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Must-Try Tuna Substitutes: 5 Top Picks for Delicious Dishes

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If you’re looking for a sustainable seafood option that can be prepared in a variety of ways, look no further than tuna.

But how do you pick the right kind of tuna, and how can you substitute it when it’s not available?

Cooks Illustrated is here to show you that cooking and using tuna does not have to be intimidating; swaps like halibut, sardines, mackerel, sardines, and salmon are all nutritional powerhouses that bring a distinct flavor profile and popular recipes to the table.

Let’s explore these five ingredients in depth to understand why they make such excellent tuna substitutes.

What is Tuna?

Tuna, a common fish known by many, is often prepackaged as canned tuna or sold fresh or frozen.

While species commonly referred to as tuna include skipjack, yellowfin, and albacore, bluefin tuna is the most prized in the sushi industry.

A mild flavor and firm texture make it perfect for grilling, baking, or searing.

When buying canned tuna in supermarkets, opt for light tuna over white; while less flavorful than its counterpart, it has far fewer levels of mercury and other contaminants due to targeting smaller fish.

Regardless of whether you prefer your seafood cooked or raw, tuna makes an excellent main course when accompanied by classic sides like rice or potatoes.

The 5 Best Substitutes for Tuna in Recipes

If you’re looking to make a variation of your favorite tuna dish, there are many great alternatives that will add flavor and texture to any recipe.

Here is a list of the five best substitutes for tuna in recipes:

1 – Canned Tuna

Canned tuna is a convenient and versatile addition to any pantry.

It’s budget-friendly, comes in various sizes, and is shelf-stable for an extended period of time.

A tried and true pantry staple, canned tuna boasts a mild flavor and firm yet flaky texture – perfect for adding to salads, burgers, or casseroles.

Even the most avid seafood aficionados use canned tuna as a suitable substitute for fresh when time or money is short – it only takes 15 minutes to prepare.

All in all, canned tuna is a great way to get your fill of healthy protein without breaking the bank.

2 – Halibut Steaks

Halibut steaks, cut from the firm white flesh of the Pacific halibut, are a tasty alternative to all sorts of other seafood steaks.

They have an appealing flaky texture and delicate flavor that pairs nicely with bolder sauces, making them versatile enough to accommodate numerous appetites.

Halibut steaks can be grilled, broiled, or even pan-seared and served with a light sauce or condiment.

While they are less common than more popular fish like tuna steak, they can easily be substituted for fresh tuna in dishes like ceviche and salads.

With a buttery rich flavor and delightful texture, halibut steaks make for an excellent main course for any dinner party.

3 – Sardines

Sardines are tiny fish with amazing flavor and exceptional nutrition.

Often canned sardines consist of gains of around 2 – 6 inches long and have a mild, pleasant taste.

Its firm yet the flaky texture is surprisingly pleasing when eaten straight from the can.

In terms of its health benefits, sardines contain omega-3 fatty acids, which aid one’s cardiovascular system, as well as large amounts of vitamin D, calcium, and iron.

They also provide an alternative to fresh tuna for those unwilling or unable to purchase it.

Substituting sardines in recipes such as fish burgers or tartar requires no adjustments once minced; just substitute sardines for whatever recipe calls for fresh tuna, and you’re good to go.

4 – Salmon

Salmon is a versatile, nutrient-dense fish that is a perfect addition to any meal for its flavor and nutritional benefits.

With a mild flavor and firm texture, salmon has become popular worldwide for its many complex flavors.

This fatty fish is an excellent source of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and is high in Vitamin D.

Additionally, salmon provides vitamins A and B12, selenium, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium.

As an alternative to fresh tuna, grilled salmon works nicely in sandwiches or salads.

You can substitute half the tuna in dishes such as casseroles or pasta with smoked or poached salmon, which will provide a nice smoky accent while still making you get the seafood benefits.

5 – Mackerel

Mackerel is an incredibly versatile and flavorful fish that often gets overlooked.

It is a particularly popular choice in Japan, where its rich oil content is highly valued, but the Mediterranean region also has a long-standing tradition of making mackerel dishes.

Mackerel has a distinct flavor, but its taste tends to vary depending on the type – Atlantic Mackerel has more of an earthy flavor, while the king and Spanish mackerel have a stronger oily essence.

Mackerel’s texture is firm with small flakes, so it has great potential as either an entrée served whole or fillet or even in ceviche and salads.

If you are looking for something to substitute tuna, mackerel works very well when sautéed because it maintains the same tenderness as fresh tuna when cooked over medium heat for about 4 minutes per side.


In conclusion, tuna can be a great go-to for simple, delicious meals that are sure to please even the pickiest of eaters.

However, there are plenty of other fish and seafood options available when you want to switch things up.

Canned tuna, halibut steaks, sardines, salmon, and mackerel are all excellent substitutes that bring a unique flavor profile to the table and boast their own health benefits.

With a little creativity, you can create delicious dishes that vary from the traditional tuna recipes and make mealtime a fun and exciting experience for everyone.

The 5 Best Substitutes for Tuna in Recipes

Recipe by Kimberly Baxter Course: Substitutes


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  • Canned Tuna

  • Halibut Steaks

  • Sardines

  • Salmon

  • Mackerel


  • Choose your preferred substitute from the list of options.
  • Organize all of your ingredients.
  • Use the proper substitute to cook your recipes.

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