canned tuna
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Can You Heat Canned Tuna? – And Other Canned Fish

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Canned tuna is one of the easiest foods to work with. It has so many uses – from adding it to salads to making up some Tuna Helper and then some. How do you best like your tuna?

There are a million and one recipes out there for making foods with tuna, and what’s better is it is rather inexpensive to use.

Canned tuna is not the same as fresh tuna, obviously, it has had to undergo some form of processing in order to be canned effectively. 

However, that does not negate how useful canned tuna is. Like tuna, there are many other canned fishes as well. You can get multiple types of canned fish, not just tuna and they all serve their own unique purposes. 

The question is, can you heat up canned tuna and other types of canned fish? Will they taste ok if you heat them? The good news is you can heat up canned tuna and other canned fish, but you may need to be cautious in doing so. We will get into that a little deeper here shortly. 

In this guide, we’ve put together everything you need to know about canned tuna (and other canned fish) and we will walk you through all of the details for heating and using your canned fish and what you might be able to expect from the process. 

Keep reading to learn all of those important details for canned tuna and more. 

Your Guide to Canned Tuna

Canned tuna certainly has a number of uses. I know what you’re thinking, fresh is always best. And you’re right, in most cases fresh is definitely best but don’t push canned tuna away for that motto. 

Canned tuna and canned fish in general really has a lot to offer, and there are many ways to ensure that your canned tuna or fish gets put to the best use so you can enjoy the flavor without having to worry that it simply won’t be good. 

You do want to make sure you get quality canned tuna though, my absolute favorite can actually be picked up from Amazon.

Here are some common recipes that call for canned tuna:

  • Tuna salad sandwiches
  • Tuna as a meat in salad
  • Tuna casserole
  • Tuna Helper 
  • Tuna pasta salad
  • Macaroni & Cheese with tuna
  • Various pasta dishes
  • Tuna patties
  • Bean salad
  • Homemade sushi rolls

See? The options are endless and with these canned tuna dishes, you won’t know the difference between canned tuna or fresh tuna. 

Now here are some recipes for using other canned fish as well:

  • Fish cakes using canned mackerel
  • Escabeche (a Spanish dish) using canned mackerel
  • Salmon dip using canned salmon
  • Chowder using any canned fish (salmon recommended)
  • Quinoa with any canned fish (salmon or tuna recommended)
  • Salmon patties using canned salmon
  • Sardines for sandwiches
  • Beer battered fried sardines
  • Spicy Asian rice bowl with sardines
  • Pizza with anchovies
  • Pasta can be made with any canned fish
  • Canned smoke trout mixes great with avocado for a toast topping
  • Canned smoked trout or canned salmon work great in salads

Again, let me point out that this is just a short list of examples of things you can do with your canned tuna or other canned fish.

Many of these dishes use the canned fish straight from the can. In some instances, you will be heating the canned tuna or fish as part of the dish. 

Canned Tuna or Fish Process

When it comes to working with canned tuna or fish and determining how to heat it without jeopardizing flavor, you should know what you are working with. 

For instance, is tuna or fish pre-cooked when it is canned? How could the canning process affect your cooking process when you use these items in your recipes?

Tuna and most canned fish is cooked before it is canned. This means you could actually eat it straight from the can with no cooking if you so desired.

canned tuna

Here is the process that canned tuna goes through before it is canned. 

Canned tuna is heavily cooked before canning. Some might say that it is overcooked because it is heavily boiled.

Why is it cooked like this? Because the goal is to eliminate microorganisms that could lead to bacteria and unwanted side effects. 

  1. Canned tuna and other fish starts out fresh at some point. The fish is caught by some form of fishing vessel and delivered to canneries for further processing. Most of the time, fishing vessels freeze the tuna to maintain it until it is delivered to the cannery. 
  2. The frozen tuna is then offloaded into the cannery and stored cold there as well until it is further processing. 
  3. The tuna is sorted out by size and weight to keep like fish together. This helps with the processing as there are specific regulations and guidelines to meet. Sorting sizes and weight allows for the best end results. 
  4. Before anything is done to prepare the tuna for canning, it is inspected for quality. Additionally, many canneries also inspect the vessel in which the tuna was delivered to determine things were done properly before delivery as well. 
  5. The tuna is then thawed in large water tanks before they are sent for cleaning.
  6. Prior to cleaning, the fish are steam baked to eliminate excess oils and allow easy cleaning. The fish are then cooled and cleaned, separating meat from skin and bones. 
  7. Often, the meat is then boiled to eliminate microorganisms. However, some companies do not boil since they did a pre-bake. This allows for fresher tasting tuna in the end. 
  8. The tuna is then separated into cans and the full cans of tuna proceed through the process of salting and adding broth, water, or oil to the can. The can is then vacuum sealed and run through a water-bath process for final sealing and sterilization. 

Once the canning process is complete, most tuna companies have quality assurance representatives that sample each batch the following day to ensure smell, texture, flavor, and cleanliness are as they should be to determine whether the batch meets standards. 

Heating Canned Tuna and Other Canned Fish

There is not an exact science for heating canned tuna and other fish but there are some things you should be aware of. There are several tips and recommendations to ensure you have the best heating experience. 

Since canned tuna has already been cooked you must be cautious to heat it gently when you are heating it for use out of the can.

If you are not careful, you run the risk of ruining the texture and the flavor, which is what you are probably trying to avoid by coming to this guide. 

Risks of Heating Canned Tuna or Fish

The risks of heating canned tuna or fish lies not in the safety of the food. Heating canned tuna does not cause health concerns.

The tuna or any other canned fish has gone through specific sterilization processes to reduce any chance of bacteria in the canning process. 

The only risk to be concerned about would be if the contents of the can were to be left out in open air for any length of time and given the opportunity to cultivate or grow bacteria.

This is a risk you run with ultimately any food left to open air—canned, cooked, raw, or otherwise. 

So what are the risks of heating canned tuna and other fish? Ultimately, the risks come back to the quality of the food upon heating it from the can. Remember, that the canned item has already been cooked once. 

Here are some of the risks to be mindful of:

  • If not heated properly, you might experience overcooked tuna and other fish
  • The heating process must be done carefully to avoid ruining the flavor
  • If you heat in the microwave, use low power
  • Cooking time may vary but it’s important not to cook too long or overcook
  • Canned fish is already cooked. You are simply reheating the tuna – remember that
  • Never boil canned tuna or other fish. It’s already been boiled once. 
  • Searing is not recommended for canned tuna or fish, as it may taste charred or overdone. 

Canned tuna was designed to be used raw from the can for whatever your purpose. This does not mean that it can’t be heated.

The key point to remember: you are only reheating your canned tuna or fish and not cooking it. 

Canned tuna can be served cold, room temperature, or can be mixed into a dish that is being warmed to cook. Each of these options is suitable and will work just fine for your tuna heating needs. 

How to Heat Tuna and Other Types of Canned Fish

Are you ready for this? It’s super simple. If you are heating your canned fish or tuna just to eat it warm you can microwave it, heat it on the stove, or simply warm it in your dish. 

canned tuna in microwave

Here are some more detailed steps for each of those categories. 

  1. Microwave – If you have a microwave, you can easily warm your tuna in the microwave. This is actually the recommended warming method unless you are adding your tuna to a warm dish that requires baking or cooking with the tuna in the dish. Microwaving your tuna does not take long at all since you are simply warming the tuna.

    Place the tuna in a microwave-safe dish and cover with a paper towel. This retains the natural moisture from the canned tuna (or other fish). Warm for only 30 seconds at a time, stirring after 30 seconds and testing the warmth.
  2. Stovetop – if you just want to quickly warm your tuna on the stovetop, it’s quite easy. If you used canned tuna that is in olive oil that is the best for heating on the stovetop.

    If you are heating canned tuna not in olive oil, add a couple of drops of oil to your pan to prevent dryness. You can season your tuna as you like. Simply sauté it lightly on low heat until it is warm.

    You can also make a stir fry and add veggies or other ingredients if you would like to do so. This is a great way to mix up your tuna and turn it into something delicious.
  3. Heat as Part of a Dish – Finally, you can heat the tuna as part of another dish. If you are using your tuna in a warm dish, simply use the canned tuna as part of your recipe and the heating will take care of itself as you go through the cooking process.

    For example, in tuna casserole, you would add the canned tuna with the other casserole ingredients and then proceed to bake the dish. This is just an example, but it would work this way across the board. 

While our instructions here primarily focus on the process for tuna, you can use these same tips and guidelines when working with any type of canned fish as well. Follow the tips to ensure that your tuna or canned fish still tastes delicious when you are through. 

What’s So Great About Canned Fish?

Purchasing raw, fresh food is always a great option but consider that you don’t live on the coast where fresh fish is always accessible and truly fresh. Or consider that some individuals have lesser budgets to work with and therefore must settle for the canned item. Additionally, consider that canned tuna and canned fish provides a convenient and simply solution always. 

There is truly nothing wrong with using canned tuna or fish for the majority of any recipe you might be following that calls for these items. There are some great things about canned tuna and fish that are truly noteworthy. 

Trust us, canned tuna and other canned fish are great options for your pantry. 

Here are some great things to note about canned tuna and other canned fish:

  • Convenient to just pull off the shelf
  • Relatively inexpensive – affordable on any budget
  • The contents of the can are still rich in nutrients
  • Canned goods have a long and steady shelf life
  • It’s a time-saving alternative to working with raw or fresh fish
  • The flavor is still great and even prime chefs use canned fish

Now take a look at this list of options and tell us that canned fish is not the way to go! It’s a great option and it’s so versatile and easy to use. 

Related Questions

We hope that you find this guide to be useful and informative when it comes to working with canned tuna or other types of canned fish. Remember that while we focused primarily on tuna, many of the things shared here work with other canned fish as well. 

We’ve compiled some common questions and answers for your review. 

Is Any Type of Canned Fish Better than Another?

This typically boils down to a matter of preference. You may prefer the taste of salmon over tuna or maybe you are a fan of smoked trout. Keep that in mind as you search for canned fish at your local store. 

While no one canned fish is necessarily better than the other, the most common types of canned fish include tuna, salmon, mackerel, trout, and sardines. 

What Types of Nutrients are in Canned Tuna?

Canned tuna is rich in Vitamin D and Omega-3s. You will also get healthy fatty acids and protein from canned tuna. The sodium and overall fat are low, making these a nutritious option. Canned trout, salmon, and sardines have similar nutrients as well. 

Will I Get Mercury Poisoning from Canned Tuna?

You can eat canned tuna on a routine basis (several times per week) without any concern of mercury poisoning. It is possible for adults to get mercury poisoning from canned tuna, but this would require eating excessive amounts multiple days in a row. 

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