18 Ingredient Additions To Elevate Tuna Patties

You might know them as tuna patties, tuna cakes, tuna croquettes, tuna fritters, or even tuna burgers, but by whatever name, the humble pan-fried dish is an example of inventive home cooking. That said, tuna patties don't always have the greatest reputation. Like salmon patties or meatloaf, they're a way to make inexpensive proteins stretch further and feed more people. But, also like salmon patties or meatloaf, they are beloved by those who crave the comfort foods of their past. 

Just because tuna patties are made from humble ingredients doesn't mean they have to taste cheap. With a few simple tweaks, you can make a dish that's worthy of serving at a dinner party. If tuna cakes are part of your family's weeknight meal roster, you can upgrade the taste to something that makes a regular night feel a little more special. Any dish can benefit from a little more oomph. Next time you find yourself with tuna on hand, give one of these ingredients a try.

1. Fresh tuna

Most of the time, tuna patties are cooked in an effort to stretch out a can of tuna, but what if the can weren't involved at all? There's no rule that says you can't make a tuna patty with good, fresh tuna. If you think making patties is a waste of good seafood, then you are ignoring the culinary brilliance of the crab cake. You can combine flaked, fresh tuna with the traditional binders and seasonings to make a tuna patty that tastes truly gourmet. 

If you've got leftover ahi tuna, that's even better. Because it's typically cooked rare, the tuna won't suffer from being overcooked when you fry the patties. Fresh tuna patties are a super non-red meat alternative to beef burgers and hot dogs at a cookout, where you might have to feed folks with different dietary preferences. Go easy on the fillers — let the tuna shine. 

2. Flavored tuna cans and pouches

A quick and easy way to add more flavor to a tuna patty is to make a simple ingredient swap. Instead of using regular canned tuna (or even fresh tuna), make use of one of the many varieties of flavored tuna you can now find on the grocery store shelves. Starkist and Bumblebee have a myriad of tuna products in pouches that are pre-seasoned with flavors like Lemon Pepper, Ginger Sesame, and Teriyaki. Bumblebee also has seasoned varieties of canned tuna, packed in olive oil for extra flavor. 

Asian markets have carried spicy, chili-laced versions of canned tuna since long before the popular U.S. brands jumped on the bandwagon, like the peppery Dongwon tuna praised by Momofuku founder David Chang. Using any of these flavored types of tuna can add an extra kick to your tuna patties without having to add a lot of additional seasonings.

3. Amaranth

Don't overlook the binder when making your next batch of tuna patties, as it can be a prime source for elevating your dish. Crumbs of white bread are fine for holding things together, but they won't do very much for adding flavor and texture. Consider instead adding an ancient grain like amaranth. The nutty taste and texture add interest to what would otherwise be just an ordinary patty. 

Another reason to use amaranth in your tuna patties? The pseudocereal is known for its healthful properties. Amaranth is packed with protein and high in fiber and nutrients. Of course, the best reason to use it with your tuna patties is to elevate the taste beyond what you'd get with a typical bread crumb. No need to stop at amaranth — consider other interesting grains for use as a binder. Quinoa, flax, farro, and millet each add unique qualities as a binder.

4. Panko crumbs

If you're not quite ready to use some of the more adventurous grains, you can always use bread crumbs for your tuna patties. For the best results, don't make tuna cakes without panko bread crumbs instead of your regular go-to variety. Japanese panko crumbs are made from steamed, crustless bread, so they add a light, airy texture to dishes. Because they're less dense than crumbs made from Western-style white bread, they also absorb less grease.

Panko doesn't just help your patties hold together, but a light coating of panko on the outside of each one also ensures that they have a light, crispy crunch on the exterior. A crunchy tuna patty is extra-appreciated if you're serving them with any kind of sauce (tartar sauce, remoulade, sriracha, chili sauce) because no one wants a soggy patty. Panko stores well in the pantry, so keep plenty on hand for your meatloaf, too. 

5. Chickpeas

For a truly unique take on the everyday dish, you can add an ingredient found in Australia's favorite tuna patty. The recipe forgoes both starchy binders and the use of raw eggs, instead getting its bulk and stick-togetherness from canned chickpeas. If legumes seem like an unusual addition to a tuna patty, consider that they are the main ingredient in falafel balls, which are packed with flavor (and also hold together without bread crumbs). 

Adding chickpeas to tuna patties may be an Australian concept, but the resulting dish's similarity to falafel gives it a Mediterranean vibe. You can keep the vibe going by serving chickpea tuna patties with a Mediterranean tzatziki sauce or a smooth, nutty tahini sauce to drizzle on top. If you like things spicy, you can turn up the heat when you season these patties, letting a cool, cucumber-yogurt sauce cool things down.

6. Shallots

If you're one of those people who think there's no difference at all between shallots and onions, you must not have actually ever cooked shallots (much less tasted them). When cooked, and especially when caramelized, shallots become sweeter, emitting a heavenly aroma that elevates nearly any dish to which they are added. Introducing cooked shallots to your tuna patties will add a subtle, rich flavor to the mixture, one that will be particularly enhanced if you add Dijon mustard, thyme, and a bit of white wine.

Elevate your shallot-studded tuna patties even further with a French-style sauce, like Hollandaise, or a simple buttery white wine sauce. Speaking of white wine, a cool glass of it would pair well with these elevated tuna patties. If that's not your style, shallots can still enhance a basic tuna patty, and tartar sauce is still allowed. Even one simple change can make your dish better. 

7. Soy sauce

Soy sauce makes a terrific glaze when you're searing fresh ahi tuna, and that same deep, smoky flavor works just as well when you're making a tuna patty. There's almost no savory dish that can't benefit from a bit of umami flavor, and soy sauce is a quick and easy way to get it. Choose a bold-flavored dark sauce so that you won't have to use too much, as an overly wet patty mixture won't hold together as well. 

Adding the flavor of soy lends an Asian profile to your tuna patties, so if you want to amp up the atmosphere of the whole meal, serve your tuna patties with some fragrant rice and stir-fried vegetables on the side, or a green salad dressed with a soy and ginger dressing. (A bit of ginger in the crab cakes will pair well with the soy sauce if you're feeling adventurous.) 

8. Sriracha sauce

Part of the beauty of bottled sriracha sauce, and the reason it is so popular, is that its ingredients are so well balanced. The blend of hot chili peppers, garlic, vinegar, and sugar combine to make a sauce that is spicy, sweet, tangy, and garlicky all at once. Adding a hit of sriracha to your tuna mixture before forming it into patties integrates all of those flavors into the dish, without having to add the ingredients separately. Your tuna patties will now be spicy and tangy, too.

Just a little sriracha sauce will go a long way, so keep your hand light when adding it to your tuna patties. For folks who like more heat, you can always keep the bottle of sriracha sauce on the table, because it makes a great topping, too. You might also whip up a sriracha mayonnaise for a topping that adds creaminess to all of sriracha's other delicious qualities. 

9. Old Bay seasoning

In Baltimore, Maryland, there are some folks who would run you out of town if your crab cakes aren't seasoned with Old Bay. The iconic brand of seasoning blend is practically a requirement for seafood boils and po' boy sandwiches in parts of the United States, and it's also used to add flavor to burgers, french fries, and potato salad. Adding Old Bay to tuna patties will give them the flavor profile of a classic New England dish. 

What's so special about Old Bay seasoning? It's the blend of 18 different spices, which includes celery salt, paprika, red and black pepper, and even more spices that aren't revealed on the label. No one has time to add that many ingredients to a simple dish, so using a blend like Old Bay is a quick way to add a lot of flavor with just a few sprinkles. Of course, there are other seasoning blends you can try, but don't tell anyone from Baltimore. 

10. Curry powder

You may have already discovered that curry powder is a great addition to homemade chicken salad and tuna salad (and if not, go and try it ASAP). Curry powder is just as welcome in tuna patties, where it adds an earthiness and warmth to the flavor of the dish. The turmeric in curry powder also adds a beautiful golden color to the patties, making the whole plate seem sunny and inviting. Different curry blends have different tastes, so work with one you know and love.

If you have curry paste on hand (easily procurable at Asian markets or in the international food sections of major groceries), you're in even more luck. Curry paste is an essential ingredient in Thai fish cakes, and it works just as well in a tuna cake, giving it a restaurant-quality flavor. Serve with coconut rice and an Asian slaw for an impressive effect.

11. Romano cheese

The Italian combination known as cacio e pepe (literally "cheese and pepper") is known for elevating a simple dish of noodles into a delicious meal. The combo is especially good with tuna and pasta, making a stripped-down gourmet version of a classic tuna casserole. The same flavors work just as well with tuna when you're making tuna patties. A generous sprinkling of grated Romano brings plenty of savory umami to the dish.

You can also grate some Romano into the bread crumbs you use to coat your tuna patties. As you pan-fry the patties, the tiny bits of grated cheese will add a savory crunch to the coating. Be sure and use plenty of black pepper, too, if you want the full cacio e pepe effect with your tuna dish. A side dish of buttery noodles will make things feel even more Italian. (Tip: While Romano is used in cacio e pepe, no one will mind if you use Parmesan.) 

12. Fresh herbs

The traditional tuna patty, however delicious, can feel a bit greasy and heavy, as any fried dish can. One of the best ways to elevate a fried food is to add ingredients that will lift and brighten the dish. (That's why fried fish goes so well with lemon or vinegar.) And what better to lift and brighten than the addition of fresh herbs? Dried herbs are handy pantry staples, but if you can access them, see what a difference fresh can make.

Nearly any fresh herb can elevate a tuna patty, but dill is a particularly good choice, as it's famous for its compatibility with fish. Add chopped dill to the patty mixture and save a little for making a creamy dill-tinged tartar sauce. Fresh, chopped basil leaves lend an Italian flavor to any type of fish cake, and herbs like cilantro, parsley, or thyme all work equally well. 

13. Pesto

Mixing ready-made sauces (like sriracha, mentioned above) into a dish is a handy shortcut, adding several flavor components all at once, depending on the complexity of the sauce. Pesto is another perfect sauce choice for mixing into tuna patties, adding the flavors of basil, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, and olive oil with every single spoonful. A spoonful is really all you'll need. Simply stir homemade or store-bought pesto into your tuna patty mixture for a dose of salty, herby goodness.

The fresh, green flecks of basil in the pesto make the tuna patty look attractive when you bite into it, so you're not stuck with an orb of beige. For serving, you can spoon even more pesto on top of each cake, or stir pesto into mayonnaise for a quick pesto aioli. Serve with buttery garlic bread and an antipasto-inspired salad, or make into smaller croquettes for an appetizer. 

14. Sundried tomatoes

There's more than one way to get umami flavor into a dish, and one that's sometimes overlooked is the sundried tomato. Sundried tomatoes had their heyday a few decades ago when they were the trendy ingredient to add to every dish, but just because they're not as over-saturated today, that doesn't mean they've lost their flavor. Sundried tomatoes are concentrated little flavor bombs of savory umami, and a little taste does amazing things to a dish.

You can chop sundried tomatoes to add to your tuna patties or puree them in a food processor to make them easier to incorporate. Pureeing them helps distribute the flavor throughout the patty, but adding them chopped allows for little bursts of flavor as you take a bite. Tomatoes also add a pretty color to the patties, and if you want to maximize the effect (and the flavor), try adding sundried tomato and pesto to your fish cake.

15. Lemongrass

Fresh lemongrass can be a bit tricky to work with if you're not familiar with it, but it's worth getting to know the fragrant plant because its aromatic scent and bright flavor elevate dishes into something quite special. If you think citrus juice adds brightness, you're in for even more of a treat. Lemongrass manages to taste both lemony and woodsy at the same time. Parts of the plant are fibrous and woody, so you'll need to cut off its toughest layers, as well as the tips and ends.

To add lemongrass to tuna patties, chop or grate its tender parts finely before adding. You can also find lemongrass powder in some Asian markets, but be sure and taste as you go and use sparingly, as it can be quite powerful. The results, though, are worthwhile, bringing a citrusy zest and aroma to a dish that can otherwise feel heavy.

16. Hot peppers

If you want to make tuna patties that get noticed, you'll need to turn up the heat. For folks who like things spicy, hot chili peppers are the way to go, adding fiery flavor to the humble fried patty. Hot peppers are a common addition to fish cakes throughout the world, especially in countries like Thailand and Barbados. Both fresh or dried peppers can be used to make a tuna patty with plenty of heat.

The choice of peppers is up to you, whether you're a mild jalapeno person or a ghost pepper person. Just be sure and keep your guests in mind. To cool things down, serve spicy tuna patties with some sort of cooling sauce. Anything with a dairy base will help tame a scorched tongue, so tartar sauce, yogurt sauce, or a tangy sour cream-based sauce will help quell the flames. Of course, some folks will want additional hot sauce on top of their patties.

17. Capers

The tangy, briny taste of capers is a must-try for fans of tuna patties. The salty, tangy flavor perks up even the dullest of dishes, and the tart taste is a perfect complement to fish in the same way that malt vinegar or pickles can be. If you like green olives, you'll probably appreciate capers, which have a similar flavor profile. Add a handful to your next batch of tuna patties and see what wonders they can do.

To balance the flavors, keep an eye on any other salty ingredients you might be adding to the mixture. Capers are pretty salty-tasting on their own, so this isn't the time to use a salt-forward seasoning blend. Let the capers do the salting. Capers can make a nifty addition to tartar sauce, too, instead of the typical pickle relish, so whip up a batch with any leftover capers from the jar. 

18. Mashed potato

Mashed potato may not seem like an elevating ingredient, but if you've been eating basic tuna patties made with bread crumbs, potatoes are a quick and easy way to add a little more something to your dish. You can think of it as adding tuna to a potato patty, rather than adding potato to a tuna patty, if you like. Mashed potato patties are really good just on their own, so adding tuna to the mix adds even more flavor and makes them more of a meal.

Tuna and potato patties are enjoyed in Morocco, where they're seasoned with coriander and cumin and topped with a creamy yogurt sauce. They're also enjoyed all across America, with additions like cheddar cheese and fresh corn. You can choose your theme, as well as your toppings and side dishes. Why not mix and match? Try a fusion Moroccan tuna and potato patty topped with a southern American cabbage slaw.