To food editor Shilpa Uskokovic, when it comes to home cooking, cheap is the greatest compliment. Each month, in What a Steal, she’s sharing a highly craveable recipe—and showing us how to save some $$$ along the way.
Perhaps you’ve been wise to the joys of canned fish for quite a while, in which case, more power to you. For any doubters out there, let me—a former disbeliever—try to convince you.
Canned tuna is reliable: It’s there, sitting in the pantry for months at a time, ready to become a last-minute lunch or dinner when you’re short on time or money. And it’s cheap, so blessedly cheap. A 5-oz. can at my local store in New York City goes for somewhere around $3. I’ve paid more for an avocado, for heaven’s sake.
A shapeshifter, canned tuna is capable of becoming a satiny sauce one day, a chip-laden casserole the next, or an old-school sandwich any time. To amp up its mild flavor, here are my tips: First, choose oil-packed over water-packed; the texture of the fish is meatier and the flavor more rich and rounded. Next, treat it right. You can’t just add a glob of mayo and expect it to taste good. Some aggressive seasoning is in order.
In these onigiri, a dab of sriracha and the zest of a whole lemon rip through the fish and mayo, making it come alive. BA staff writer Ali Francis took a bite and asked, “Wait, what’s in this?” A lot of lemon. The gargantuan quantity makes the tuna feel bright and fresh. Strong flavors are important in all cooking, but especially budget cooking (just ask this gingery tofu scramble or these zucchini-laden sausage rolls).
Onigiri double down on thrift because they’re built on a bedrock of wallet-friendly, always-available white rice. Spring for a Japanese brand of sushi rice such as Nishiki. It cooks up just sticky enough, making the onigiri easier to shape; domestic brands tend to yield drier grains. If you can’t be bothered shaping triangles, don’t feel bad about putting the rice, tuna salad, and furikake on the table, so everyone can shape their own.
Cooking with less should never feel stingy and Scrooge-like. That’s why these onigiri are unconventionally large, packed with half a cup of rice and almost a quarter cup of tuna salad per portion. They’re generous and filling, almost lavish, inviting you to take a moment to enjoy the process of cooking and eating.
Also, I just want to say sorry to all the tinned fish I once turned my nose up at. I was wrong and you are worthy of every praise. Signed, a former skeptic.
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