How Julia Child Elevated Her Tuna Salad Sandwiches

Julia Child may be best known for her rich French cooking — she famously said "If you're afraid of butter, use cream" — but when it came to lunch, she was decidedly more down home. And while she had no qualms about complicated recipes, she also had a knack for kitchen shortcuts. Many of her cooking tips and tricks are simple additions that give dishes a big boost in flavor and texture without a lot of added work. For instance, Julie Child's smart way to dress potato salad is using a bit of the water you cook the potatoes in to help bind the dressing — and she has a few helpful ideas for tuna salad sandwiches as well.

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Her go-to tuna salad for sandwiches is similar in approach. She added a few simple ingredients to canned tuna to elevate the lunch dish from mundane to sublime by enhancing both the flavors and texture of the salad. Author Dorie Greenspan, writing in The New York Times Magazine in October 2020, recalled a lunch Child made for her when the two were collaborating on a project years earlier that consisted of "a great sandwich, full of unexpected flavors."

Lemon, capers, and cornichons add flavor and crunch

Julia Child started her lunch dish with canned tuna in oil, rather than water, a choice we wholeheartedly agree with. Our top pick for canned tuna is the Ortiz white tuna in olive oil, which is perfectly seasoned and has a rich flavor — it's just one of the canned tuna brands we ranked from worst to best. From there, Child mashed the tuna with mayonnaise and added a variety of ingredients that gave the salad brightness and crunch.

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Greenspan recalled that the dish had lemon juice and vinegary cornichons, for "sharpness," plus salty capers, onion, and celery. These last two were finely chopped and gave the salad "crunch." This recipe isn't labor intensive by any means, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't make time for the needed prep work of chopping the ingredients. This is just one of Julia Child's cooking tips that make every meal a work of art. Other additions to her tuna salad included salt and freshly ground white pepper. Even though Child loved homemade French style mayonnaise, which is (not surprisingly) richer, for her tuna salad she preferred store-bought Hellman's mayonnaise.

Julia Child's unusual bread choice for her tuna sammy

Once Julia Child had finished preparing the tuna salad, she sliced tomatoes and onions. According to Greenspan, her preference was for Vidalia onions, which are sweeter and milder than other varieties. Child also chose soft lettuce for this sandwich. In a somewhat unusual bread choice, Child liked to serve her tuna salad sandwich open faced on a toasted English muffin. Again, she had a specific brand she preferred over others. In this case, it was Bays. This Chicago-based company has been around since the 1930s and was McDonald's go-to brand for the Egg McMuffin when the restaurant chain launched its breakfast sandwich back in the 1970s.

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Child would sometimes prefer her tuna salad on a closed sandwich, in which case she again went for a store-bought product over something homemade. She used Pepperidge Farm white bread, according to Greenspan. So next time you're craving a tuna fish sandwich, take a page out of Child's book and toss in a few extra ingredients to take your lunch to the next level.

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