If you follow me, guys (if ya don’t, please do!) you probably know all about my baby Sis, the one I’ve poached so many recipes from. I told her I was updating this post on Tuna Cakes (originally posted in 2012) and do ya know what she said? Do ya? “Blech!” Not the word, the sound! Thank you, Liz!
I confidently told her if she tried my Tuna Cakes (or Tuna Patties if you prefer) she’d love them. She wasn’t convinced. Maybe I can convince you!
About Tuna Cakes:
If you like Tuna Cakes then you already know that it’s one of those “If you know, you know” things. We’re talking beautifully flavored with lemon, red bell pepper, celery, and onion. Tender, creamy and soft inside and enveloped with a crispy coating of golden brown breadcrumbs on the outside.
Let’s put it this way – these are not your Momma’s Tuna Cakes – unless I’m your Momma. Or unless you use my recipe! These Tuna cakes are right at home on a Friday night at the kitchen table, but they’re good enough to pass as crab cakes’ little cousins. Well, maybe the poor little cousins, but little cousins just the same!
What to Serve with Your Tuna Cakes:
Must haves to accompany – IMHO – are freshly squeezed lemon and if you’re looking for a bit of spice, my New Orleans Remoulade Sauce. That recipe is coming soon, but in the meantime, why not check out the Remoulade on my Shrimp Po’ Boys or on my Fried Green Tomatoes?
Serve these, as I used to for my kids, with Mac N Cheese and a vegetable side, maybe carrots, corn, beans, or broccoli – tuna cakes go with just about anything. Or give them an upscale look with a simple but gorgeous leafy green salad and serve as a light meal. You just can’t go wrong.
You can make them big or small, flat or rounded. Heck, you can even put them on a toasted bun. Now how good would that be?
Making Tuna Cakes:
Tuna cakes are easy, but there are a few little steps. Trust me that every step is there for a reason. Just follow along carefully and you’ll have success!
See, the tuna is wet from the can, so those steps are to add just enough filling in the form of dry breadcrumbs and just the right amount of other moist ingredients to balance that and add tons of flavor.
Make sure to take a sec and squish a little of the tuna before the veggies are added, then add the veggies. That will help them hold together. After everything is mixed, squish a bit in your palm and see if it holds together (it will be loose but should have some cohesion.) If not, add a few more breadcrumbs.
Form the cakes, gently plop them on more breadcrumbs (hold a few breadcrumbs back for the very end) and let them sit in the fridge for at least 15 minutes but an hour is so much better! If there is no time, try freezing for a few minutes.
They’re still going to be very soft right out of the fridge. Pick each up and make sure there are crumbs coating everywhere; add a few more if needed and if there are too many crumbs, let them drop off. Place them carefully in the pan (make sure to leave plenty of room between each cake so you can easily move them with a spatula and not bump and deform the ones around it. And be careful removing them so they keep their shape.
Options for Tuna Cakes:
- I love the combo of veggies in these tuna cakes, but consider nixing the onion and subbing in either chives or green onion instead, and you can’t go wrong if adding garlic if you’d like to.
- No bread crumbs? Try cracker crumbs or oatmeal instead. Start with the same amount. Add more or more crumbs if needed.
- Try a Caribbean twist to these. Use lime, a little hot pepper, and cilantro in the cakes and serve them with something like a papaya-mango or even pineapple salsa, with a little Chile Lime Mayo on the side.
- The same recipe works wonderfully with Salmon, too – scale the ingredients in proportion to the number of ounces in the Salmon vs. the Tuna.
Storing and Reheating Tuna Cakes:
With items like this that have a crumb coating, I cool them to room temperature first, then move them into a container and place them in the fridge. Only when they are fridge cold do I cover them. It helps keep condensation from forming and keeps them as crispy as possible.
They’ll keep well for three to four days. Reheat in the air fryer, oven, or for quick but less than stellar results, in the microwave.
How much and what kind of Tuna is safe to eat? Check out this handy calculator by Colin Dunn of Planet Green. Hint: light tuna has much lower levels of mercury than Albacore.
- Buy the majority of your seafood, either canned or frozen, during Lent when the prices are low. Watch for minor sales on some seafood and fish before Christmas and New Year’s and around Valentine’s Day, although plain ol’ tuna may not be in those sales.
- The colored bell peppers, red, orange, or yellow? Yeah, they tend to be super pricey. When making a recipe like this that relies on so many pantry ingredients (that hopefully have been bought on sale), think about timing to match the sales prices on those peppers.
- If you’re buying bread crumbs, that’s fine. I’d go for Panko, but the price is stunning for what you’re getting. Make your own! They’re fresher and always work beautifully. Check out my post on Homemade Bread Crumbs.
- Condiments are always going to be at a low during the summer holiday sales. Stock up for the year. If you miss that opportunity, check around the Superbowl – it’s your hail Mary!
If you’re curious about what are going to be the best bargains to stock up on before or during any particular holiday, check out my post, Win at the Grocers. You’ll find links to each of the major food holidays with lists of what to pick up and what to leave behind during their sales cycles.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes plus chill
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours
- Yield: 6 Tuna Cakes 1x
- Category: Main
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided (may need more)
- 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 1/2 small onion, finely diced
- 1/2 small stalk celery, finely diced
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 4 (5 ounces each) cans of tuna, or about equivalent from larger cans, drained very well
- 1 1/4 cup toasted bread crumbs, divided (may need slightly more to go into the mixture or to coat the cakes)
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
- Lemon: squeeze of lemon juice; about 3/4 teaspoon for the tuna and slices or wedges for garnish
Add 1 tablespoon oil to a small skillet and heat to medium-high. Add the vegetables, salt, and pepper and saute vegetables until tender and picking up just a touch of color. If necessary (the vegetables are becoming too dark and dry before they’re tender, add a small amount of water and add the lid to steam them. Watch them closely and do make sure any water is evaporated. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.
In a small bowl, add the tuna, 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, mayonnaise, mustard, and lemon. Stir and mix well, lightly mashing a little of the tuna. Fold in the cooled vegetables. Squeeze a small amount of the mixture. It should lightly hold its shape. The mixture will firm up as it sits (next step) but if too wet add a few more crumbs and if dry, a little more mayonnaise. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Spread the 3/4 cup of bread crumbs (hold the rest back in case needed later) on a large dinner plate (add additional salt and pepper if desired.) Using 1/2 cup scoop or measuring cup, divide tuna mixture into six balls and place right on top of the bread crumbs. Gently press into a thick patty/cake shape and turn to coat the other side with bread crumbs. Put in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes and preferably an hour so the mixture can firm up. This will help them to hold together. If there is no time, try freezing for five minutes.
When ready to cook, place the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a non-stick skillet and heat to medium. Gently press each of the cakes, making sure they’re well covered with crumbs on both top and bottom. Use your reserved crumbs if needed. The cakes will be very soft so handle gently. As each cake is picked up, let any excess crumbs fall away. Place gently in skillet, working in batches if needed and adding oil if needed. Do not crowd; cakes are very soft and can be damaged with adding or removing if there is not enough room. It’s best to place in skillet and not move until the crumbs are golden brown.
Cook two to three minutes per side until lightly browned and crunchy. If the cakes fall apart, gently press back together with the spatula.
Garnish with lemon if desired.
Keywords: Bargain Meal of the Week, breadcrumbs, Eggs, Fish and Seafood, Freezes Well, leftover Salmon, leftover tuna, Make Ahead, Salmon, Tuna.