New York Diner Tuna Salad is one of my favorite things to eat. Growing up on Long Island, my friends and I always found ourselves in a diner in the middle of the night and everyone had their favorite thing to eat. One of my friends always ordered a Toasted Bran Muffin with Butter on the side and another always had a Hot Open Turkey Sandwich with Fries. Back then, we all washed it down with Diet Coke.
For me, it was tuna on rye. I always had cold tuna salad on fresh rye bread with lettuce and tomatoes. I always had room for a tuna sandwich.
Now that I'm southern, (I love saying that,) my tuna on rye outings have become a thing of the past. There are no diners and no friends eating bran muffins. Some of the small restaurants in The Keys have tuna salad, but it's not the same. Many southerners think tuna salad needs chopped eggs in it. That's just wrong!
What's in Your Tuna Salad?
New York diner (and deli) tuna is made with solid white tuna (not chunk light which is a dark pink color), celery, and mayonnaise. That's it! I put my twist on it with some chopped red onions and dill. Good tuna is the star!
Mayonnaise: Duke's or Hellmann's?
Hellmann's Mayonnaise is a North East thing. I don't think anyone buys any other brand.
Shortly after I moved to Key Largo, I went for a haircut in a small shop. I started talking with the receptionist about cooking. I don't remember what we were talking about, but she quickly told me I had to get Duke's mayonnaise. Duke's? I had never heard of it.
My curiosity got the best of me. I brought some home Duke's. I also had to get some Hellmann's because I didn't have any in the house. I tasted them side by side and Hellman's was a little better.
The Best Tuna in a Can
Wild Planet makes delicious tuna. It's sold in most major grocery chains (including our local Publix and the nearby Walmart), and it tastes like the tuna I used to eat every day when I was a kid. In the past 30 years, conventional canned tuna has become very bland. Wild Planet tastes like tuna did many years ago and doesn't need a ton of mayonnaise to make it taste good.
Wild Planet tuna claims to be very low in mercury. They catch smaller, younger tuna, and therefore, it has a much lower mercury content than the commercial brands. A little more expensive than the big name brands, the tuna is available in both cans and pouches. It is more expensive than conventional brands but well worth it. Brands do matter.
How To Make Great Tuna Salad
Mash the tuna with a fork until it is in tiny pieces. If you're making a lot, you can put on food service gloves and mash it up with your fingers in a big bowl. A food processor will chop it too small and is unnecessary. I can chop the celery and onion with a big knife. If you are using dill, remove the stems and chop it finely.
What About the Mayonnaise?
The healthiest mayo is one that you make yourself. Look at the jar of your favorite commercial mayonnaise. The first ingredient listed on the label is soybean oil. Most restaurants use this for frying your French fries; it is very cheap, quite toxic, and not a healthy option. You can easily make your own with eggs and light olive oil. Try our recipe for Homemade Mayonnaise.
What Can I Substitute for Mayonnaise?
A good mayonnaise substitute is sour cream or full-fat (10%) Greek Yogurt. You can also substitute mayo with avocado. Smash the flesh of a ripe avocado with the back of a fork, season with a little salt, and use that in place of mayonnaise. It's creamy and delicious!
If You Like Creamy Salads, Try These:
New York Diner Tuna Salad
FOR THE TUNA
- 2 (5 oz) cans Albacore tuna, packed in water (try Wild Planet tuna)
- 3-4 tablespoons Hellmann's mayonnaise (see notes below for special diets adaptations)
- ½ cup chopped celery 2 celery stalks, trimmed and finely chopped
- ¼ cup finely chopped red onions (optional)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried (optional)
- sea salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE SALAD
- 4 cups Romaine lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
- 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half
- 1 cucumber cut into slices
- ⅓ cup sliced red onion
- ½ cup olives
- 1-2 green onions (scallions) thinly sliced crosswise
- Drain tuna in a colander and place in mixing bowl. With the back of a fork, mash the tuna until it is broken into small pieces. (It is not necessary to put this in a food processor.)
- Mix in mayonnaise, celery, red onions, dill and a little salt and pepper.
- Tear lettuce into bite size pieces. Top with tomatoes, cucumber slices, red onions, olives, and scallions.
- Top each salad with a big scoop of tuna salad.