with tartar sauce, salmon cakes with dill sauce, or even fried fish tacos with a spicy crema. They work because the yogurt sauce served on the side or drizzled over top helps to keep that fried fish from tasting too dry.

Assuming that fried fish cake is extra crispy and salty (which we truly hope it is), a cool, creamy sauce will balance out what may otherwise be a fairly rich dish. Reach for that jar of Greek yogurt, or mayonnaise if that's more your jam, in the refrigerator and get to work. Something herbaceous and refreshing, like a cucumber sauce on the side of dill tuna patties, is the perfect saucy inspiration to go along with your next pan-fried tuna creation.

3. Dijon vinaigrette

The classic Niçoise salad is a staple when it comes to composed salads, and it is none other than the humble canned tuna in its truest form that plays as the star protein. Each element of the Niçoise plays an important part, and the sauce that drapes itself over the top is no exception; that acidic vinaigrette is fatty tuna's best friend.

In its flaky, just-out-of-the-can form, tuna can come off a bit strong, but that's why a Dijon vinaigrette is the ideal second fiddle to really counteract that bold, "fishy" flavor that canned tuna has. Packed with zip and a little spice from that Dijon mustard, richness from the olive oil, and brightness from garlic, fresh herbs, and lemon juice, a Dijon vinaigrette is exactly what a salad with canned tuna needs to be a really special main course when you find yourself in a mid-week salad rut.

4. Mayonnaise

Ah, the humble yet deeply satisfying tuna salad. In a pinch, a can of tuna can be transformed almost immediately by the addition of a handful of common ingredients, including celery, cornichons, and maybe even a healthy dollop of Dijon mustard. But the most important element of the tuna salad dressing? None other than mayonnaise. The creamy, eggy, umami (yes, mayo is loaded with umami), flavor in mayonnaise is the ideal sidekick to cut through an oily canned tuna. Think of it this way: Mayo is to tuna salad what meatballs are to spaghetti. A perfect match.

The best part about mayo? You don't need the store-bought stuff. Mayonnaise is one of the easiest condiments to whip up at home, and after you do it yourself, you'll realize the grocery store version isn't nearly as good as your own. Mayonnaise is an emulsified sauce, meaning it's the slow addition of a good vegetable oil to the rest of the ingredients that gives it its smooth and creamy texture. Grab a couple of eggs, dried mustard, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, vegetable oil, and a dash of sugar, and whisk until everything is fully combined — you'll be able to tell when you've reached that stage when the mixture starts to really thicken up and smooth out. Fold with your canned tuna and the rest of your salad accouterments, and enjoy.

5. Fish sauce

When you hear the words "tuna salad," your brain probably jumps immediately to the traditional ingredients that make it so; canned tuna, mayonnaise, chopped celery or pickles, and perhaps a sprinkle of salt and pepper to tie it all together. But what if tuna salad could be more? What if your run-of-the-mill canned fish could be bumped up with just the right umami oomph to make it a deli salad lunch worth looking daydreaming about? With a bottle of fish sauce, it can be.

If you're unfamiliar with fish sauce, now is your chance to introduce a seriously spectacular sauce to your pantry. Made from fermented fish extract, fish sauce is salty and, yes, fishy, but lends a deep savory flavor to whatever it comes in contact with. Combined with a tart, zippy mayonnaise, and a handful of freshly chopped herbs, a fish sauce-based sauce for tuna salad is guaranteed to take your tuna salad to an out-of-this-world level. However, when mixing up this simple sauce at home, be mindful of just how much fish sauce you're using. Fish sauce is a very concentrated salt bomb, so start with just a few drops and taste and season accordingly as you go, erring on the side of less is more.

6. Romesco sauce

If the bag of almonds sitting in your pantry is only being used when you're craving a quick snack, you're missing out on a golden opportunity to use it in a fantastic sauce that will make your next tuna dinner really sing. Made with roasted red peppers, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, whole almonds, smoked paprika, sherry vinegar, and salt, a smoky romesco sauce is simple to make at home and drape over a piece of roasted or grilled tuna, or even mixed into your canned tuna for a bumped up tuna salad sandwich. Smoky with just a hint of spice, a romesco pairs beautifully with this mild fish while sharing flavor duties equally.

What makes this sauce so special is the preparation itself; nearly every ingredient of this smoky romesco gets roasted and toasted to lend a depth of flavor before everything is blended together. Make a big batch of this versatile sauce for your next tuna dinner and store the rest in the fridge for mixing and dipping with the rest of the week.

7. Mango salsa

If the only salsa you've ever had is the traditional tomato-based one to dip your chips in, now is your chance to experience a deliciously sweet and spicy alternative. Making a fruit salsa at home is a really easy way to not only use mangos in a savory way but to add serious flavor and fun to your next tuna dinner or snack. And mangoes specifically really are the gold standard when it comes to a fruit salsa; the slightly firm texture and not-too-sweet flavor make it the perfect base. Whether you're grilling or roasting a tuna steak or chopping up that sushi-grade tuna for a sweet and spicy ceviche, a mango-based salsa will add just the right amount of salt, spice, and freshness for a perfectly balanced bite.

Salsa may seem like an intimidating condiment to make at home, but fear not. All you'll need are those ripe mangoes, red onion, tomatoes, chili pepper (or more if you're a spice fiend), lime, cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste. Chop everything up, gently mix it, and serve. If you happen to have any leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. The best part about this recipe? It's entirely open to modifications; swap out the tomatoes for chopped bell peppers, and if heat really isn't your thing, omit that spicy chili entirely.

8. Teriyaki sauce

A classic in every sense of the word, teriyaki sauce is an incredibly versatile sauce that gives a whole lot of extra flavor to just about anything, from rice and veggies to any and all proteins. If you're staring at that raw tuna steak in your refrigerator and completely unsure of how to make it a memorable dinner dish, mixing up your own teriyaki sauce to marinade it or just serve alongside is a resounding win every time. Salty, sweet, and jam-packed with flavor, teriyaki sauce is the perfect complement to your next tuna burger, tuna kebab, or grilled tuna steak with a heaping side of rice and veggies.

Teriyaki sauce is simple to make at home, but it does require a bit of attention while you're cooking it, primarily when it comes to its thickness. When preparing your cornstarch slurry (cornstarch and water whisked together), make sure everything is well-mixed and free of lumps, then after you've added it to your water, soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, garlic, and ginger mixture, keep an eye on it and mix occasionally. Teriyaki is a thick sauce meant to coat each nook and cranny of whatever you're mixing it with, but if it gets too thick, add in a bit of water to thin it out.

9. Ponzu

Soy sauce has a light, citrusy sibling that's packed with flavor, and if you haven't heard of it, get excited. Ponzu sauce is a soy sauce-based sauce made with the addition of citrus juice, mirin, bonito flakes, kombu, and rice vinegar, and is the perfect sauce to wake up a dish that just needs that extra something. Best of all? Its complex, unique flavor is easy to mix up all on your own.

Light, tangy, and just a little sweet, ponzu sauce is the ideal addition to a tuna crudo, sashimi plate, or a tuna poke bowl packed with fresh veggies and rice. And while you can purchase a bottle of ponzu sauce from your local grocery store, to really get the ideal balance of flavors, we recommend mixing up your own at home. The ingredient list may sound overwhelming, but everything can be found at your local Asian grocery store or ordered online. Mix your soy sauce, kombu, bonito flakes, mirin, and rice vinegar over heat, then add in that citrus kick. You can go the traditional Asian route with yuzu, or go your own way with a squeeze of lemon, lime, or even grapefruit.

10. Chimichurri

Fresh, tangy, and deeply herbaceous, homemade chimichurri should never be overlooked when thinking about your next tuna creation. While it's typically paired with beef or chicken, tuna has just the right rich, meaty texture to absorb all that zingy, herby flavor without losing out on any flavor.

Made with a base of red wine vinegar and lemon juice, the addition of shallots and garlic will round out that initial acidity. The greenery, however, is the star of this sauce: Parsley, cilantro, fresh oregano, and chives give chimichurri the herb-forward flavors it's known for. Finish it off with olive oil, crushed red pepper for a hint of spice, and salt and pepper for added seasoning. Let it sit for about 20 minutes before using, and you're ready to go.

The prep work for a chimichurri may seem daunting — juice a lemon, peel and chop the garlic and shallot, and finely chop up those herbs — you won't regret it when you take that first bite. While chimichurri is an ingredient-heavy sauce, once you've made one batch, you can keep it in the fridge and bring it out over and over again. It's a win-win for you and all your future dippable dishes.

11. Honey mustard

Taking your tuna above and beyond doesn't have to be a stressful endeavor, and that goes for both the preparation of it as well as the sauce on the side. Honey, mustard, and a handful of pantry staples can really go a long way in a honey mustard sauce, and the versatility of this sauce is guaranteed to keep you coming back to it again and again.

So what makes this super simple sauce worthwhile for your next tuna dish? First of all, it's a flavor bomb for what is, on its own, a relatively flavorless fish. The sweetness from the honey, tangy zip from mustard (yellow or Dijon both work great here), a delicate creaminess from the emulsion of mayonnaise and olive oil, and a hit of spice from garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika all come together to add an insane amount of umami flavor to a tuna salad that just isn't hitting right.

The added bonus of the honey mustard sauce? Not only does it serve as a side sauce, but it can also act as a marinade. Cover your tuna steaks in the sauce and let them sit in a plastic bag or glass baking dish in the refrigerator for a few hours before dinnertime. No need to season your fish before cook time — that silky sweet sauce will do all the hard work for you.

12. Spicy aioli

If you've ever wondered why dunking a piece of sushi, a chicken nugget, a french fry — anything, really — into a spicy aioli tastes like fireworks in your mouth, there's a good reason. A well-spiced, creamy aioli helps to cut through the richness of a fried potato or a hot, crispy piece of fish or chicken without overpowering whatever you're dipping. With a baked or seared tuna steak, the hot spice will provide plenty of flavor while still letting that tuna be the star.

To assemble a spicy aioli at home, you'll just need a few standard ingredients. First, you'll start with a base similar to mayonnaise, then you can really zhuzh it up with smoked paprika, garlic, lemon juice, and maybe a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce. Season and spice up to your liking, making sure that you don't make it so spicy that you can't taste the tuna itself. Not ready to commit to going full throttle with a raw tuna steak? Mix this with your favorite canned tuna and take that run-of-the-mill tuna salad to the next level.

13. Tomato sauce

Tomato sauce is one of the most well-known sauces in the culinary world — there's a reason it's one of the five "mother sauces" from which all other sauces are derived. A tomato sauce doesn't have to be loaded up with the culinary equivalent of bells and whistles. In fact, a simple tomato sauce requires only a few ingredients and provides just the right level of bright, fresh flavors to make your protein really shine.

In the case of tuna, sometimes simplicity is the key to the perfect preparation. Start with onions, garlic, your favorite olive oil, and a can of really good chopped canned tomatoes — San Marzano are some of the best on store shelves — and cook it on low. Let everything simmer for an hour or so, seasoning as you go with salt and pepper and maybe a sprinkle of dried basil, and let it develop into a deeply flavorful, thick sauce. A splash of white wine or chicken broth can be added here to thin the sauce slightly and develop the flavors further.

Cook your tuna in the sauce itself and let it seep into every inch of it, or bake or sear it separately and drape this luxurious sauce over top. With just a few ingredients and appreciation for the humble yet impressive tuna, a restaurant-quality dish is served.