Why Sweet Pickle Relish Belongs In Your Go-To Tuna Salad

Tuna salad is the lunch option that keeps on giving. There are endless ways to upgrade this cheap and easy meal, and chances are, it's going to be delicious. Though your go-to recipe likely includes mayonnaise (or a mayo alternative) and possibly carrots, celery, and onion, you might be missing out on the acidic crunch of relish. In fact, sweet pickle relish might be the best secret weapon for adding a tangy, sweet, and salty boost to your tuna all at once.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make with tuna salad is neglecting to add acid to the mixture. Pickle relish, tangy and sweet as it may be, delivers a hefty dose of sourness to wake up the salad's fatty and savory ingredients. The shelf-stable ingredient also adds a bit of crunch and moisture, which is invaluable on those days when chopping fresh vegetables for your salad is too tall an order. Plus, the added sweetness may even help reduce the fishy taste that can linger on your palate after eating.

Best of all, sweet relish is cheap and easy to find at the grocery store, so you can experiment with using as much or as little as you want. You'll find the sweet and tart condiment adds a great complexity to this budget-friendly meal, and may even charm picky eaters who find the salad too fishy. Mix a tablespoon — or up to three — into your recipe to elevate lackluster tuna sandwiches and melts into diner-worthy dishes.

Make your own sweet pickle relish

If you're feeling ambitious and want more control over the flavor of your tuna salad, you can make sweet pickle relish at home. The cucumbers are flavored with sugar and sometimes onion in a vinegar brine. You can soak minced cucumbers in brine overnight for a fresher relish with plenty of crunch and texture, or let it sit longer for a softer texture and more powerful flavor.

Making pickles yourself is easy, and you're able to use the flavors and fermentation style that you prefer. In addition to sugar, vinegar, and aromatic vegetables, many relish recipes use mustard seeds or celery seeds to flavor the cucumbers. You can also add a kick of spice with fresh jalapeños, some crunch with chopped bell peppers, or some herbal savoriness with a shake of caraway. If you prefer a tuna salad with hints of dill, consider adding sprigs of the herb to your pickle brine.

You also have to decide if you're making a lacto-fermented, long-lasting pickle, or a quick pickle. If you elect to make a quick pickle, most recipes involve packing clean jars with chopped cucumbers and seasonings, then pouring a hot brine of vinegar, dissolved sugar, and salt over top. Lacto-fermented pickles are more complicated and require research and careful preparation to get right. Luckily, it's always easy to just chop the relish up and mix it into tuna salad, no matter how you get there.

Spice up store bought relish

If you're already loyal to a certain brand of relish, there are other ways to refresh your tuna salad. Consider doctoring up store-bought relish by combining it with another pickled condiment. One easy way to do so is by incorporating a Chicago staple called giardiniera. This spicy pickle is a fermented mixture of multiple vegetables, which may include cauliflower, carrots, celery, and sweet and hot peppers. These veggies are stored in a mix of vinegar brine and oil, which can add some extra fat to lean, water-packed tuna. Chicago locals use giardiniera on hot beef sandwiches and hot dogs, but it's just as delicious on a tuna salad sandwich.

Another addition to consider is pikliz, a Haitian pickled condiment made with carrot, cabbage, and spicy scotch bonnet peppers. The vinegar brine includes lime juice, another source of acid that can brighten a heavy tuna salad. Combine a scoop of the spicy mixture with sweet pickle relish to create a sweet and spicy treat. Whether you use it alone or in combination with other pickles, a simple sweet relish can upgrade your tuna salad so well, you'll never look back.