You can do a lot with a can of tuna fish.

Tuna is an inexpensive protein source and simple preparation can produce a mouth-watering, budget-stretching meal. From the tasty tuna cakes to the ever-friendly tuna casserole; you can please all ages and appetites.

Using my “Food Lover’s Companion” by Sharon Tyler Herbst and my “Better Homes and Gardens Encyclopedia of Cooking” as references, I learned interesting things about tuna:

  • This member of the mackerel family lives in the warmer, saltwater areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean Sea.
  • In the Mediterranean area, many hundreds of years before Christ, tuna was considered a delicacy and served cooked, to the rich nobles.
  • The Incas were catching tuna long before Columbus arrived.
  • During World War I, the scarcity of foods and the fact that tuna was both nutritious and inexpensive made it a sustainable food for the troops.

Today, it’s probably the most popular canned fish.

There are four major varieties of tuna. The first is albacore, the variety with the lightest flesh (white with only a hint of pink) and the only tuna that can be labeled “white meat.” The prized white flesh and mild flavor make albacore the most expensive canned tuna.

Another variety is the yellowfin tuna, which is larger then the albacore but its flesh is pale pink and it’s classified as “light” tuna. The flavor is slightly stronger than the albacore.

The bluefin, the largest and considered a real sport fish, can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. The flesh of a young bluefin starts off light with a subtle flavor but as the fish grows, the flesh turns dark red and the flavor is definitely more pronounced.

The bonito has the strongest flavor of the tunas. The dried version is popular in Japanese dishes.

All canned tuna is precooked and sold as albacore (white meat) and light meat. The grade determines the price. The most expensive grade is the solid or fancy white tuna. The can will contain large pieces; use that grade in recipes when appearance is important. I used it in the Tuna Salad With Beans recipe.

The second grade of tuna is labeled “chunk” and it has smaller pieces than the solid or fancy. The third grade is labeled “flaked” or grated.

Canned tuna is packed in either water or oil. The oil variety, of course, is higher in calories.

Select your favorite type of tuna and try any of these recipes. It’s your choice, water or oil packed. Both should be drained well before using.

The recipes include the ever-popular tuna casserole. What makes Tuna, Noodle & Cheese Casserole delicious is the generous amount of sautéed vegetables mixed with the tuna and noodles. The Florentine has the addition of chopped spinach in with the noodles.

The Tuna Cakes, served with a good salad or grilled vegetables, are delicious. And, the tuna and bean salad, made with solid white albacore, is a great lunch choice.

Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at