A Different Take On A Tuna Noodle Dish

A Japanese-style noodle salad with canned (or jarred) tuna at its center.
A Japanese-style noodle salad with canned (or jarred) tuna at its center.

You can teach a person to fish.

Or you can hand them a can-opener to wield upon tins of tuna.

These days, the latter may be much more practical, given how canned (or jarred) tuna ranks right up there now with toilet paper, disinfectant wipes, and fabric masks, as commodities we apparently most value when we think the world is coming to an end.

If you’ve already had one too many tuna sandwiches or casseroles, then you’ll surely welcome this novel tuna dish into your arsenal.

“Japanese-Style Tuna Noodle Salad” is from Sam Sifton of The New York Times. He adapted this from a recipe from “The Tinned Fish Cookbook: Easy-to-Make Meals from Ocean to Plate―Sustainably Canned, 100% Delicious” (The Experiment) by Chef Bart van Olphen.

I’ve made many a Japanese-style cold noodle salad, topping them with crunchy vegetables, and sometimes grilled shrimp or chicken. But I admit that before now, I’d never thought about using canned tuna as the star of such a dish.

And yet, it’s both so obvious and so genius. After all, tuna is a workhorse in Japanese cuisine. Of course, it’s usually fresh tuna. But good-quality tuna in oil satisfies nearly as much as rosy, raw ahi.

It's time to do something different with that can of tuna.
It’s time to do something different with that can of tuna.

This recipe says to drain the oil from the tuna, but I like to leave a good amount of it to really coat the tuna in. Why waste all that luscious, wonderfully-infused oil, right?

Cook udon according to the package directions. Drain, and rinse well to stop the cooking and get rid of excess starch. I actually used Chlorella Udon Noodles, of which I had samples and have written about before. These dark green noodles, made from freshwater algae known as chlorella, provided the perfect springiness for this dish.

I like to add just a little more miso to this dressing than originally called for.
I like to add just a little more miso to this dressing than originally called for.

The noodles get tossed with a dressing flavored with sesame oil, canola oil, rice wine vinegar, mirin, soy sauce and miso. I actually like it with more miso, which I think gives the dressing a little more body and flavor. So, I add 1 tablespoon as opposed to the original 1 teaspoon called for. But feel free to add as much as you like.

The noodles also get garnished with dried wakame, which you need to soak in hot water first. I didn’t have any wakame on hand, so I just cut up some nori sheets in place of that.

To make the noodle dish a little more fun, I also like to add fresh cucumbers, radishes, edamame, and/or shiso leaves, if you happen to have any around. They add more crunch, and hits of varied flavors, as you dig in to get forkfuls (or chopstick-fulls) of chewy noodles bathed in a toasty, nutty, umami sauce along with bits of rich, robust-tasting tuna.

The recipe states that it serves 4. But if you have big eaters, it may serve only 2.

It’s a dish that takes little effort and time to put together, even on a whim, if you have a well-stocked pantry.

Best yet, it’s as far from Armageddon grub, as it gets.

Add extra garnishes of your choice, if you like.
Add extra garnishes of your choice, if you like.

Japanese-Style Tuna Noodle Salad

(Serves 2 to 4)

For the salad:

¼ cup cut dried wakame seaweed

8 ounces dried udon noodles (or whatever noodles you have on hand)

1 to 2 tablespoons furikake or sesame seeds

10 to 12 ounces tuna in oil, drained slightly

2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

Nori, cut into thin strips (optional)

Japanese cucumber, cut into thin slices or diced (optional)

Red radishes, sliced thinly (optional)

Shiso leaves (optional)

For the dressing:

2 tablespoons sesame oil

2 tablespoons canola oil

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon mirin

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 to 3 teaspoons sweet miso, to taste

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high, and set the wakame in a small bowl. Once the water comes to a boil, ladle or pour enough over the wakame to cover it by 2 inches; let the wakame soak for 10 minutes. Transfer the wakame to a colander to drain and cool; set aside.

While the wakame soaks, cook the noodles according to the package instructions.

Meanwhile, prepare the dressing: In a measuring cup or bowl, whisk to combine the sesame oil, canola oil, rice wine vinegar, mirin, soy sauce and miso; set aside.

In a small skillet, lightly toast the sesame seeds, if using, over medium-low heat until fragrant; set aside.

Drain the cooked noodles in the colander, then transfer to a wide, shallow serving bowl. Add the wakame and about 3/4 of the dressing, and toss to coat. Divide the noodles among 4 bowls. Top each portion with tuna, drizzle with the remaining dressing, then sprinkle with the scallions and furikake or sesame seeds. Set out nori, cucumbers, radish, and shiso, so everyone can customize their noodles to their liking, Serve hot, cold or anywhere in between.

Adapted From the New York Times recipe by Sam Sifton, who in turn adapted it from “The Tinned Fish Cookbook” by Bart van Olphen

More Canned or Jarred Tuna Recipes: Campanile Tuna Noodle Casserole

And: Spaghettini with Tuna and V8 Sauce

And: Tuna, Chickpeas and Broccoli Salad

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