I used to buy cans of tuna at big box stores.  I grew up enjoying my go-to brand and loved making tuna sandwiches.  Then my friend Chris Welling, owner of Dolan Creek Farm in Boring, Oregon, gave me a jar of tuna that she canned at home.  It was a big pint mason jar filled with one, giant cut of tuna.  I mixed Chris’ tuna with a little mayonnaise and pickles and served it on a soft roll.  Oh man, what a difference freshly-canned tuna makes.  I was ruined.  Her home-canned tuna was firm, fresh, solid, and very clean tasting.  I vowed to learn how to can tuna at home and recreate the fresh, firm, clean flavors.

First, buy your tuna from a reliable source.  We bought our tuna directly off of a boat on the shores of Washington State.  The fisherman had caught the tuna 100 miles out and cleaned it for us.  It costs a bit extra to have the fish cleaned, but was worth it.  The fresh tuna was packed in ice and put into coolers.  We canned the next morning.

Second, you must use a pressure canner to can seafood.  Tuna is a low-acid food that must be processed at 240 degrees to kill toxin-producing spores.  You cannot waterbath can tuna because this method will not get the water temperature hot enough.  I bought my pressure canner at Amazon for under $100.

My recipe is just tuna. No additions such as salt, herbs, peppers, etc.  You can absolutely add other ingredients to your tuna as there are many delicious recipes online.  I prefer clean, plain tuna so that I am able to customize the flavors later based on what I am making.

Preservation method: Pressure canning

Difficulty level: Experienced

Pressure Canned Tuna

Buy as much high-quality, raw tuna as you’d like to can.  The general rule of thumb is “a pound is a pint”.  For example, 20 pounds of fresh tuna will yield roughly 20 pint or 40 half-pint jars.

Fresh tuna

Canning jars, bands, and lids (I like Ball Canning jars)

Prepare pressure canner and lids according to your canner’s manufacturer’s instructions 30 minutes before you are ready to pack the fish.  TIP:  Add 1/4 white vinegar to canning water to help reduce fishy smell inside of canner for later use.  Wash jars, but do not heat (since the fish you are packing is chilled).

TIP:  Consider prepping and canning outside using camping stoves beginning early in the morning.  First, canning during the summer months is hot.  Second, canning tuna is – well, fishy smelling.  Best to set up camp outside and avoid overheating and stinking up your house.

Remove skin, bones, and any sinewy parts of fish.  Cut fish into sizes that will fit into jars with a generous 1″ headspace.  Do not add liquid.  Remove any visible air bubbles.  You want the jars to be packed snug.  Wipe rims of jars with towels moistened with vinegar.  Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.

Place jars in pressure canner.  Lock lid and slowly bring to a boil over medium high heat in tiny increments.  Do not rush this step as jars are cold and heating too quickly can lead to jar breakage.  This step can take up to one hour.  (Why so slow?  There is nothing worse than hearing a jar burst into pieces in your sealed pressure canner.  All you can do is stew for over 100 minutes and picture the broken glass.)  Vent steam for 10 minutes, then close vent.  Continue heating to achieve 11 pounds of pressure.

Process half-pint and pint jars for 100 minutes.  Carefully monitor your dial the entire time.  If your reading dips below 11 pounds you must get your reading back up to 11 pounds and start your timer to zero again.

OK to double stack cans in canner

After 100 full minutes, turn off heat.  Let pressure turn to zero naturally, this will take over 30 minutes.  When ready, open vent.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 10 minutes, then remove jars, and cool for 24 hours undisturbed.

After 24 hours, check lids for seal.  Remove screw bands and check seals.  Wash jars with warm, soapy water.  Label with date.  Jars that have not sealed should be refrigerated immediately and contents eaten within a week.

TIP:  Fish oils will be present on the outside of your canning jars.  You must clean your jars before putting in your pantry or your pantry will smell like fish.  To remove oils soak in a sink of 50/50 water and white vinegar.  Scrub with Dawn dish detergent.  Dry jars and store.

Thank you to Chris Welling of Dolan Creek Farms for teaching me how to can tuna.  You inspire me everyday with your love of healthy gardens, animals, and food.  As you say, “you can taste the difference”!