My mother never really got the hang of Vatican II. I suppose it is difficult to adjust your habits when you’ve spent 30+ years of your life believing you’ll go to hell if you eat meat on Fridays. Add a houseful of kids to keep track of, not to mention feed, and you can see why, by the time I arrived on the scene, eight years after the Church Fathers had first gathered, the tradition of meatless Fridays was still going strong, and continued to do so throughout my childhood. And why, as a result, I ate a tuna-fish sandwich for lunch every. single. Friday. of my life, at least until I graduated from high school.
I may have rebelled against this tuna-fish framework at some point, as I did against many of the other food structures of my youth, but if I did, I don’t remember it. And aside from any temporary deviation, those years of programming have made their mark: when Friday lunchtime rolls around, I invariably crave a tuna-fish sandwich. Whether it’s tuna bagels from Bruegger’s in Boston, tuna panini from Ricardo’s in Oxford, or the thrifty version from my own kitchen, it’s one of my all-time favorite lunches. But, as with everything else food-related, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also gotten choosier, and more often than not these days, I prefer my own version. For one thing, I like my tuna salad to not be drowning in mayo, and maybe have a few interesting tastes and textures replacing the traditional chopped celery—two of my common criticisms of tuna salad in shops. For another, just lately I'm wondering if I’m being punished for my pickiness: I have yet to find a Canberra sandwich shop that offers tuna salad as I know it in any form. If you ask for tuna in your sandwich, you get…flaked, canned tuna. That's it. No mayo, no celery—absolutely nothing added. Be careful what you wish for?
Roving Lemon’s Tuna Salad
My mother always bought Italian tuna, packed in olive oil, and that’s the kind I like best. I always look for line-caught, and, given the various health and environmental concerns associated with tuna, try to ration my consumption generally, since I could eat it a lot more often than once a week, given a guilt-free opportunity.
1 can olive oil-packed tuna, well drained
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Optional extras for more zing:
a shake or two of Tabasco sauce or
finely chopped peppadew
I haven’t given exact proportions for any of the ingredients, because it depends on how much tuna you have, and on how much you like the other add-ins. My usual method is to flake the tuna in a bowl, then scatter the other ingredients evenly over the surface, lightly or heavily, depending on my preferences (for example: heavy mustard, light mayo); mix them in; taste; and adjust as necessary.
1. For a classic Friday lunch sandwich, serve on toasted white or sourdough bread which you have spread with mayo, mustard, or a combo thereof. (Dill pickles and chips alongside are de rigueur if you’re serving it to RL.)
2. I have also made this into a dip by making a slightly more liquid version, using some of the oil from the can, or maybe some plain yogurt, and pureeing it in a food processor. Great on crostini or toasted pita bread.
3. Make the big can and refrigerate half for next Friday (yes, it’ll keep, I do it all the time). Next Friday: spread white sandwich bread with mustard, and top with tuna salad and thin slices of sharp cheddar cheese. Toast in a hot pan with a little olive oil, three minutes per side or until golden brown. Voilà—tuna melt!