I have a reputation around here for unpopular opinions. I like black licorice, I love steak fries, and I extra love canned tuna or, as a former co-worker once called it, “human cat food.” But I won’t eat just any chicken of the sea—only the best canned tuna for me. Canned tuna is one of those low-floor, high-ceiling foods. Like signing Kristap Porziņģis, you could end up with glory and admiration or a total dumpster fire of a disaster. Fortunately, shopping for tuna is nothing like the NBA draft. There’s a lot you can learn about a can of tuna’s prospects just by standing in the grocery aisle. Here’s what to look for:
Find a brand you trust
When it comes to sustainability, you want to look for the words “pole-and-line-caught” + “FAD-free.” Pole-and-line fishing is supposed to prevent overfishing, and FADs are floating devices that help lure tuna to fishermen but brings in lots of other ocean species too, resulting in unnecessary bycatch. But, rather than scouring labels every time, get to know the brands that do it right. We like Genova, Tonnino, both certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and Bela and Ortiz, which are pole-and-line-caught off the European coast. You’ll pay a bit more than baseline, but remember the low floor: You can go very, very wrong.
Olive-oil packed or bust
There’s some dissension in the test kitchen about this, but I say, “Go olive-oil-packed or just buy chicken.” If your tuna is in water, all the flavor of your tuna is in that water. Oil-packing, on the other hand, seals in flavor and gives you some luxurious fat to work with. Just make sure the ingredients list says “olive oil” and not “soybean” or any other variety.
By “canned,” I mean “sometimes jarred”
While there is certainly good stuff that comes in a literal tin can, a lot of my favorite canned tuna brands sell their product in glass jars. Bela and Tonnino both come packaged in jars, which I like because you can see what you’re getting, and what you’re getting is big, firm pieces of fish. That’s nice for when you want to keep the tuna intact, like in a niçoise salad. But you can just as easily break it up into a tuna salad or pasta sauce. Versatility is the name of the game here.