In my opinion, lunchtimes don’t get any better than a tuna melt, full of molten cheese. But can such perfection be improved?
Nostalgia is a peculiar thing. Flavour is a major culprit. Just the smell of certain foods can transport us back to our childhoods – whether it’s a snack, drink or particular ice cream, it can something we haven’t eaten in years. Mine are: smelling mint sauce and I am suddenly sitting at my Granny’s table and roast lamb is served for lunch, messy marmalade served on toast, and tuna mayonnaise.
Tuna mayonnaise is, above all others, the flavour of my youth. My mum loathed it, but she dutifully made it for us at least once a week. My sister and I were bewitched by the stuff, whether dolloped on pasta, squashed between two slices of bread and cut into triangles, or piled up high on a baked potato. It was the best thing for my mum as we believed this effortlessly easy meal was a treat! Imagine that!
Fiona and I weren’t the only ones with a tuna mayonnaise obsession. Whenever we had school trips and the school kitchens prepared some paper bags of sandwiches, there would always be a tussle for the precious sandwiches with tuna filling which might as well have been delicious bars of gold for the amount of value they possessed.
Even though I have grown up, I don’t think my enjoyment of tuna mayonnaise has depleted. My regular order at my local Subway at university was always tuna. Right now, as I write this, I am eating tuna pasta for breakfast as my cravings couldn’t take it any longer (and also I’m a little hungover and the last thing I want right now is a bowl of annoyingly healthy porridge).
However, as I’d like to think my taste buds have matured, plain tuna mayo sans seasoning just doesn’t cut it for me anymore. And so, my tuna is full of grown up flavour. 6-year-old me would have been horrified by the addition of chopped jalapenos, garlic, olives and fresh herbs stirred into the mix. Let alone making it into an oozing, melted, toasted sandwich with cheese.
The perfect tuna melt
I have the utmost respect for the person who came up with the tuna melt. Tuna and cheese are both dominant personalities – think David Bowie and Freddie Mercury. One will over-shadow the other so they really don’t belong between bread together and yet, somehow, they find this beautiful harmony and one of the best duets in history was created along with the most delicious and irresistible toastie.
So, besides the tuna and the cheese which we all know are partners in a tuna melt, what makes this the ultimate recipe?
The rest of the tuna mayonnaise filling includes:
- Dijon mustard
- Lemon juice
- Fresh herbs
With these additions, classic tuna mayonnaise is full of tangy, briny flavours, muddling a balance of rich, sweet and salty. I used to serve this tuna melt on homemade sourdough while working at a café, and paired with crumbly mature cheddar that melted into strings, we had a winning toastie on our hands. Now I use average sandwich bread for convenience, but I also slather the outside of the bread with melted butter and squash on a couple of extra jalapenos like decorative spicy baubles.
So, if tuna holds a special place in your heart too, but you need to show it that you’re a grown up now, try my ultimate tuna melt. Lunchtime has just been elevated.
The ultimate tuna melt
- 1 can of tuna
- ½ an apple
- 1 tsp capers rinsed
- 4 jalapeno slices from a jar plus extra for garnish
- 5 small black olives
- ½ clove of garlic
- 1 tbsp sweetcorn
- ½-1 tsp Dijon or wholegrain mustard
- A couple of generous tbsp mayonnaise
- A good squeeze of fresh lemon juice
- A small handful of chopped coriander, chives or basil, or a mixture
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 slices of good cheddar or weird plastic cheddar, I can testify that it still tastes great
- 4 slices of white bread which is easy to toast
- 1 tbsp butter melted
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F. Drain your tuna and scrape it out of the tin into a large bowl. Tuna’s messy so have a handy roll of kitchen paper nearby.
- Dice the apple, and roughly chop the olives, the jalapenos and herbs. Crush the garlic. Chuck everything into the bowl with the capers, sweetcorn, mustard, mayonnaise and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, then stir with a fork, breaking down the big chunks of tuna. Taste a little, and add more mayo, lemon juice, salt, or mustard if necessary.
- Lay your bread on a chopping board, line your base pieces with cheese, then split the tuna filling between both. Top with another layer of cheese, close the bread and brush with melted butter. Squash on a couple of extra jalapenos on top.
- Place the sandwiches on a lined baking tray and slide them into the oven for 10-15 minutes until the bread is toasted and gold, and the cheese is oozing everywhere.