If I told you that this tuna patties recipe converted my picky eater boyfriend from a canned tuna hater to a lover, would you believe me? Well, it's true! I've been eating canned tuna (usually in tuna salad sandwiches) my whole life, but could never get my guy to partake in anything canned fish related...until now.
These heavenly pan-fried morsels go by many names: tuna patties, tuna cakes, and tuna croquettes. Whatever you want to call them, they're delicious and super easy to make!
The basic recipe for fish patties works with any canned fish (think crab cakes). Wild-caught salmon is a popular choice (so yummy and healthy), but it's twice the price of tuna fish so I thought...hey, let's try it with an inexpensive pantry staple instead.
These tuna cakes turned out just as ahhh-mazing as the last batch of salmon cakes I made. They're crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, and bursting with tons of flavor from simple ingredients like onion, mustard, spices, and lemon zest + juice.
The One Ingredient That'll Take Your Tuna Patties From Ho-Hum to Stellar
Oh my gosh, the lemon! Citrus + fish is a classic combo, but an easy one to overlook when you're working with a humble can of tuna. Adding plenty of lemon zest and juice to the mixture really brightens all the flavors and makes everything taste SO fresh!
I love the lemon juice + tuna patty combo so much that I serve mine with plenty of lemon wedges on the side so I can squirt some on every bite. No need for a creamy dipping sauce when fresh lemon juice will do!
Tuna Patties: A Quick, Easy & Budget-Friendly Recipe
Why I love tuna patties (or any fish cakes, really) and why you should make them on a regular basis:
- they only require a few inexpensive ingredients that you likely already have in your pantry and fridge
- short prep & cooking time - they take about 20 minutes from start to finish
- the recipe is super flexible - swap out ingredients & use what you have
Say, for example, you only have canned salmon, fresh limes, and red onions. Use that instead. Or, you run out of panko breadcrumbs. Use another binder like your favorite flour (all-purpose, gluten-free blend, homemade coconut flour, homemade almond meal or flour).
Maybe you don't even have fresh onions. Just use plenty of onion powder or other savory spices. Most of the time I don't even use a recipe, I just eyeball all the ingredients.
However, I definitely recommend keeping some fresh citrus on hand just for this recipe. Trust me! Lemon and limes are inexpensive, have a bunch of uses, and really elevate the taste of canned tuna fish.
Healthy Meal Planning
These tuna patties are my go-to meal when I want a light dinner that won't take long to fix. I usually make one batch with two cans, form the patties, and cook only half of them at a time. I eat the patties for dinner that night with a large side salad, homemade coconut rice, and/or a roasted vegetable like green beans and save the other half for the next night. It only takes minutes to cook them so that sets me up for a quick easy dinner two nights in a row.
Of course, if you want to take the leftovers for breakfast or lunch, you can cook them all at once and reheat them for a few minutes or even eat them cold. And it's easy to double or triple the recipe if you're serving more people or meal planning for later in the week.
I recently bought a copy of The Total Money Makeover book by Dave Ramsey and started the envelope system for weekly/monthly food budgeting. This required me a fill out a weekly meal plan (eek!) and having easy inexpensive meals like tuna patties to rely on at least once a week really helps me stay on track!
Looking For More Tuna Fish Recipe Inspiration?
Check out my post 17 Ideas For Using Canned Tuna and 70+ Recipes to Try for even more fresh, yummy recipe ideas.
The Best Tuna Patties
A quick, easy, and budget-friendly recipe for tuna patties that are crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, and bursting with tons of flavor from simple ingredients like onion, mustard, spices, and fresh lemon.
Yield: 10 patties (will vary depending on size)
2 cans (5 oz) of tuna in water, drained (I prefer wild-caught albacore)
2 eggs (local and/or pastured eggs taste the best!)
1/2 a yellow onion, diced
1/4 cup of green onion, thinly sliced
1 lemon (zest + juice)
2-3 teaspoons of mustard (I prefer spicy brown)
1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning
Sea salt, to taste (I love THIS or THIS)
Black pepper, to taste
1/2 + cup of panko bread crumbs* (OR coconut flour, almond meal or flour, regular breadcrumbs, etc.)
1-2 tablespoons of cooking oil (I typically use California olive oil or coconut oil)
For Garnish (optional):
1-2 lemons, cut into wedges (for squeezing on top of the patties)
homemade dipping sauce (like aioli or remoulade)
Note: The amount of breadcrumbs (or whatever binder you choose to use) needed will depend on the size of the eggs and lemon you use. If they're bigger (and produce more liquid) then you may need to add another 1/8-1/4 cup of binder to help the patties hold together. When you form the patties, if they hold their shape you're fine. If they start falling apart around the edges, add more binder at little at a time before re-shaping.
zester (I LOVE this one)
Peel and chop the onion, slice the green onion, and zest the lemon. Drain the tuna. Combine all the ingredients except the eggs and panko breadcrumbs in a mixing bowl. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings to your taste. You may want to add extra spices or lemon juice.
When it tastes to your liking, add the eggs followed by the breadcrumbs (or whatever binder you choose). If the mixture is falling apart or too moist, add in extra breadcrumbs until it holds its shape. Form the mixture into small patties until it's all used up (the amount you get will vary based on how small/large you make them).
Heat a skillet to medium and add a tablespoon of cooking oil. Let that heat up a minute then gently place the patties in the skillet. Unless you have an extra large skillet, you'll probably have to do two batches. Cook for 3-5 minutes on the first side (or until it forms a nice golden crust), carefully flip the patties with a spatula, add more oil if necessary (if the pan gets too dry) then cook 2-3 minutes more, or until that side is crunchy and golden, as well.
Serve immediately with plenty of fresh lemon wedges or your favorite dipping sauce. Store leftovers in an air-tight container and use with 3-4 days. You can also form the patties ahead of time, store them in the fridge, and cook them the next day.
Need more recipe inspiration? Check out my recipe index for more simple real food dishes.
I'd like to hear from YOU!
What's your favorite dish that uses canned tuna (or fish)? Do you have any tips or tricks for using this ingredient to make frugal, quick recipes? Leave a comment below. :)
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