12 Ways Celebrity Chefs Amp Up Their Tuna Salad

Tuna salad sandwiches weren't always the classic lunch item they are today. Back in the 1800s, home cooks made all kinds of mayo-based salads as an effort to repurpose leftovers. For example, some folks would mash day-old canned fish with creamy mayonnaise to mask its strong taste (via Smithsonian Magazine). This practice eventually led to the rise of mayo-based sandwiches, with popular combinations like leftover tuna, mayo, pickles, and olives, commonly served.

Luckily, tuna salad has evolved considerably in the last 200 years. In the latter half of the 1800s, when women began participating more in public life, lunch halls sought out ways to attract these new consumers. Thus, businesses started to serve fish salads made with fresh ingredients — a trend that has remained constant in American culture to this day.

Now, even the most basic tuna salad recipes continue to evolve and improve. Celebrity chefs have played a major role in this process by sharing their tips to elevate this staple. From Martha Stewart's suggestion to mix in crispy apples and basil to Nigella Lawson's strategy for adding an Italian twist, celebrity chefs have plenty of ideas to help bring your tuna salad to the next level.

1. Martha Stewart: Add apples and basil to your tuna salad

If you want to make a tuna salad with a unique flavor combination, look no further than Martha Stewart's suggestions. The celebrity chef and cookbook author recommends adding some curveball ingredients to your creation, namely apples and basil. While these elements might seem unusual in this context, they add a unique taste to the mix. Chopped apples provide a refreshing sweetness to contrast tuna's fattier flavors. Meanwhile, basil brings a fresh, peppery aroma, even elevating the scent of the final dish.

Interestingly, Stewart's advice goes beyond the ingredients that you use in your tuna salad — the TV personality also has ideas about how you should serve it. To upgrade your tuna salad from a boring lunch to a delectable experience, plate it on a freshly made slice of bread. For a truly out-of-this-world treat, Stewart suggests using sourdough bread, as its tartness will contrast perfectly with the tuna salad's sweet and salty flavors. If you enjoy a little bit of spice, the cookbook author also recommends topping it off with a dollop of spicy Dijon mustard.

2. Gordon Ramsay: Use quail eggs and seared tuna

The thought of tuna salad on crackers may evoke childhood memories for some, but Gordon Ramsay's elite take on the recipe is a far cry from your typical school lunch. In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Ramsay shared his elevated tuna salad recipe and our mouths are still watering. According to the Michelin-starred celebrity chef, his ideal high-end tuna salad involves quail eggs and seared tuna. 

"First of all, get some ahi tuna and lightly sear it. From there, I would get a beautiful quail egg [and] lightly poach them," Ramsay revealed. The chef went on to recommend serving the combination on Triscuit crackers smothered in tapenade. To top it all off, the chef described that he would add, "a tiny little slice of French green bean salad with a quail egg that is runny in the middle."

The recipe might make you salivate, but not everybody will immediately understand Ramsay's choice to include quail eggs. However, the way that the TV chef sees it, the answer has everything to do with size: "It fits beautifully [on your Triscuits]," Ramsay pointed out. "The dimensions of the biscuit are these amazing little snacks — canapés — and they're sort of two-bite wonders. And quail egg cut in half sits beautifully."

3. Ina Garten: Choose high-quality tuna

Celebrity chef Ina Garten is known for keeping it simple. And, when it comes to perfecting your tuna salad, Garten suggests relying on the sublime simplicity of high-quality ingredients. In an episode of her Food Network program, "The Barefoot Contessa," the TV chef advised her viewers to use a certain type of tuna in their salads. "I'm starting with good tuna, and it's Italian tuna packed in olive oil," Garten shared. Apparently, the chef enjoys it for its taste profile: "I just thought it had really good flavor," she noted.

Although choosing high-quality ingredients can help you improve your meal, it is nevertheless important to know how to best put them to work. As Garten demonstrated in "The Barefoot Contessa," you can't just pop open a can of Italian canned tuna and dump it into your salad. Instead, Garten says that the tuna needs to be properly drained in a colander. For the best results, the celebrity chef advised not to drain all of the oil out of your fish: "You want some of the oil but not all of it." Once your tuna has the perfect consistency, you can use a fork to parse it into smaller pieces and mix it with the remainder of your salad ingredients. 

4. Giada De Laurentiis: Save the oil from your tuna can

Ina Garten is not the only celebrity chef who uses Italian canned tuna to elevate her recipe; Giada De Laurentiis also opts for it in her tuna salad. Unlike Garten who drains most of the oil out of her tuna, De Laurentiis has another strategy. In a video for the Food Network's Facebook page, De Laurentiis popped open a can of Italian tuna and poured the olive oil from the tin into a jar. "Save the olive oil to make a great dressing for later," the Italian American chef told her viewers.

To make De Laurentiis' specialty dressing, take the leftover oil from the tin and place it in a larger bowl. To balance out the liquid's fishy flavor, you'll need to add fresh olive oil to the mix. Then, you should throw in enough red wine vinegar to make your salad dressing two parts oil and one part vinegar. Per the celebrity chef's tips, you can grind in some salt and pepper to taste. In the end, De Laurentiis instructs viewers to mix the vinaigrette into the tuna salad, leaving plenty of time for the spongier ingredients, like white beans, to soak up the flavor.

5. Cat Cora: Fry your tuna salad to make croquettes

If basic tuna salad is too boring for your tastes, you might consider taking a page out of Cat Cora's book. The former "Iron Chef" star recommends turning your standard mayo-free tuna salad into some fancy tuna croquettes. In a video shared on Facebook, Cora started by shaping a handful of tuna salad into a patty. Then, she told her viewers to bread the mass before throwing it into a frying pan with hot oil. 

The best part about Cora's recipe is that you can play around with the ingredients. If you're in the mood for something bolder, you can toss onions and garlic in too. Alternatively, folks looking for more traditional flavors can add a handful of celery. You can even switch out the tuna for another type of fish. As Cora revealed in her video, "People make salmon croquettes and tuna croquettes. And it's just like making a crab cake, basically."

One benefit of making tuna salad croquettes, however, is the cost. Unlike salmon or crab which can come with a hefty price tag, canned tuna tends to be a more accessible ingredient. Cora even divulged that her family often used this recipe to make an amazing yet inexpensive dish. "We didn't have a lot of money growing up in Mississippi," the celebrity chef shared. She added that tuna croquettes were, "A family favorite."

6. Carla Hall: Serve your tuna salad in a lettuce bowl

When cooking, presentation can be everything — and Carla Hall knows it. The former "Top Chef" contestant suggests arranging your tuna salad to give it the top-notch aesthetic it deserves. For starters, Hall outlines how to serve your tuna salad in a bowl made entirely of lettuce. As she told the Food Network, "I think of this recipe as an inside-out tuna sandwich: a halved head of iceberg lettuce becomes two bowls for the tuna salad." 

To make the classic salad Hall's way, start by selecting a whole head of iceberg lettuce and slicing it in half. Next, hollow out the inner part of the lettuce to make a bowl. The result should be thin enough that you can actually fill the insides with salad, while still maintaining enough thickness to stand on its own. If you find that your bowl rolls a bit from side to side, Hall has a trick for you: "Slice off a sliver [of lettuce] from the rounded bottom to create a flat surface," the celebrity chef advised. For a particularly stylish plate of tuna salad, top it all off with a poached egg. Hall says you can also serve it with a side of toast points to give your meal a restaurant-quality presentation.

7. Rachael Ray: Substitute mayo for olive oil

Mayonnaise is not for everyone and Rachael Ray understands that. To make a tuna salad that's meaty — as opposed to creamy — the star of "30 Minute Meals" uses olive oil instead of mayo. On her personal website, the celebrity chef shared a strategy for adequately replacing the rich white spread: Add plenty of olive oil and lemon juice to your tuna salad. This combination accentuates the tuna's umami flavors, while the acidic flavor of the lemon balances out the saltiness of the fish. Meanwhile, the olive oil complements the natural fattiness of the fish. 

In addition to the fresh flavor, one of the benefits of mayo-free tuna salad is that it keeps well. According to FoodSafety.gov., you should throw out your mayonnaise if it's been at a temperature of at least 50 degrees for eight hours or more. Given that picnic lunches often take place on hot summer days, mayo-based tuna salad might not always be the best item to serve. 

The good news is that Ray's recipe is ideal for anyone hoping to enjoy tuna salad in the summertime. As per the TV personality's blog, "There's no love lost between Rachael and mayo! You'll never miss it in this tuna salad, and it's perfect for summer picnics since you don't have to worry about it spoiling."

8. Delia Smith: Make the salad chunky with white beans

While the spreadable varieties of tuna salad are certainly delicious, chunkier versions can be equally delightful. British celebrity chef, Delia Smith, suggests making a bulkier version of the dish, using whole white beans and larger pieces of fish. As per Smith's recipe, home cooks should whip up a batch of cannellini beans (or pop open a can), to serve over a bed of arugula. Rather than mashing the canned fish into these ingredients, Smith recommends breaking it up into bits to scatter over the salad.

Ultimately, Smith's take on tuna salad allows you to appreciate each ingredient individually, rather than only the combination as a paste. Her recipe gives you the chance to experience the strong peppery flavor of arugula, the nuttiness of cannellini beans, and the rich saltiness of tuna. Finally, the celebrity chef seeks to tie the flavors together with a lemon zest dressing. The citric element highlights each of the other ingredients, all while uniting them with one common flavor.

9. Bobby Parish: Use avocado mayo for a creamy flavor

Most classic tuna salad recipes involve copious amounts of mayonnaise. However, cookbook author Bobby Parish changes the flavor of his tuna salad by substituting this creamy condiment with an avocado-based alternative in a recipe he shares on his YouTube channel. Compared to traditional mayo, the avocado version is much fruitier and nuttier. Thanks to its avocado base, it also has a thicker consistency than the original. As a result, Parish's tuna salad is both dense and creamy. To add an extra burst of flavor to the final product, the YouTube chef suggests mixing spicy Dijon mustard into your creation.

Interestingly, Parish's recipe is not just delicious but also ultra-focused on incorporating the healthiest possible ingredients. Rather than tossing any old supermarket tuna into your mixing bowl, Parish suggests using skipjack or chunk light tuna. According to the celebrity chef, these two ingredients have the lowest possible mercury content. He also includes leafy green vegetables, like kale, to amp up the nutritional value of his tuna salad.

10. Valerie Bertinelli: Spice things up with jalapeños

If you are looking for a way to spice up your tuna salad, you might want to turn to Valerie Bertinelli for advice. The actress-turned-cooking-show-host adds hot peppers to her tuna salad as a way to give it a touch of heat. As Bertinelli divulged on her Food Network show, "I think an egg salad and a tuna salad is very personal. I like spice in it so I'm going to put some jalapeños in." This ingredient adds an earthy, green flavor to your tuna salad, all while providing that extra kick that so many people crave.

While fresh jalapeños are delicious, their spice level is so high that they can overpower the other flavors in your salad. To reduce the heat, Bertinelli suggests avoiding whole peppers and opting for pickled ones instead. "They're a little milder. They add a little bit of a spicy bite," she explained. As an added bonus, this type of jalapeños will contribute a briny taste to your creation. On her show, Bertinelli noted, "Because they are pickles, [these peppers] add a nice little tartness." The slightly sour and tangy taste blends well with other common tuna salad additions, like pickles and olives.

11. Alex Guarnaschelli: Spread your tuna salad across the entire bread

When it comes to enjoying a plate of food, first impressions matter. If your first bite of a meal isn't great, chances are you won't be as open to eating the next forkful. Luckily, Alex Guarnaschelli has a strategy to improve the quality of your tuna salad sandwiches: Spread your tuna salad to cover the entire piece of bread. On an episode of the Today Show, Guarnaschelli explained, "The thing is, you gotta make sure that you go to the edge of the bread because the first bite is the edge. It's like when people say the hamburger bun doesn't matter. The first thing you bite into when you have a hamburger is the bun."

Slathering the bread with tuna salad isn't all Guarnaschelli does to create a good first impression. The celebrity chef also adds BBQ-flavored potato chips to her tuna salad sandwiches. As she revealed on the Today Show, Guarnaschelli sprinkles crushed chips over the top of her salad before adding the bread. This curveball ingredient won't just add a salty flavor to your final creation — it will also bring some crunchiness to that crucial first bite. 

12. Nigella Lawson: Make a tuna salad antipasto with beans

While tuna salad is often considered a picnic treat, Nigella Lawson has another use for this delicious meal. According to the celebrity chef, it can also be an antipasto, also known as an Italian starter plate. To give your tuna salad this unique Italian twist, leave the mayonnaise and celery behind. Instead, parse some tuna into a plate of borlotti beans and top it all with a generous portion of high-quality olive oil. Finish it off by sprinkling salt and freshly ground pepper on top.

Although this flavor combination might not be familiar to everyone, in Italy, it is considered tried and true. In north-eastern regions, salads made of beans and fish preserves are so ubiquitous that you can find them in practically any bar or casual restaurant. As Lawson wrote on her blog, "This has always been the Italian antipasto." Per the chef, these ingredients also work together visually, giving you a vibrant creation. "I love the flecked terracotta of borlotti beans, giving you the colors of Tuscany on a plate," Lawson wrote.