“Little bit of this, whole lot of that”: A curry tuna salad sandwich inspired by my dad

It's embarrassing to say now, but I thought I hated tuna

By D. Watkins

Editor at Large

Published August 25, 2023 7:00PM (EDT)

Tuna sandwich (Getty Images/VICUSCHKA)
Tuna sandwich (Getty Images/VICUSCHKA)

It's embarrassing to say now, but I thought I hated tuna.

"Bastard, you damn lie!" my father said when I tried to explain this to him, "You love tuna fish as much as you love reefer. Matter of fact, you been eating canned fish since you fell out of muva, please!" 

And he's right, I had always eaten it as a child. But only when he made it with a little sugar, extra salt and pepper and served on toasted rye. This was true–– but I wasn't nine years old when I rejected the most famous canned fish. I was 16 and lived in the world where I enjoyed broiled jumbo lump crab cakes and chicken cheesesteaks topped with shrimp, Margarita pizza and fried lobster fingers. I felt like I reached culinary heaven and had no time for something as pedestrian as tuna. 

Dad didn't make his special tuna for me anymore, and the only place to get it was from the market, but I wasn't going to make it or my high school cafeteria. High school tuna was a shade of grayish purple that I can't really explain: slimy, flooded with mayo and, I swear, sometimes it moved across your plate without any assistance. It was the last thing in the world that anyone would want to eat and tasted so bad that I probably wouldn't feed into my worst enemy. 

Tuna was out of my life for about a decade before resurfacing with a vengeance. 

One day, I was sitting in the crib, thinking about my father and his famous sandwiches. Not only did he not cook anything for me anymore, but he had also up and moved to Colorado for a financial opportunity. I remembered how he always loved to make a batch of tuna fish, and then a bowl of egg salad, and then give me half of a tuna sandwich and half of an egg salad sandwich. Obviously, the other pair went to him. I still can't stomach egg salad as an adult; however, I sure was craving that tuna, so I gave him a call.

"Dad, what you put in your tuna?" I asked. 

"Regular s**t," he said, "Not too much mayo, a boiled egg, more pepper than salt, and some yellow mustard, French's, not that bull sh*t." 

I try my best to provide clear instructions, but that's one of the beauties of cooking and sharing recipes in my family. We are nontraditional cooks who really don't use measuring cups or write things down — instructions always go, "Add a little bit of this and a whole lot of that, and you'll be in business. Oh, and don't mess up. We'll laugh at you." 

I took that suggestion and made a delicious batch of tuna, served on rye bread with a side of Utz potato chips. It's been over a decade since we had that conversation, and my ingredients have changed. I can tell you what I put in my tuna fish, but I can't tell you how much to use because, like my dad says, everything should be seasoned to taste.

Curry tuna salad 
1 servings
Prep Time
5 minutes
Cook Time
0 minutes


  • Can of organic tuna in fresh water
  • Organic mayonnaise
  • Curry powder
  • Red pepper
  • Salad supreme mix
  • Chopped onions
  • Dijon mustard
  • Organic relish
  • One boiled egg per can
  • Black pepper
  • Sea salt



  1. Combine and season to taste. 
  2. This is best served with lettuce, and tomato —but only if tomatoes are in season. Preferably on toasted rye with a side of your favorite potato chips.

By D. Watkins

D. Watkins is an Editor at Large for Salon. He is also a writer on the HBO limited series "We Own This City" and a professor at the University of Baltimore. Watkins is the author of the award-winning, New York Times best-selling memoirs “The Beast Side: Living  (and Dying) While Black in America”, "The Cook Up: A Crack Rock Memoir," "Where Tomorrows Aren't Promised: A Memoir of Survival and Hope" as well as "We Speak For Ourselves: How Woke Culture Prohibits Progress." His new books, "Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments," and "The Wire: A Complete Visual History" are out now.

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