… but you can Tuna Fish.
Since I’ve been looking back at some of my favorites in the meat-n-slab-o-bread world, I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the Tuna Melt…
Of course you can combine fish and cheese.
Besides, no one really considers canned tuna a fish, anyway.
I used to have a friend that vehemently declared he was (ahem) “allergic” to fish… absolutely refused to eat it. However, he lived on tuna fish pizza, tuna sammiches, and lox. One day after watching him make quick work of 2 slices of fishy pie, I confronted him.
“Tuna isn’t fish… it comes in a can.”
I gave him a black eye.
So… Tuna Melt.
It’s a bit of a hazy history. Since canned tuna came into being in the US somewheres around 1903 as a way of extending shelf life and feeding the growing industrial machine, recipes and procedures began popping up almost immediately with ways to prepare it. First came the tuna salad. And yes, it’s pretty much the same recipe most people remember since…well… forever. Canned Tuna, Mayo, Pickles and Lettuce. They ate it in molds, piled on little beds of greens, scattered and tossed across our great country on plates, slices of bread and rolls. Then they started cooking it.
A toasted Tuna Salad with Cheese makes it’s first written appearance in the ’40s, with the Joy of Cooking. It bounced around relatively unnoticed in casual cookbooks for the next 20 years – toasting it, broiling it, adding slices of tomato on it… still pretty much on the back burner. Sometime in the late ’60s to early ’70s it found its’ way to luncheonette counters…. because it was cheap.
I’m not going to put any credence to the urban myth that it was invented by some short-order cook in South Carolina, who “accidentally” dropped some tuna fish salad on a grilled cheese sammich bubbling away on the griddle… that’s just ludicrous – and a bit too convenient. If it had actually happened, the resulting mess would have been scrapped, the cook would have been punished, and no one would have eaten a mistake sandwich…. not in the ’60s, when people expected and got what they ordered.
So, Tuna Melt.
To begin with, you need some really, really good tuna salad… with just enough mayo to make it spreadable – but not too sloppy. Then you need some good hearty bread that can hold up to being abused from the griddle below and saunaed from above – and then you need an excellent slab o cheese – and I’m talking Cheddar, not that preformed, manufactured, edible plastic stuff that comes in it’s own cellophane suit.
Serves – oh, let’s call it 4
For the Salad:
1 Large Can Tinned Tuna (Packed in Oil)
1 Rib Celery – Minced
1/4 Cup Sweet Onion – Minced
2 Tablespoons Sweet Pickle Relish
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Boiled Egg – Minced
1/2 Cup Heavy Bodied Mayo – Like Dukes or Hellmann’s
For the Melt:
8 Slices Hearty Bread (Sourdough or Rye)
Butter – or butter-like substance
8 Slices Tillamook Cheddar
Griddle or a large Flat-bottomed Fry Pan
Griddle Cover or Large Pot Lid
Drain the Tuna until dry. In a large bowl, mix together all the salad ingredients and mix well with a fork until the tuna completely breaks down and forms a smooth spread.
Heat your cooking surface to medium and place a pat of butter for each slice of bread.
Spread the tuna evenly over each slice, completely covering the exposed surfaces, and cover the salad completely with the cheddar
Place the assembled sandwiches in pan and cover. Allow the open-face tuna melts to simmer away until the bottom of the bread is golden browned and the cheddar has completely melted into the surface of the spread.
Serve with Chips or Fries… or with some good Southern Hominy like we’ve done… because (as you may remember) we can’t do the fry stuff anymore.