As college students, we run into a lot of issues when it comes to food. Do we order in delivery, cook on our own or eat at a dining hall? We run into a lot of time, supply and financial constraints. When I stayed over summer in Ithaca, I found that cooking was often far too time-consuming.
I am a pescatarian, so if I want to eat something involving fish or other seafood, I need to spend hours of preparation on things like defrosting and cleaning the fish, and I need to acquire a bounty of supplies like ginger, spices and other curing ingredients. It was just really difficult to manage my food and budget — until I came up with the idea to use canned tuna.
Typically, we think of tuna in the context of tuna salad or tuna steaks. But tuna is actually an extremely versatile ingredient. I prefer to think of canned tuna as the seafood version or ground pork or turkey: they can all be utilized in an array of stir-fry dishes.
Canned tuna has countless virtues. For one thing, canned tuna is ubiquitous; you can go to any Cornell supply store, like Noyes, and find canned tuna in stock. Canned tuna also has a long shelf life, so it’s something you can buy without worrying about it spoiling.
The dish I’ve managed to develop with canned tuna is a basic stir-fry with onions, cabbage and canned tuna. It’s a versatile dish that pairs well with any type of grain staple.
The ingredients list is pretty bare: cabbage, onions, canned tuna, salt and pepper.
My favorite part about this dish is that no oil is necessary, if you choose a brand of canned tuna that’s stored in vegetable oil. I typically eyeball proportions, but in general, one can of tuna works well with a whole onion and a quarter head of cabbage.
The stir-fry does well with smaller pieces of vegetables, so I typically dice the onions and cabbage into tiny chunks, roughly the size of a penny. After you open up the tuna can, all the prep work is done.
You’ll want to use a medium size pan over high heat. You can use the lid of the tuna can to strain in the vegetable oil directly to the pan. Once the pan heats up, toss in the onions and a pinch of salt and lower the heat to medium. As the onions turn yellow to golden brown, stir in the drained tuna can and continue mixing the ingredients.
After about a minute or so, pour the cabbage into the pan. There’s a few tricks involved with cooking in the cabbage. The first is to sprinkle a little bit of salt and flip the cabbage to the bottom of the pan. You can also cover the pan with the lid to help the cabbage release some of its juices. With all the ingredients in the pan, season the dish to taste and continue cooking until the cabbage texture is to your liking.
With that, the college-style tuna surprise is done. If you’re feeling adventurous, spruce up the dish by adding diced carrots, mushrooms or even an egg at the end. The stir-fry on its own is very tasty, but you could also use eat it on a sandwich or toss it with some noodles or rice. My favorite variation is with mushrooms, cheese and rice.