Tuna Macaroni Salad

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The best macaroni tuna salad bursting with flavor and so simple to make. This salad can be ready in less than 30 minutes! via chelseasmessyapron.com

This is our absolute favorite creamy Tuna Macaroni Salad! It’s made with tender elbow macaroni noodles, olive-oil packed tuna, lots of veggies, and a creamy dressing with a “secret ingredient” that adds so much flavor to this salad!

Try some of our other popular tuna recipes next like this “Sushi” Tuna StackMediterranean Tuna Salad, or a Tuna Salad Wrap.

Tuna Macaroni Salad

Tuna Macaroni Salad

This salad ranks as one of my favorite creamy pasta salads. I’ve taken my mom’s “famous” macaroni tuna salad and tweaked it over the years so that it’s just how we love it. I couldn’t be more excited about the results! It’s creamy, richly flavored, and has loads of texture. We are completely convinced this is the best of the best as far as tuna macaroni salads go! 

Pickles, peas, carrots, red onion, celery, sweet peppers, tuna, and tender macaroni get tossed together in a deeply flavored dressing that doesn’t just taste like straight mayo. A few “secret” ingredients set this salad apart, and I’ll describe those in detail below.

Tuna Macaroni Salad “Secret” Ingredients

Caesar Salad Dressing

 Caesar salad dressing is the ingredient for the absolute best Tuna Macaroni Salad. I know, it’s a little unique, but it’s a game changer! It complements the tuna so nicely and keeps the salad from only tasting like plain mayo (like so many tuna mac salads you’ve probably had in the past!).

The Caesar salad dressing adds a lot of seasonings and flavor to the dressing, so you don’t need to add too many other ingredients. It’s a convenient shortcut for loads of flavor.

That said, the type of Caesar salad dressing you use really matters. I’ve tried this salad with all types of store-bought Caesar dressings and it can end up lackluster and bland. My personal favorite is Marzetti’s® Simply Dressed Ceasar dressing (typically in the refrigerated produce section of the grocery store). This particular dressing also won a taste tester’s favorites competition. Here’s an article to browse their other top favorites if you can’t find this particular brand. 

If you prefer a homemade dressing on this Tuna Macaroni Salad, try the Ceasar dressing on this Caesar Salad Pizza. It’s a little more work because you’ll essentially have to make two dressings, but it’s so delicious!

Olive Oil-Packed Tuna 

And next, the tuna. I recommend using canned tuna packed in olive oil for the best flavor. My personal favorite is Genova’s® albacore tuna. Tuna packed in olive oil is richer and has a fresher flavor– which makes a big difference in this Tuna Macaroni Salad.

Bread and Butter Pickles

Not just any type of pickles, but using bread and butter pickles is the final “secret” to this Tuna Macaroni Salad. This particular variety of pickles has the best balance between sweet and tangy. They’re also very crisp!

Process shots of making Tuna Macaroni Salad.

Tuna Macaroni Salad Tips

  • Swap out veggies. You can change out pretty much any of the veggies in this salad, based on your preferences. If you aren’t a fan of one of the veggies in this salad, simply substitute more of another veggie in its place.
  • Salt the pasta water. This tuna macaroni salad is a cold salad and that means the flavors tend to get muted. Be sure to generously salt the pasta since salting is the only chance you have to season the actual pasta. Don’t be afraid to add more salt to the finished Macaroni Tuna Salad if it needs it. Read about how to properly salt your pasta water here. As a general rule of thumb, I add 1 teaspoon salt to 4 cups of water.
  • Boil the frozen peas. Add the frozen peas to the boiling pasta during the last minute of cooking. This keeps them nice and crisp while quickly thawing them out.

Tuna Macaroni Salad FAQs

1What can you mix with tuna, other than mayo?

In this salad, we use a combination of mayo and Caesar salad dressing which keeps the salad from tasting like straight mayo.

If you’re opposed to combining tuna and mayo, you’ve got to try this mayo-less Mediterranean Tuna Salad — it’s one of our favorites!

2How long does Tuna Macaroni Salad last in the fridge?

We like this salad best the same day it’s made, but if properly stored, it can last 3-5 days in the fridge.

Don’t leave the salad out for more than 2 hours at room temperature — bacteria can begin to grow.

3How do I keep macaroni from absorbing too much of the mayonnaise?

Pasta will continue to absorb liquid, so the best way to avoid this is to either enjoy the salad soon after being made or by adding the dressing gradually, adding more to moisten as needed.

Chilling the salad in an airtight container in the fridge also slows down the absorption of the mayo. Chilled in an airtight container, moisture can’t evaporate the same.

4How do you keep tuna salad from drying out?

Keep the salad in an air-tight container in the fridge as much as possible. If needed, add a few additional tablespoons of leftover Caesar salad dressing or even a splash of milk to keep things nice and creamy.

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Tuna Macaroni Salad

5 from 1 vote
This is our absolute favorite creamy Tuna Macaroni Salad made with tender elbow macaroni, olive-oil packed tuna, lots of veggies, and a creamy dressing with a "secret ingredient" that will blow you away with the flavor it adds to this salad!
Print Recipe

Tuna Macaroni Salad

5 from 1 vote
This is our absolute favorite creamy Tuna Macaroni Salad made with tender elbow macaroni, olive-oil packed tuna, lots of veggies, and a creamy dressing with a "secret ingredient" that will blow you away with the flavor it adds to this salad!
Course Appetizer, lunch, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine American
Keyword tuna macaroni salad
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 8
Calories 424kcal
Author Chelsea
Cost $6.32

Ingredients

  • 1 and 3/4 cups (23g) uncooked elbow macaroni (3 and 1/2 cups cooked)
  • 1 cup (129g) frozen peas
  • 2 cans (5 oz.; 142g EACH) tuna (preferably in olive oil)
  • 1/3 cup (63g) prepared Ceasar salad dressing Note 1
  • 3/4 cup (135g) regular mayonnaise
  • 3/4 cup (151g) sour cream (I use fat-free)
  • Fine sea salt and pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 cup (93g) bread and butter pickles
  • 1/2 cup (67g) (1/2 of a pepper) red bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup (65g) (2 stalks) celery
  • 1 cup (77g) matchstick carrots
  • 1/2 cup (72g) diced sweet onion (or red onion) Note 2

Instructions

  • PASTA: Prepare the macaroni according to package directions. (Don't cook all the pasta; only use 1 and 3/4 cups.) Make sure to generously salt the water (I add 1 teaspoon to every 4 cups of water.), or the whole salad will taste under-seasoned. Add frozen peas in with the pasta for the last minute of boiling. Drain pasta and peas, rinse under cold water, let cool, and allow to dry.
  • DRESSING: Meanwhile, in a medium-sized bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients: the Caesar salad dressing, mayo, sour cream, salt and pepper to taste, (I add 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper.) and garlic powder.
  • VEGGIE PREP: prepare veggies (measure all AFTER dicing): dice the bread and butter pickles, bell pepper, celery, carrots (or use matchstick carrots), dice the onion.
  • ASSEMBLY: Add pasta and peas to a large bowl. Top with all the salad veggie toppings and the thoroughly drained tuna. Add dressing and gently mix everything to combine. Stir until ingredients are well coated in the dressing and then taste and season again. I usually add another 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt here, but depends on how salty the Cesar salad dressing is.
  • SERVE: Store in the fridge until serving (best served when the salad has been chilled about 20-30 minutes). Re-mix after chilling and enjoy. Salad best used within 2-4 hours of being made.

Recipe Notes

Note 1: My personal favorite Caesar dressing is Marzetti's Simply Dressed Ceasar dressing (typically in the refrigerated produce section of the grocery store).
Note 2: Use a shallot for less-intense onion flavor or soak the diced onions in salted ice water for 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly before using in this salad.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 424kcal | Carbohydrates: 27.9g | Protein: 16.4g | Fat: 28g | Cholesterol: 38.1mg | Sodium: 406mg | Fiber: 3.6g | Sugar: 6.3g

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

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4 Comments

  1. Is this really good on top of lettuce like your photo shows? If so, what type of lettuce do you recommend? Thx!

    1. The lettuce isn’t necessary; more just for photographic effect to help the salad show up better (it’s very white haha!)

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