Tunapeño poppers are a deliciously ingenious cross between a tuna melt and a jalapeño popper! Inspired by Linda Ronstadt’s recipe from the Sonoran borderlands.
the tunapeño poppers story
Some of you might not realize that I have a deep connection with the cuisine of the Southwest. My family lived there for many years and I still have family scattered all over Arizona from Sedona to Tucson. This Tunapeño poppers recipe is inspired by Linda Ronstadt, who I happened to hear interviewed on The Bittman Project podcast. Mark asked Linda what she had for dinner the previous night and her answer was…tunapeños! She actually includes a recipe for these unusual stuffed peppers in her memoir of the Sonoran borderlands Feels Like Home. I was immediately intriqued because I adore tuna and japapeños.
what exactly are tunapño poppers?
These are jalapeño peppers that have been stuffed with tuna salad and baked with a cheesy topping. They’re irresistible little finger food appetizers, but once you’ve been enlightened, you’ll want to have them for dinner, too.
what you’ll need for tunapeño poppers
- jalapeño peppers
- choose peppers that are more or less the same size. Mine are about 4-5″.
- tuna salad
- make your own tuna salad, follow my recipe below, or buy it at your favorite deli counter.
- shredded cheese
- anything you like that melts well ~ to make this easy buy a pre-shredded Mexican cheese blend. Don’t buy one of the new ‘taco’ or nacho’ flavored varieties, though!
how to make tunapeño poppers
step 1. make your tuna salad
You can definitely make a quicker version of tunapeño poppers using a good store bought tuna salad. If you make your own, break up the tuna so the salad has a uniform texture without large lumps. This is better for stuffing the small peppers.
step 2. prep your peppers
Slice the peppers lengthwise and scrape out the veins and seeds. Don’t worry about getting all of them out, I like to leave some behind for more heat. Note: wash your hands well after prepping your peppers, and avoid touching your eyes or other sensitive parts of your body.
step 3. fill your peppers with tuna salad
The neatest way to do this is to hold a pepper in one hand, over the tuna salad bowl, and use a small spoon to stuff the pepper. Then lay it on your baking tray.
step 4. bake, then top with cheese
Again, the neatest way is to hold the pepper over the cheese bowl and top with cheese. Any excess will drop back into the bowl, not on your pan. You can see in my photos I did not follow my own advice 😉
step 5. broil to melt the cheese
Pop your tunapeño poppers back in the oven to melt the cheese. You can do this under the broiler if you want a little more color to the cheese.
step 6. serve
Serve them right away. I like to garnish them with some chopped olives, onions, or scallions. They can be eaten out of hand, no utensils needed.
are tunapeño poppers hot and spicy?
Actually, most jalapeños in stores these days are quite mild. Mine were mild with a slight after-burn in my mouth after the final bite. I would have liked them even hotter! To reduce the heat of jalapeños even further, be sure to cut out all the veins and seeds when you prep them.
how to tell if your jalapeño peppers are hot
Generally if your peppers look fresh, with smooth glossy skin, that means they are not very hot. The heat develops as the pepper ages on the vine, so older peppers with striated, slightly wrinkled skin will have more heat.
tips for making tunapeño poppers
Choose jalapeño poppers that are on the larger size, about 4 inches is great. And they should all be approximately the same size. If you can only find tiny peppers, skip this recipe and wait for larger ones. If you can only find ginormous peppers, that will work for dinner sized tunapeño poppers (just adjust the baking times.)
Some of the pepper halves will not sit upright and will lean to one side. I didn’t find this a problem, but you can take a bit off the bottom of the pepper with a paring knife to try to get them to sit straight.
15 minutes is the optimal baking time. This heats the tuna and softens the peppers a little bit, but not too much. If you like your tunapeño poppers firmer you can bake for 10 minutes.
Want the poppers without the heat? You can use those sweet mini bell peppers that come in bags in the produce section. They are very thin walled, so they won’t take as long to bake.
to make tunapeño poppers ahead
The best way to do this is to fill your pepper halves with tuna salad and then wrap in plastic and refrigerate until ready to cook. Then proceed with the recipe.
to reheat your poppers
These really need to be eaten the minute they come out of the oven, but I get it, leftovers happen. I like to reheat in a toaster oven (or regular oven) for best results. Heat at 300F until hot through.
- Sheet pan
- foil or parchment paper
- 10 ounces canned tuna, well drained
- 1/3 cup finely minced red onion
- 1/3 cup finely minced celery
- 1/3 cup finely minced bell pepper, any color
- 1/3 cup mayonnaise (use a little more if your salad seems dry)
- juice of half a lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
- 10 jalapeño peppers, about 4-5" long. You can use more or less, as you like.
- 6 ounces shredded cheese, I used a bag of Mexican blend cheeses.
- Mix together your tuna salad and taste to adjust it to your liking. Make sure to break up the tuna well so the salad has an even (not lumpy) consistency. This is better for stuffing the small peppers. Refrigerate until needed.
- Preheat the oven to 400F. Line your sheet pans with foil or parchment paper for easy clean up.
- Slice the peppers in half lengthwise. Use a small spoon to scoop out the veins and seeds. Note: wash your hands well after prepping your peppers, and avoid touching your eyes or other sensitive parts of your body.
- Stuff each pepper half with tuna salad. I mound it up slightly. The easiest way to do this is to hold the pepper in one hand, over the tuna bowl, and use a small spoon to fill the pepper. Place them on your baking sheet.
- Bake the stuffed peppers for about 15 minutes. This heats up the tuna and softens the pepper a bit.
- Remove the pan from the oven. Top each pepper with cheese. The easiest way to do this is to place the (hot) pepper on a spatula and hold over the bowl of cheese when sprinkling. The excess cheese falls back into the bowl. Place each pepper back on the baking sheet.
- Now you just need to melt the cheese. You can put them back in the 400F oven to do this, or you can do it under the broiler, it's up to you. If you broil you must stand there and wait, because it happens fast and they can burn. When the cheese is melted and bubbling, they're done.
- Serve hot ~ garnish is optional. I sometimes add minced onion, olives, or scallions..