Spreadable Tuna Mousse Recipe

In spite of my reputation for serving guests only the finest cuisine I can muster up, I invited a friend for lunch yesterday and thought I could foist my can of salade Niçoise off on her, and I would be efficient and multitask with trying a recipe from a book I just finished.

Her visit, and my can of…um…salad?….presented me the opportunity to try The Spreadable Tuna Mousse from Mediterranean Summer by David Shalleck.


But then I opened the tin, took a look inside, and…”bleech!

Ever the optimist, I dumped my fancy feast in my mortar and pestle anyways.

But the bottom looked even worse than the top—which you’ll just have to trust me on since I felt uneasy subjecting you to photos of both. It was a real Mediterranean bummer and certainly not Nice…or even niçoise-ian by any definition (unless Nice is full of stinky fish sludge, with chunks of greasy vegetables mixed in.)

The tuna on top looked relatively decent but the bottom was layered with starchy potatoes, flaccid green beans, and Lord knows what else. And when I took a tiny nibble, the whole thing had the appeal of eating an acidulated, well-used tennis sock soaked in oil you wouldn’t even put in your car, then packed up in a can and foisted off on some unsuspecting American to write about on his blog.

Which explains how they sold one. But what are they going to do with all the rest?

So I scraped it out and dumped it all, sterilized my mortar and pestle in the autoclave, burned some sage to clear out the bad spirits from my kitchen, and ran to the store to get more tuna.

(I know, I could’ve opened my other two tins, but I think I had enough tuna-tinged excitement for one day.)


But unlike the salad-in-a-can concept…and as you can see above, France has some much more appealing versions of tuna-in-a-can…I did take a shine to the book Mediterranean Summer. It’s the story of a self-professed, slightly-cocky American restaurant chef who goes to Europe to learn about cooking, but ends up getting an education far exceeding what he originally bargained for while cooking on a private yacht in the Côte d’Azur and cruising Italy’s Costa Bella over the series of a few summers.


After a couple of pages I was cent percent absorbed in his story, from how he got a tongue-lashing (and firing) from the formidable Nathalie Waag just after his arrival in Provence to learning the ropes, so to speak, cooking in a cramped galley on a private yacht for his very demanding Italian clients.

The stories about procuring ingredients and learning to tailor what he was doing was a diverting page-turner as well as an unconventional story about how someone finds his way as a chef. His ultimate education comes from learning to find the best ingredients from the regions they travel through and presenting them using techniques he picked up from various stints in Italian and French restaurants. All in hopes of his ultimate approval—from the demanding family he’d been hired to cook for.

But one thing he wasn’t prepared for was having to learn to be ready for anything at a moment’s notice, from an impromptu sit-down dinner on-board for one hundred guests served on the finest finest china, or heaping plates of fresh pasta at 3 am for partied-out vacationers, who snap him out of his deep slumber after cooking all day. All in a tiny galley. So he kept a pantry of good-quality tinned items and one was oil-packed tuna. (He was smarter than I, though, and kept his tinned tuna purchases to ones with greater potential than mine.)

My one quibble with the book was that the recipes were in a separate chapter in the back of the book and I thought it would’ve been nice if they were where they appeared in the narrative. But with all the problems in the world right now, if that’s my only problem that’s pretty pathetic. So I’m letting it go.

The Spreadable Tuna Mousse was the favorite recipe of la Signora, the woman who was his boss on the boat, a pillar of Italian wealth and privilege who teetered around the yacht in Chanel pumps. Heck, if it’s good enough for her, it’s good enough for me.

The Spreadable Tuna Mousse
Print Recipe
About 1 1/2 cups
Adapted from Mediterranean Summer (Broadway Books) by David Shalleck, forward by Mario Batali. David didn’t call for any garlic in the recipe since his upscale clients put the kabosh on it…perhaps so they wouldn’t have tuna and garlic breath at the same time with their fancy friends. But next time I make it, I might pound in a small clove, preferably roasted, and to heck with anyone else around me. I also livened it up with a pinch of smoked chili powder for good measure. My local supermarket only had miettes de thon in sunflower oil which is flaked dark tuna but I definitely recommend following his instructions and using good-quality tuna packed in olive oil for best results. This is a fabulous recipe to have in your repertoire and can be made from ingredients most of us already have on hand.
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
10 ounces (280g) olive oil-packed tuna, drained
1/8 teaspoon pimente d'Espelette, or a nice pinch of chili powder
5 tablespoons (70g) butter, salted or unsalted, cut into cubes
2 tablespoons heavy cream or crème fraîche
1. Mix together the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice.
2. In a food processor or mortal and pestle (which I used) process or pound the tuna until it’s broken down but not smooth. Mix in the liquid seasonings and process or pound until the mixture is smooth. Add the chili powder.
3. Add the butter bit by bit, adding each cube only after the previous one has been incorporated. If using a food processor be careful not to overdo it as the heat from the machine can cause the butter to melt.
4. Add the cream or crème fraîche just until it’s incorporated. Although he advises that this should be served near room temperature, I found it’s a bit more appealing served chilled. Either way, serve it along with small toasts or crackers, or a sliced up baguette. I could imagine it as an excellent spread in a sandwich along with some slices of tomato, chopped black olives, and a tangle of peppery arugula too.
The mousse can be refrigerated, well-wrapped, for up to three days.

Although he advises that this should be served near room temperature, I found it’s a bit more appealing served chilled. Either way, serve it along with small toasts or crackers, or a sliced up baguette. I could imagine it as an excellent spread in a sandwich along with some slices of tomato, chopped black olives, and a tangle of peppery arugula too.
The mousse can be refrigerated, well-wrapped, for up to three days.


  • Mila
    August 30, 2007 2:46am

    That first photo reminded me of cat food.

  • August 30, 2007 3:59am

    So you shop at Monoprix – I’m now going to hunt you down. See the brunette with huge sunglasses in the corner; well it’s me!
    I might not need Pierre but I need you ;)

    This mousse sound very appealing; must have some for lunch.

    Love xxx
    – fanny

  • August 30, 2007 4:25am

    I think your fancy tuna cans must remain Warholish art pieces.

    OTH, when you next step foot into Italy, try a tin of tuna Palmera in olive oil. There are fancier tunas, but I like the taste of this one and it isn’t ridiculously expensive.

  • August 30, 2007 4:42am

    Yum! I can’t ever imagine actually allowing rich people to boss me around that way, but I could imagine reading about it. And eating this.


  • August 30, 2007 8:23am

    You open THAT can and you take me to task for trying Rigatoni alla Pajata in Rome? Let alone that you even BOUGHT the can! Bah!


  • August 30, 2007 8:24am

    HandtoMouth: I don’t know. I think a lot of men might fantasize about a sleek Italian woman, wearing Chanel pumps, bossing them around.

    liz: I know. Unfortunately I only could get dark tuna, but I think it’s more appetizing-looking if made with light tuna. My friend who came for lunch raved about it, though, so don’t let me less-than-optimum photo dissuade you.

    Dan: As a humble gift to my dedicated readers, I bought the salad in-a-can to show them that not all of French cuisine is haute.

    What was your excuse? ; ~) xo

  • August 30, 2007 9:23am

    You should post a warning before posting a picture like that. I almost tossed my breakfast and I haven’t even eaten yet. Yikes! You need to make up for it with a nice picture of chocolate.

  • Kara
    August 30, 2007 10:32am

    Tuna Mousse looks absolutely yummy especially sitting next to that perfectly baked baguette!

  • August 30, 2007 10:37am

    Kara: You’ll notice I dumped the first can of salade Niçoise in the poubelle.

    Friends don’t let friends eat Monoprix’s salade Niçoise.

    Even with a nice twisted baguette!

  • August 30, 2007 10:38am

    ahahh, the look of this can indeed! I remember these, or the type of! Very popular to buy prepared salads like this, conditioned in a can! ;-)

  • August 30, 2007 11:21am

    EW! That tin looks … ew. Sorry, that’s the only description I can conjure right now. Are you certain it wasn’t pet food? Like salad nicoise flavored gourmet cat dinner?

    Good thing that you wisely tossed it and ran out for something edible.

  • Brian
    August 30, 2007 11:23am

    Hi, David.

    Is there a chance this could be tasty made with salmon?

    Wish I could have seen your class in Austin,

  • August 30, 2007 1:27pm


    It is an honor to have my book reviewed on your site. Thank you!

    On the tuna, may I suggest some from Europe that I see on store shelves and on the net-

    Ortiz; Flott; Consorcio; A’s Do Mar; Ormaza; Serrats; Callipo

    And if one uses “bonito”, even better!

    Great call on adding the Espelette chili.

    Here’s another idea… try the tuna in large pieces on butter lettuce and top with Dijon Vinaigrette that has some chopped anchovy or pitted Niçoise olives (to taste) added to it.

    To Brian, yes, salmon works fine. Poach some fillet, then proceed as per the recipe.

    Oh, one other note, the pumps had to be taken off before ascending the passerelle. Teak decks don’t take well to pointy heels or dark soles that scuff.

    Regardless, it’s all a good look.

    Bon Appétit!

  • Bruce
    August 30, 2007 4:52pm

    David, that can of tuna looks like it belongs in “Steve, Don’t Eat It.”

  • August 30, 2007 5:17pm

    I read David’s book earlier this summer and really enjoyed it.

    I did not enjoy seeing the first photo as I tried to eat my lunch. The Italian word for disgusting “fa schifo” comes to mind.

  • August 30, 2007 7:06pm

    I’m shocked you even went near that can of “Nicoise salad” after making fun of it so much! Did it make your stomach hurt afterward? Haha, I love your description of the oil “that I wouldn’t even put in my car.”

  • Khadijah
    August 30, 2007 9:27pm

    Sorry that I had to leave this comment here. But I have a question on an older post regaring Pain d’Epice you had at a bakery. I am wondering if there are any good recipe(s) for chocolate-covered gingerbread similar to that.

    Thank you,

  • The Friend That Came To Lunch
    August 31, 2007 4:53am

    The Tuna Mousse was really great! (it wasn’t screaming for garlic as far as I could tell, but it wouldn’t hurt to try that) I had it for dinner the next day.*

    And just in case anyone thought that he was just a great pastry/dessert chef, nope he rocks the savory too!

    *Note: Doggie bags/small jars, are available at Chez David

  • Steve G
    August 31, 2007 5:13pm

    We made a yummy tuna spread the other day from Paul Bertoli’s (Bertolli?) cookbook, which involved poaching fresh tuna in olive oil with garlic and chili flakes, then making a mayonnaise with the poaching oil and mixing in the tuna. I’m surprised les dammes Italienes liked their fish with butter and cream–they probably didn’t even realize!

    For whatever reason, we couldn’t for the life of us get an emulsion started with the tuna laden olive oil, so after a few attempts we started it with fresh oil and then added in the tuna oil. Yum.

    Off topic: I made sorbet the other day, and used vodka, salt, and paper towels to clean the freezer funk out of my ice cream maker bowl. No more taste of stale freezer ice in my ice cream, and no planning ahead to defrost the bowl, wash it, and refreeze it! Previously, I thought water + paper towels would work to wipe it out, if I was just fast enough–not! I ended up with chunks of frozen paper towel all over my ice cream maker and a derailed menu plan. This could obviously be adapted for high proof alcohols that better match the ice cream or sorbet recipe at hand, but vodka has the advantage of being cheap, neutral, a good cleansing agent and it doesn’t freeze…

  • Jane
    August 31, 2007 8:20pm

    Oh quit beating yourself up, for heavens sake.
    If you were in a boat, a la The Old Man and the Sea, stuck with nothing to eat but a can of that Nicoise and a can opener ( thank you lord…) it would have been JUST FINE!

  • Jacquline Dee
    November 10, 2009 4:33pm

    I just made this with a few minor/major adjustments. I took the advice and bought a can of tuna in olive oil (the only variety at the store was yellow fin) and instead of balsamic i used a really good ruby port wine, it was a predominant flavor but not over powering and it was SO GOOD :) i put the butter in the freezer for 15 minutes before blending and made sure to chill all of the ingredients and utensils because our food processor is not fantastic in the keeping cool department and heats up very easily.


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