This open-faced tuna melt is crunchy, cheesy, comforting, and comes together in just a few minutes with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.
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Canned tuna is one of those staples we always have in our house. When money is tight, canned tuna is our go-to.
Tuna is also a great lean protein source. It’s is rich in protein and contains B-Complex vitamins, Vitamins A and D as well as iron, phosphorus, and healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids.
Tuna cakes? Yup. Tuna casserole? I’ll take seconds, please. But nothing is easier to make and more comforting than a tuna melt sandwich.
With just a few humble ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen- bread, cheese, tuna, mayo, and a couple veggies- you’re well on your way to a filling and satisfying meal.
In our tuna melt recipe, we opt for the open-faced style, but either way- both are tasty. If you’re watching your carb intake, this open-faced tuna melt sandwich recipe can cut your carb intake in half. But really, we just prefer less bread and more tuna and cheese.
What is a tuna melt
A tuna melt is a kind of hot sandwich containing cheese and a tuna salad mixture, then heated up to melt the cheese. It can be served closed or open-faced.
Other common fillings include pickles, tomato, lettuce, and mustard.
To understand how the tuna melt was born, we first need to know how tuna salad came into existence.
The post-Industrial Revolution brought us the mass production of the three ingredients key to making this sandwich the embodiment of the American working class spirit- canned tuna, pre-sliced bread, and mayonnaise.
In the 1800s, Americans didn’t think albacore tuna was worth eating and instead used it for bait in fishing or fed it to animals. Canned sardines, however, were very popular and what canned tuna did exist in America at the time was imported and consumed by Italian immigrants.
Overfishing and bad ocean conditions made for a terrible sardine season in the early 1900s, so sardine company executives looked for another local protein located off the California coast at the time- tuna.
In the 19th century scraps leftover from dinner- pieces of chicken, fish, carrots and celery- were mixed with mayonnaise and relish and served on lettuce for lunch. Women started spending more time in public life- at first department stores and then the workforce- and once canned tuna became big, the tuna fish sandwich was a quick on-the-go lunch.
Tuna quickly rebranded itself from an undesirable fish to the go-to lunch counter sandwich. Canneries exploded all over the West Coast, thanks to innovative fishing methods from Japanese immigrants based in LA and San Diego.
Fast forward a few decades to the tuna melt sandwich. Legend has it that it was accidentally invented at a lunch counter in Woolsworth department store in Charleston, SC in the 1960s. A busy cook was cranking out orders when a bloop of tuna fell on a grilled cheese sandwich. He tried it and discovered this delicious combination.
How to make a tuna melt
This tuna sandwich recipe first starts with a great tuna salad, of course. There are lots of variations and ways to make a great tuna salad.
You can use pickles, various relishes like chow chow, and even pickle juice (like we do). Fresh veggies like onion, celery, and carrot are usually added as well as fresh herbs.
For our tuna salad, start by mixing together the following ingredients:
- Mayo: We use Duke’s, which we will obnoxiously argue is the best mayo alongside Kewpie. We’re not in your kitchen being mayo snobs, so use whatever your preferred mayo is as the binder for this salad.
- Canned tuna: Canned wild Albacore tuna in olive oil is the best, as the olive oil seems to bring out the tuna flavor. Tuna in water is also good as long as you drain the liquid well.
- Fresh vegetables: Celery and onion add necessary texture and crunch. Additional veggies that would be great are bell pepper, carrot, and tomato.
- Pickled things: A scoop of relish as well as a sprinkling of pickle juice adds salty, vinegary goodness.
- Herbs: Pretty much anytime we can add fresh herbs to something, we do. It’s only going to make it taste more delicious. We added parsley and dill.
- Seasoning: Good ol’ salt and pepper, baby.
Now that you have your tuna salad mixed together, it’s time to get the sandwich together. Slice French bread at about an inch thick, and lightly toast the slices. Giving the bread a little stiffness helps them hold up the tuna salad.
Next, place the pieces of bread on a baking sheet and dollop with tuna salad. Next, sprinkle with extra sharp cheddar cheese, which we think is a must.
Put in the oven at 400 F and bake until toasted and melted, about 10 – 15 minutes.
Classic Tuna Melt
- 1 baking sheet
- 2 (7oz) cans of albacore tuna in olive oil, drained or in water
- ½ cup mayo
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- ½ white onion, chopped
- 1 tb relish
- 2 tb pickle juice or rice vinegar
- 3 tb fresh parsley, chopped
- 3 tb fresh dill, chopped
- fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
- 1 ½ cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
- 4 – 6 slices of French or Italian bread
- Preheat oven to 400 F. To make your tuna salad, mix together all of the ingredients except the bread and cheese.
- Lightly toast your bread slices and place on a baking sheet. Dollop with tuna salad, spreading out evenly. Next, sprinkle with cheddar cheese.
- Place in oven and bake until melted and toasted, about 10 – 15 minutes.
These tuna melts came out so good! I grew up making tuna melts all the time, so this really took me back — total comfort food. Can’t wait to make them again!