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April 6, 2009 12:31 PM   Subscribe

How do I make the tuna sandwich from sandwich places?

I hate eating sandwiches at restaurants because I can make 99% of their menu at home. Eating a dip dish pizza, sushi, all sorts of rich thick complex dishes, or even really good french fries are fine because I can't make this kind of stuff at home without specialized equipment. I also don't want to spend two to three hours to prepare something that I will eat in about fifteen minutes.

I am totally prepared to pay whatever restaurants want so they can take the burden of buying the specialized equipment and spending the time making it. No problem.

But when I eat a tuna sandwich, I am totally disgusted with myself. I'm watching them make my sandwich which really doesn't save me time. I'm basically consenting to a 250% markup so I can get the convenience of not making a sandwich.

I hate that.

But I continue to go back to Subway, Jersey Mikes, and other specialty sub places because I LOVE the taste of their tuna sandwiches.

How the hell do they make it?

I use the same breads, condiments, toppings, salads, cheeses, everything....but I still can't recreate their tuna sandwiches at home. I can easily recreate a turkey sandwich, roast beef sandwich, or any other classic subs.

I have used cheaper tuna, I have used albacore tuna, I have used wierd ass Italian tuna that comes in jars. Its all tasty...but it doesn't have the taste that I get from sandwich shops.

When I see them peel that cellophane top off that that plastic bucket at subway with an ice cream scooper, and stick their half-protected arms into that slop my stomach goes "oh no. you ain't gonna eat that ish". But I do. I eat that ish like its the ambrosia of the gods.

What the hell are those secret ingredients in the sandwich slop that makes me keep coming back? Its not just at Subway, its pretty much at any specialty submarine/hoagy/sandwich shop.

I've used all sorts of mayo, chopped celery, spices, dressing...but I have still not gotten it correct.

What is the trade secret?

Thanks guys.
posted by hal_c_on to Food & Drink (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
pickle relish.
posted by andshewas at 12:34 PM on April 6, 2009

When I worked at a sub shop (named above), we got giant cans of very cheap flaked tuna. Then we squeezed out all the water by hand. And then we rolled it between our palms until it was nothing but little shavings of tuna. Then we added enormous amounts of light mayo. And stuck the thing into the fridge, usually overnight, because we did the prep in the evening. That's it. Nothing else, unless the customer requested it be added to the sub.
posted by acoutu at 12:36 PM on April 6, 2009

mayo and SWEET pickle relish, and maybe a bit of chopped onion, celery is fine, but doesn't add much taste, only more crunch...
posted by HuronBob at 12:36 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm going to guess that the biggest difference is that tuna salad in fast food restaurants contains way more mayo than you are putting in yours. It's so delicious it must be 50% mayo or some other unconscionably high figure that you can't bring yourself to achieve at home.

Think about the texture of the restaurant stuff: it's not chunky like the kind one makes at home. It's more of a gluey substance, a homogeneous viscous liquid. That suggests to me a much higher proportion of the binder and a much lower proportion of the actual "food."
posted by pluckemin at 12:41 PM on April 6, 2009

Dry tuna, equal parts miracle whip and Hellmans mayo, let sit overnight, add celery, salt and pepper.

posted by Grlnxtdr at 12:41 PM on April 6, 2009

posted by molecicco at 12:41 PM on April 6, 2009

Old Bay. Light mayo/miracle whip, half dill/half sweet relish, flaked tuna, and some Old Bay. You can add celery if you want crunch, but then again you can add potato chips. Also consider swapping out some of your mayo/whip for ranch dressing.

Once you get your proportions to taste, you can make a big tub of it on Sunday night and have sammiches all week long.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:44 PM on April 6, 2009

I would say that the difference with most restaurant food would be much more fat and/or sugar and/or salt.

So here, I would say that acoutu and pluckemin have it. In other dishes, it's like the extra stick of butter they put in (I think it was Bourdain, in his rant about vegetarians or something who said that restaurant patrons probably consume a whole stick of butter over the course of a full restaurant meal.)
posted by Pax at 12:50 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Re: MSG -- That was my second thought because pretty much any time something savory is extra-delicious it contains MSG, but after consulting the Subway ingredients list it appears that their tuna salad contains only tuna, mayo, and salt, and their mayo does not contain MSG.

So I'm going to continue to say that this is purely a ratio issue and not a missing ingredient issue. MSG or relish or any of these other things might yield a delicious tuna salad, but they won't replicate the taste of sandwich shop tuna salad.
posted by pluckemin at 12:51 PM on April 6, 2009

Just enormous quanities of mayo are what do it, in my experience. Basically like equal amounts mayo and solid white albacore. I also like to add chopped celery and parsley -- one stick of celery per two cans of tuna, chopped real fine. And a pile of chopped parsley that is as large as the pile of chopped celery. Nothing else: just those four ingredients.

I say this after having spent nearly three decades with tuna salad as my favorite food ever. I have stowed away aboard the Good Ship Mercury Poisoning and crossed the Great Cat-Breath Ocean to bring you this recipe.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:51 PM on April 6, 2009 [7 favorites]

Key point is that the tuna mayo combo has been mixed for hours before you get it in your sandwich whereas if you do your own chances are you mix and add to sandwich and eat.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:54 PM on April 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

We didn't add salt to the tuna mix -- it must have been in the can. However, I was working in Canada and the owner also instructed us to never add oil, even if asked, because Canadians would puke, even if they thought they wanted it. He said it was "an American thing". So we might have skipped the salt, since it wasn't on the QA test.

But, really, it's about the amount of mayo. I used to think that a savvy person would just order a veggie sandwich with 1/2c of mayo, since that would be cheaper and probably end up the same.
posted by acoutu at 12:59 PM on April 6, 2009

Yeah, go nuts with the mayo and let it sit overnight. You'll find that the tuna juices--which are mostly water--get mixed in far better with the mayo--which is oil-based--if you let it sit for a few hours.

This, coincidentally, is also how you make top-notch chocolate chip cookies: resting the dough gives the ingredients sufficient time to mix.
posted by valkyryn at 12:59 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

By the way, for all of you making tuna salad at home, I strongly recommended adding some chopped onion and red bell pepper. Once you've tried it you won't be able to go back.
posted by dfan at 1:00 PM on April 6, 2009

acoutu, no I meant you were right with the mayo. I said the salt and sugar and fat thing in reference to "most restaurant food." Here, the answer would be fat, whereas for some other dish, a restaurant might add an extra ton of sugar or salt.
posted by Pax at 1:04 PM on April 6, 2009

My guess is that alot of places use miracle whip as opposed to real mayo.
posted by scarello at 1:05 PM on April 6, 2009

When my friend worked at Subway (this was around 15 years ago, but from what I can tell, the tuna subs haven't changed much), she said they blended the tuna with the mayo in a food processor. Maybe this whips it a bit while it chops the tuna chunks down to teeny tiny pieces?

I do have to say that I've noticed that the Subway tuna tastes different at different Subways, and the one near my current apartment uses a lot less mayo than other Subways that I've been to.
posted by AlisonM at 1:06 PM on April 6, 2009

Another comment for adding a ton of mayo. Check out the nutritional info on a 6 inch tuna sub at subway -- it's got more calories from fat, more fat, (and just 10 fewer calories) than a freaking Big Mac.
posted by inigo2 at 1:08 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Add in some seasoned bread crumbs.
posted by mikepop at 1:10 PM on April 6, 2009

I find "their" tunas to be darker than abacore, so I would go for the cheaper canned tuna. Let it drain really well. I asked which brand mayo my favorite deli uses and was told Kraft, tried it and have been a fan ever since. Here's where I think the difference is: let it sit after mixing it. It has had time to combine flavors. I feel like there is extra onion powder sometimes too, though onion is an ingredient in mayo. I like sweeter tuna (with m/whip or relish) but that's not what you get at chain sandwich shops.

As a side note, if you like relish, try jalepeno relish or a blend of the two. Celery and chopped apple is pretty good too.
posted by kgn2507 at 1:11 PM on April 6, 2009

I'll Nth the mayo, but part of it, as people have noted above, is letting it sit for a while. Tuna mix for sammiches take a while to blend the flavors. The stuff you eat at the sandwich shop has been sitting there for hours, if not overnight. You really dont need more mayo than to combine all your ingredients, but give it some resting time.

Personally I prefer chopped onions, red bell pepper, and dill pickle in my tuna sammich but your tastes may vary - or what dfan said.
posted by elendil71 at 1:17 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Subway tuna salad is made from water-packed chunk light tuna and something called "extra-heavy" mayonaise, which I have never seen anywhere other than in the back of a Subway.
posted by longsleeves at 1:30 PM on April 6, 2009

Oh, and at the time when I was in a position to know, the water was squeezed out of the tuna by hand quite thoroughly before mixing with the mayonaise, again using bare hands.
posted by longsleeves at 1:34 PM on April 6, 2009

They use more fat than you do, that is the universal restaurant "secret." If you like it their way up your mayo. If you want something more upscale you have already gotten lots of good suggestions here.
posted by caddis at 1:36 PM on April 6, 2009

I have stowed away aboard the Good Ship Mercury Poisoning and crossed the Great Cat-Breath Ocean to bring you this recipe.

Thanks for the laugh! You can use a potato ricer to really get the last drop of water out of the tuna.
posted by torquemaniac at 1:54 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

A little honey has been the secret ingredient in many a tuna sandwich for me. So good. Doesn't take much.
posted by kingbenny at 2:43 PM on April 6, 2009

add some yellow curry - goes for egg salad as well. It may not taste like subway, but it will taste awesome.
posted by shrimpsmalls at 2:55 PM on April 6, 2009

msg plays nice with tuna.
posted by Infernarl at 6:01 PM on April 6, 2009

Everything everyone said above. Also, you can make it better than restaurants if you have a toaster oven. Set it to broil so that only the top heating element is on, and throw in your sandwich with some pepperjack. Let the pepperjack melt on the tuna -- it's magic.

Oh, and salt and pepper in the tuna itself -- makes a difference.

Oh! And Trader Joe's tuna -- the one that's in olive oil. It's a bit pricier than the stuff you'll find at big box stores, but it's like 10x better tasting and higher quality.

Greg Nog joked about it, but be careful with how much tuna you consume -- mercury poisoning is over 2 cans/week away.
posted by spiderskull at 8:15 PM on April 6, 2009

It needs to sit, preferably overnight. Just adding more mayo makes it taste more like mayonaise, not like restaurant tuna salad. It's the sitting that makes the ultimate difference.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:56 PM on April 7, 2009

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