Experimenting with frozen tuna salad, plus a tuna sushi rice sandwich

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Few things are as easy to make or as tasty for lunch than a simple tuna salad sandwich. It’s one of my favorite things to make when I’m too busy or occupied for more involved cooking. But porting around tuna salad when the weather is warm can be a bit of a problem.

I’ve been experimenting with freezing tuna salad in different ways, or rather stages of development as it were, as well as different tuna salad mixes.

Keep the tuna salad simple

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I’m sure you have your own favorite recipe for tuna salad. For freezing though, it’s best to keep out any raw or watery vegetables, because they can turn mushy and soggy. So if you want to add the crunch of chopped celery or onions or pickles and so on, carry them along in a separate container and add them to your sandwich just before you eat. One thing that does freeze surprisingly well is capers, but those too are better added later.

It’s also important to drain away the water in water-packed tuna as completely as possible. The more watery your tuna is, the more it will become after defrosting. This isn’t an issue with oil-packed tuna, but I guess most of us are using water-packed tuna these days.

Basic tuna salad recipe

You might call this tuna-mayo.

  • 1 small (125g / 3 1/2 oz) can water packed tuna, very well drained (I cut the lid off completely, and use it to really squueze out the water.)
  • 3-4 tablespoons of mayonnaise, or as much as you want
  • Grind of black pepper
  • Pinch salt (optional)

Mash it all together to a smooth paste with a fork.

Tuna salad variations

Tuna salad with miso

My sister Meg used to work at the Toraya tea room in New York, and made a fantastic tuna salad plate with miso dressing. This is a tuna salad spread that takes those flavors.

  • 1 small (125g / 3 1/2 oz) can water packed tuna, very well drained
  • 2 tsp. white miso
  • 2 Tbs. mayonnaise
  • Squeeze of lemon
  • Grind of black pepper

Mash it all together to a smooth paste with a fork.

Tuna salad with anchovies and capers

This one is a bit salty, but delicious!

  • 1 small (125g / 3 1/2 oz) can oil packed tuna, very well drained
  • 3-4 oil cured black olives, pitted
  • 3 anchovy filets
  • 1 Tbs. capers
  • 2 Tbs. mayonnaise

Chop up the olives and anchovies very finely. Blend with the tuna and mayonnaise. Add the capers to the mix or sprinkle them onto the sandwich just before eating. (This is also great mixed pasta.)

Freezing methods

Once you have the tuna salad made, you can freeze it in a number of ways. (Don’t keep frozen tuna salad for more than a month if you can help it.) With all of the methods, the frozen tuna salad defrosts completely in a couple of hours, so it’s ready to eat by lunchtime.

Method 1: Freeze a batch of tuna salad

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Make a batch of tuna salad, pack into a ziplock bag, flatten out and freeze. Break off chunks as needed.

Pros: The easiest way to have some ready-to-go tuna salad. Due to the oil in the mayonnaise, the tuna salad doesn’t freeze hard, so you can just break off as much as you need at a time. Good for making tuna salad onigiri too! Just use a chunk of the frozen tuna salad as your onigiri filler. (You can also freeze premade tuna salad onigiri - as long as you keep them on the small side they will defrost to an edible state by lunchtime.)

Cons: Your hands get a bit fishy as you handle the tuna chunks. The broken off chunks may not be that neat (though when they defrost into tuna paste, your sandwich won’t even notice). You will probably want to wrap the chunks up in some plastic or put them in a bento cup (or cupcake liner) in a corner of your bento box.

Method 2: Freeze a whole sandwich

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Make a tuna salad sandwich as usual, wrap in plastic film or put in a ziplock bag.

Pros: You have a ready-to-go sandwich! Just bring along some crunchy/crisp vegetables like lettuce, tomato slices, cucumber…whatever strikes your fancy.

Cons: You can see the biggest problem with this in the photo: this frozen sandwich has only been out of the freezer for a few minutes, but there’s already condensation inside the plastic. Frozen sandwiches do end up a bit moist, though not to the point of being inedible provided your tuna salad filling is quite moisture-free.

Method 3: Freeze portioned tuna salad

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Divide the tuna salad into individual portions that are about the size of your sandwich bread. Wrap each portion in plastic wrap and freeze.

Pros: This is the neatest way to pack tuna salad. You can just pack one of the portions with bread and some veggies into a box and go. The frozen tuna salad will have defrosted by lunchtime, and will also keep your whole lunch cool.

Cons: You do use up some plastic film. If you use different shaped bread you’ll need to re-distribute the tuna salad on the bread, though that’s not a big deal.

For what it’s worth, I use method 1 the most, followed by method 3.

Tuna salad sushi rice sandwich

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Finally, here is a sort of tuna salad ‘sandwich’ (which is actually a variation of oshizushi or pressed sushi), using sushi rice instead of bread. This makes two or four ‘sandwiches’.

  • 2 cups warm rice (here I’ve used zakkokumai for added fiber and texture; you could use brown or white rice here just as successfully)
  • 2 Tbs. sushi vinegar
  • 1/2 cup tuna salad of your choice (I used the miso variation), freshly made or frozen
  • 1 Tbs. capers (optional)
  • 1 Tbs. finely chopped celery (optional)

Mix the sushi vinegar and rice together well, and let cool to room temperature.

Line a small square container (a freezer box, or a square bento box) with plastic film or kitchen parchment paper, with enough extra to hang over the sides. Spread out half of the rice evenly, with moistened fingers or spoon.

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Spread on the tuna salad - at this point you can add things like capers or chopped celery if you like. You could also use frozen tuna salad here, spread out as evenly as possible.

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Top with the rest of the rice.

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Gather up the plastic film or paper over the rice, and press down firmly and evenly with your hands.

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Take the rice sandwich out of the container, and slice right through the plastic film or paper into half or quarters. Keep the plastic or paper there, to protect the hands while eating.

You can make this with plain (not sushi) rice too, but I prefer the extra zing of sushi rice. Sushi rice also keeps a bit better than plain rice, due to the vinegar and salt.

This rice ‘sandwich’ can be frozen too! Cut it into pieces, and store in a freezer box or freezer bag. The pieces will defrost in a few hours, so can be packed as-is. (If you freeze it as a whole lump, it may take a bit longer to defrost.) If you do freeze it, leave out the capers and celery. Note that I do not normally like to freeze sushi rice but for some reason this combination defrosts fine.

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When I make tuna salad, I

When I make tuna salad, I usually throw in a handfull of uncooked oatmeal - it helps absorb the extra liquid and is virtually unnoticed by the eater. I wonder how much that would help with the wateriness upon defrosting?

freezing bread

Maki,

Here’s a little tip to prevent condensation from forming on the bread and making it soggy when it thaws: wrap the sandwich tightly in foil, then wrap it again in plastic or place it in a freezer bag before freezing.

I really like your idea of using rice as the “bread” element in a sandwich — very ingenious!

Onigiri

Heya, I love tuna salad onigiri… I like pickles a lot and from reading Lunch in a Box, supposedly pickled stuff helps prevent the rest going bad… so I usually add a lot of pickle relish =) I freeze them and before I pack my onigiri in the morning, I’ll microwave for 30 seconds, let cool, then pack, and it tstes wonderful at lunch time… haven’t gotten sick from this!

I love your sushi sandwich

I love your sushi sandwich didacticiel, I’ll give it a try.

i love tuna mayo & rice!

this is my favorite combo…i could eat it every day. i like the idea of adding oatmeal (comment #1) — good way to get a little fiber. So when rice defrosts…it’s texture is okay? if so, I will be freezing hundreds of onigiri right now!

As long as you wrap the rice

As long as you wrap the rice (or onigiri) very well (see freezing rice) and also defrost it well wrapped so it doesn’t dry out, it will be fine.

The rice sandwich idea is a

The rice sandwich idea is a pretty nice one. If I recall, McDonald’s has a burger out in Taiwan that uses rice as a bun.

One question: what do you think of using rice paper for wrapping up the rice sandwiches, instead of plastic wrap? I figure it’d be more convenient overall, since there’s no messy wrapper to fumble with, but how would it hold up with freezing?

I have not tried it, but I

I have not tried it, but I would imagine that it might not hold up well against the moisture of the rice. (I always used to dislike the taste of rice paper on candy and things when I was a kid - I know it’s edible, but used to peel it off anyway! So it wouldn’t be something I’d be eager to try…)

I like the idea of using

I like the idea of using sushi instead of sandwich bread; I think it would taste great with egg salad, though I’m not certain about freezing it. I’ve made egg salad a couple of times recently using soy mayo (since I like eating eggs whole rather than as ingredients), celery, mustard, and a little bit of miso, and I’m now curious how that would taste!

Re: Experimenting with frozen tuna salad, plus a tuna sushi ...

So when you unwrap the tuna rice sandwich the rice actually sticks together like bread? It looks so yummy, I just have to make it tomorrow :3

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