AirFryday: Lightly curried tuna-mayo butternut boats

AirFryday: Lightly curried tuna-mayo butternut boats
Butternut boat: Tony Jackman’s lightly curried tuna-mayo stuffed butternut. May 2024. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Has the time come for a family of four to need more than one air fryer? This recipe, for butternut halves stuffed with lightly curried tuna mayo and topped with cheese, brought the question to mind.

This is a real treat for a weeknight family meal. It presses a lot of happy buttons: it starts with butternut, it’s mildly curried, it’s an all-in-one meal, and who doesn’t love tuna-mayo? It even has a cheesy topping. Out of the air fryer, onto the plate. Done.

Or should that be “out of the air fryers”…?

This is one of those “what if” recipes I enjoy having fun with once in a while. What if I mixed canned tuna meat with fried onions and mayonnaise, lightly curried it, used it as a stuffing for butternut, and then… well, why stop there when we’ve got this far? Let’s top it with cheese.

But first: I’m loving my air fryers. Yes, …ers. There was the original that I bought, a Kenwood twin drawer. Endlessly useful, you can set each drawer at different temperatures and to cook for different lengths of time. And you can synchronise them so that they both finish at the same time, with one kicking in first but both ending together. (Think of a MasterChef Australia challenge where some of the contestants sit out for 30 minutes while others get started.)

Then came an Instant Vortex Plus 5.7 litre, the one I use most often. And the other day, my sister bought me a 3.5 litre Salton digital air fryer for my birthday. Knowing that I need to cook air fryer recipes so often, she thought a bit more diversity would be useful. She’s right. One of these days I’ll set myself a challenge to use them all at once for various elements of one meal. We’ll get to that.

For this AirFryday supper, I used the Instant Vortex, because its drawer fits two large butternut halves comfortably with plenty of space for air to move around them and get the job done efficiently. But I was cooking for two; if you’re cooking for four, and you have two air fryers, you can cook them all at the same time. Otherwise, you’ll have to do them in batches. So you may be starting to think: is one air fryer enough?

Butternut takes a while to become tender, so you cannot just slice them in half, scoop out the pips, stuff them and put them straight into the machine to cook. The butternut needs to go in without any filling, until they are close to tender. This is because the filling will already be cooked when you stuff them, top them with cheese and put them in the air fryer again to finish.

So there are three stages:

  • First wrap the two halves in foil and air fry them for about 25 minutes, but check along the way, as it may need less or more time depending on the weight and density of your butternut.
  • While they are cooking, fry off your onions and garlic, add the tuna meat, give it a nice masala tang, run mayonnaise through it and have it ready to go. Grate your cheese too.
  • Finally, remove the butternut halves, scoop the stuffing in (piled as high as you can), pile grated cheese on top and cook them, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and turned golden on top.

I thought at the outset that this recipe would need a generous amount of tuna, and the result proved me right.

(Serves 2)


To pre-cook the butternut:

1 butternut, halved

Cooking oil

Salt and pepper to taste

For the filling:

2 Tbsp ghee

1 onion, chopped finely

2 garlic cloves, chopped finely

2 Tbsp tomato paste

3 x 170 g cans of light meat shredded tuna in water, drained

2 tsp decent quality curry powder/ masala

2 heaped Tbsp mayonnaise

Salt and black pepper to taste

To complete:

1 cup of Cheddar cheese, grated

Coriander leaves, chopped, to finish


Slice the butternut in two lengthwise and scoop out the innards.

Rub oil on all of the fleshy parts, including the edges. Season with salt and black pepper.

Wrap the two halves in foil.

Preheat the air fryer to 200℃, put the butternut halves in, and cook at that temperature for about 25 minutes, or until the flesh is fairly tender. Check for doneness by inserting a skewer through the thickest part.

Remove the foil and let them cool a bit so that you can handle them.

Meanwhile, sauté the onion and garlic in melted ghee (or cooking oil) until softened and the onion is taking on some colour.

Drain the cans of tuna and add all the meat.

Add 2 Tbsp of tomato purée, 2 teaspoons of masala/curry powder (note: teaspoons, not table…), 2 heaped Tbsp of mayonnaise and salt to taste and stir well to combine. Stir in HALF of the grated cheese. It will be like a thick paste with a lovely medium-brown hue.

Spoon it into the cavities of the butternut halves, pushing it down so that the filling is densely packed inside, Continue piling on top, but keep the filling away from the edges of the butternut.

Using your fingers, place clumps of the remaining grated cheese along the centre (as if it were a spine), again keeping it away from the edges. If there’s not enough cheese for the job, grate a little more.

Grill in the air fryer for about 5 minutes at 200℃ or until the cheese has melted and turned golden. DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido. Order his book, foodSTUFF, here.

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed on an oblong plate by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.


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