Tuna macaroni salad is one of those satisfying pasta recipes that you just crave sometimes. When that desire for macaroni salad with tuna comes over you, only the best will do! Open yourself up to the blissful delight of this tuna macaroni salad, king of all tuna salad!
Let me tell you when the chicken of the sea meets the salad of Southern gatherings – something magical happens! It’s hearty and nutritious despite being incredibly delicious and pretty darn irresistible! This dish offers a jovial and inviting quality to friendly backyard BBQ’s, family get-togethers, picnics, and potlucks.
Tuna macaroni salad has so many wonderful characteristics. It has a thick creamy dressing with a slightly sweet zesty quality that pleases the palate. Plus, there are so many nutritious veggies and herbs that offer a welcome variety of textures and add layers of yummy flavor! I love that this dish is bold enough to stand on its own but can also enhance any meal.
- Comes together in a few easy steps
- Protein-packed and nutritious
- Delightfully delicious
- Totally adaptable recipe
(I just love a dish that makes people smile)
Letting this pasta salad rest in the fridge for a bit before serving allows all the flavors to get acquainted and mingle into one superbly cohesive flavor bomb. It’s not required but it does help.
As your pasta salad rests, it will soak up some of the scrumptious tangy dressing. This is a good thing because it will turn the macaroni into little flavor bombs that enhance your tuna macaroni salad. If it is too thick for your liking after resting, simply add a little milk or water one teaspoon at a time and stir until you reach the desired consistency.
Even though I use fresh herbs in this recipe, I also like to garnish my pasta salad with them before serving. Dill is my favorite for this dish. It’s hard to improve on perfection but tossing some fresh dill on your tuna macaroni salad makes it so beautiful and inviting.
This recipe calls for frozen petite peas. I have tried other kinds, and these seem to work best. They are sweeter and can stand up to the folding and mixing of the tuna macaroni salad. Other kinds seem to get too mushy.
I prefer to use fresh herbs in this pasta salad because they are so fragrant and delicious. The fresh herbs just add so much aromatic flavor to this tuna macaroni salad. That’s just my personal preference, though. Dried herbs will work just fine if that’s what you’ve got!
Red onions are the bomb in this salad but if you don’t have them, others will work just fine. Green onions actually make a fantastic substitution and I have also used Vidalia onions!
Don’t forget that this pasta salad calls for 16 ounces of pasta and 3 cans of tuna fish. If you are cutting or doubling the recipe (especially the pasta), you’ll need to adjust the tuna and the dressing as well.
Making tuna macaroni salad is so simple but there are a few things that can take it from great to incredible!
First, make sure you put plenty of salt in your pasta water. This will give your pasta some flavor. It absorbs the water as it cooks and if the water is salty, it will help infuse flavor into your pasta before it ever hits the salad. Otherwise, you could be in for a snoozer of a dish.
Cooking your pasta al dente is also important. Typically, it takes around 7-9 minutes, but the time may increase with the amount of pasta you’re making. Al dente pasta is still a little firm in the middle. You want to avoid mushy pasta for sure!
That also means you should rinse your pasta in cold water after draining to stop it from cooking. This will help keep your pasta from getting mushy and it will wash away some of the starch that makes it stick together. This practice is typically taboo but it is necessary for cold pasta salads.
Chopping all the veggies roughly the same size is another way to polish up your tuna macaroni salad. It allows people to get a refreshing variety of flavors and textures in every bite.
Can You Freeze This?
Nope. Unfortunately, you can’t freeze this one but there’s never enough left to freeze anyway. You can make it ahead of time, but your tuna macaroni salad should just rest in the fridge until you’re ready to serve it.
The cream-based dressing and fresh veggies are no match for freezing temperatures. They are just never quite the same after they thaw.
How Long Can You Keep This?
Cream-based pasta salads will stay fresh in the refrigerator for about 3-5 days, according to the USDA. Store your this in an airtight container with a secure lid. If you don’t have room for that big bowl in your fridge, then a couple of 1-gallon Ziploc bags work just fine.
Sometimes, I like to divvy mine up into single-serve portions for lunches later in the week. It must still be properly stored but its also easier to grab and go on busy weekdays.
Keep in mind that mayo-based pasta salads have special handling instructions for food safety when serving unrefrigerated for any length of time, such as get-togethers and potlucks. Here’s more about that from the FDA and Food Network.
There are so many things you can do with this tuna macaroni salad it is simply amazing. This is such a flexible recipe and its so easy to adapt to suit any personal taste or dietary restrictions.
For instance, you can substitute Greek yogurt for the mayo in this recipe to add a little more tang and up the protein factor. You may need to add some additional seasoning if you do this but its necessary to season cold dishes aggressively anyway.
Adding some Roma or grape tomatoes is a nice way to brighten up this robust tuna macaroni salad. I like to quarter them or cut them in half when I add them, so they aren’t too big.
Using fresh tuna steak is another really nice way to polish up this pasta salad but it does cost a little more. I’ll tell you though, it is out of this world with those fresh tomatoes!
What Are The Other Seafood Options?
Those tiny, savory little popcorn-sized shrimp make a pretty incredible salad and it goes fast when you serve it! It also makes a fabulous weekday lunch if you can manage to save some. It’s so satiating and what a mid-day treat!
Can I Switch Tuna With Other Protein?
Of course, you can! Just keep in mind that you may need to adjust the seasoning too. Chicken macaroni salad is a nice alternative that also gives you plenty of options. Use white meat, dark meat or a combination of both. I love making chicken mac with rotisserie chicken because it just has so much flavor.
For my vegetarian friends or those who just aren’t interested in meat, try my macaroni salad with egg. It is a complete protein that adds such a nice texture variation. (That’s why there are hard-boiled eggs in the tuna macaroni salad)
Can I Make This Salad With Tortellini?
You can if you like. I find that the elbow pasta, tubini and ritoni work best for this recipe because of their size and shape but if tortellini salad is your thing then go for it!
You can also take things in a completely different direction and make a tortellini pasta salad. It’s a hearty pasta salad that eats like a meal and it’s a staple in my kitchen. It’s got plenty of savory meat and cheese with some crisp veggies and a wholesome dressing that makes your taste buds stand up and pay attention!
Can I Change the Dressing in This Recipe?
Making pasta salad with Italian dressing is a popular option. Not everyone likes a cream-based pasta salad and sometimes the occasion just calls for something different. I get it. You can also go with a pesto pasta salad that incorporates plenty of fragrant herbs and rich olive oil for a sophisticated pasta salad that is hard to resist.
What Are Some Other Mix Ins?
You can almost put anything your heart desires in this tuna macaroni salad. I’ve seen people throw in a half a can of black beans, sun dried tomatoes or even feta cheese.
This recipe calls for bread and butter pickles but if you want something a little different you can make a dill pickle pasta salad. It has a secret ingredient that yields a surprisingly scrumptious and addictingly delicious concoction. Just wait until you try it!
Tuna Macaroni Salad
- 1 (16 ounce) box elbow pasta
- 4 (12 ounce) cans tuna, in water, drained
- 1/4 cup sliced bread and butter pickles, rough chopped
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, rough chopped
- 1 cup celery diced
- 1/2 cup red onion diced
- 1 red bell pepper chopped
- 3/4 cup frozen petite peas thawed
- 1 cup fresh parsley chopped
- 1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
- 1/4 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup whole milk more as needed
- juice and zest of 2 lemons
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 1/2 salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried dill
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
- 3/4 cup red chopped onions diced
- 1/2 cup celery diced
- 1/4 cup bread and butter pickles sliced
- 1/2 cup parsley chopped
- 3 hard boiled eggs chopped
- 1 zest of lemon
- 1/4 cup peas
- 1/2 cup red pepper
- Cook the elbow pasta according to box directions, in well-salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water. Cool to room temperature.
- To a large mixing bowl add all the salad ingredients.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients. Pour over salad and toss together until everything is well coated.
- Chill for 6 hours or overnight. If the dressing is too thick, add milk, a tablespoon at a time, until you reach desired consistency.
- Spread out salad onto a serving platter. Top with garnish and serve!
There are so many delicious pasta salad recipes, it can be hard to choose which ones go on the menu, but this tuna macaroni salad is at the top of the list! It’s rich, savory and slightly sweet with plenty of veggies and a handcrafted dressing that just takes it to the next level! Of course, there are other options that are pretty good too. Here are some of my favorite pasta salad recipes for you to try.
- Southern Macaroni Salad
- Hawaiian Macaroni Salad
- Classic Macaroni Salad
- Easy Macaroni Salad
- Chicken Pasta Salad
Making tuna macaroni salad is about more than just satisfying a craving or taking something to the potluck. This is a dish that brings people together and makes them smile. I don’t know what it is but there has always been something special about tuna macaroni salad. Perhaps that magical moment that takes place when the chicken of the sea meets the salad of Southern gatherings spills over to greet all who enjoy it.