How to Make a Tastier Tuna Fish Sandwich
An ever-ready sandwich standby, canned tuna is one of the 50 best-selling foods in supermarkets and the workhorse of kitchen cabinets everywhere. Warm it up, you've got a casserole. Put it on a cracker and it's an appetizer. Add some mayonnaise, celery and seasonings, slap it between two slices of bread and you've got one of the most popular sandwiches in America.Forget gourmet cheeses, imported mustard and organic seven-grain bread. Tuna salad on white bread (wheat if you're feeling sassy) is a quintessential comfort food: simple, inexpensive and an instant reminder of one's youth. Most people don't think much about the lumpy mix on their plate but, truth is, the taste, texture and success of your sandwich is destined long before the can is even cracked.Tuna in a can emerged at the turn of the century, cranked out by the California canning industry. Since then, it has undergone a tremendous transformation, and consumers still find differences among brands and even from can to can. Simply choosing from among the many varieties found on store shelves can be an enormous task. Keeping a few points in mind, however, can mean the difference between landing a super sandwich or one that just stinks. Start with the meat itself.Each tuna species has its own characteristic flavor and texture. Part of the mackerel family, tuna are found in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Albacore, the only white-meat tuna, is found in temperate waters, and offers firm, mild flesh. Albacore vary in size from 9 to 70 pounds and are caught by hook and line, minimizing the fish's ability to struggle and the resulting damage to muscle tissue.The light-meat yellowfin tuna comes from warm, tropical waters and can range in size from 10 to more than 200 pounds; the best for canning are from 30 to 70 pounds. The skipjack is the smallest but most abundant of the light meat species, ranging from 4 to 24 pounds and harvested from equatorial waters.Unlike albacore, 60 percent of the global tuna catch involves "purse seining," a process using a large net and revamped in recent years to spare the lives of the dolphin that often swim along with schools of tuna. Albacore is the most expensive tuna, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee the best taste. Albacore can be rather bland, while "light" tuna is probably skipjack or yellowfin and comes with a richer flavor.Hopefully, not much of that additional flavor comes from an array of up to 18 ingredients that can be added during processing. The label on a 6-ounce can of Bumble Bee albacore chunk white tuna in water lists a mouthful of ingredients including vegetable broth, hydrolyzed casein, hydrolyzed soy protein, salt and pyrophosphate. While not all of these ingredients are present in each can, even one addition can alter the fish's natural flavor. Texture affects taste, too. A quick scan along the shelves of canned tuna in the supermarket reveals solid, chunk and flaked varieties. Solid means a single piece that is packed whole, while flaked tuna comprises pieces broken off during processing, and flaked includes everything left over.Delicatessens serving a tuna plate open a can of solid tuna and turn it out onto a plate as is, encircling the perfect mound with lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. At home, however, it's a waste of money and time to buy a can of solid albacore tuna unless you truly need it to remain whole. Chunk works well in tuna casserole or over pasta, and flaked does the trick for sandwiches or pureed for sauce.Purists may prefer their tuna packed in oil, a condition not so easy to find anymore. Tuna was once packed almost exclusively in olive oil, but recent trends toward healthier eating have resulted in an about-face by the industry. Locally, most supermarkets carry not even one brand packed in olive oil.Wegmans carries a variety of Bumble Bee packed in vegetable oil, while Price Chopper stocks Chicken of the Sea in canola oil. Both have 110 calories, 50 of which are from fat; in contrast, water- based varieties run about 60 calories with 10 calories from fat. Some varieties, however, can pack closer to 90 calories, so don't assume your water-packed fish is low in calories or fat. Sometimes, however, taste and healthy eating do not go hand-in- hand.Taste-testers at The New York Times voted Progresso Light Tuna in olive oil the hands-down best in a recent sampling of 14 varieties of canned tuna. The judges celebrated the moist tuna's appealing look and smell...in fact, they waxed rather poetic. Alas, Progresso is nowhere to be found in the Syracuse area. Luckily, however, the Times' judges' No. 4 pick, Genova Tuna in Olive Oil, can be purchased at both Lombardi Fruit and Imports Co., 534 Butternut St., and Squadrito Foods, 412 Ash St. Tuna is high in protein, roughly equivalent with chicken, turkey and beef, and comparable in fat content with chicken and turkey. And it's cheap, too. Smart shoppers can find a 6-ounce can of water-packed tuna with a name brand like Bumble Bee or Star Kist for as little as 49 cents. Canned tuna with the best possible taste and appearance will cost a few more dollars (and calories), but remains a bargain compared to other sandwich fillings.