Can My Tuna Sandwich Habit Be Sustained?

I love a tuna sandwich. It reminds me of my childhood. They take me right back to my mother’s kitchen. Because tuna sandwiches were never found in the lunch pail. Nope, they were weekend lunches, made by my mother and eaten within seconds of leaving the can. I was not a fan of mushy bread and my mother knew this.

My mother used lemon and celery and sometimes bits of sweet pickle or hard-boiled egg, and of course she used plain ole Star-Kist. Because as a kid I really liked Charlie and his efforts on behalf of that company! Such a riot watching him wanting to get caught! Only to hear the disappointing phrase “Sorry Charlie only good tasting tunas get to be Star-Kist

But these days tuna is a tricky choice. Do we choose light tuna or white tuna. Are they the same thing made to sound different by marketing pros? Could it be that one is packed in water and the other oil? Or are they just different fish. Is one a greater risk of mercury than the other?

I have heard that “white” tuna is albacore. And that “light” is pretty much anything else. Can anything else include fish that’s not really tuna? Could it include non-sustainable varieties such as longline yellowtail or bigeye? Should I support companies that harvest tuna in an irresponsible manner? How do I know what’s what and who’s who?


American TunaThere is a brand out there called American Tuna (it’s less known than the big players but it’s available at Whole Foods) they are trying to bring us a healthy canned albacore tuna that is pole-and-line-caught and harvested in a socially responsible way. But have you seen the price of that stuff? Yikes, sometimes I just can’t make myself pay it. Still, I try to support them when I can afford it.

So I have come up with an alternative. I am not saying it’s a cheaper alternative to American Tuna, but it puts me in charge of the tuna decisions and allows me to know just what I am eating and why. It’s still a tuna sandwich. It may not be the tuna sammy of my childhood because it’s a rather sophisticated take on this lunchtime classic. But man is it a good sandwich.

I make it with Atlantic pole-and-line-caught Ahi. Which to be clear is American Yellowfin. Not Yellowtail.

You have to be very careful when choosing Ahi. Some places slap the label of Ahi on any deeply red “sushi grade” tuna. It can also be labeled Maguro or Toro, further confusing things. Meaning you may think you are buying a product that Seafood Watch rates as “Best Choice”, but in reality, you are getting something else. In some cases a fish that is being eaten into extinction, or caught using longlines which result in large bycatch of threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks, and seabirds.

There are health reasons to demand pole-and-line-caught yellowfin as well. Due to the nature of the practice, smaller fish are caught. Which means they will have significantly lower levels of mercury. Because one guy with a pole can’t lug the really big fish from the sea, the kind that has been absorbing mercury for decades.

Now Mr. Charlie Tuna need not worry too much, I am not giving up on my mom’s tuna sandwiches. But I think you’ll agree this sophisticated, gourmet version of an enviornmentally sustainable tuna fish sandwich has room on my lunch plate if not my lunch pail.

Ahi Tuna Sandwich serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe


  • remains of a tuna sandwich1 pk (3.5 oz) smoked fish such as trout, mackerel or herring
  • 2 t wasabi
  • 1⁄2 c mayonnaise
  • 2 T rice vinegar
  • 1 T relish
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 T old bay seasoning
  • 2 ahi tuna steaks (u.s. Atlantic yellowfin)
  • 1 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 1/4‑inch dice
  • 1 T chives, minced
  • 8 slices rustic bread, toasted
  • tomato slices, to taste (optional)
  • lettuce leaves, to taste (optional)

Make the dressing: Drain the smoked fish of any liquid add it to a mixing bowl and mash it up with a fork. Mix in the wasabi, mayo, vinegar, relish, salt, pepper, and Old Bay. Make sure this is fairly runny– less creamy than the mayonnaise alone. Taste to adjust seasoning.

Prepare an ice bath. Heat a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Season the Ahi well on  both sides, lay the steaks in the skillet, they should sizzle. Sear them fast, about 2 minutes per side. Take them off the heat when the center is still red, and immediately submerge it in the ice bath for about one minute. Remove the fish and thoroughly dry it. When the Ahi is cool, use a very sharp knife cut the fish into fairly even pieces less than 1/2 inch square.

Add the tuna cubes, lemon juice, celery and chives to the dressing mixture until just combined.

Serve it as a sandwich on toast with lettuce and tomato, or as a salad with the toast on the side.


Greg Henry