One of the world’s great sandwiches is making a comeback

Kate Krader

BLOOMBERG – American home kitchens are in an unprecedented moment, where the most pedestrian supermarket staples can be as valuable as finicky homemade products.

Which makes this the perfect time to celebrate the tuna melt, one of the most supermarket-driven of sandwiches. It’s made from canned tuna, mayonnaise and sliced cheese from the dairy aisle-not dependent on decent produce.

Coincidentally, the sandwich is a highlight of the new The Tinned Fish Cookbook: Easy-to-Make Meals From Ocean to Plate by Bart van Olphen. Van Olphen was once a chef at the 2-Michelin-star restaurant Lucas Carton in Paris. He’s gone on to become a passionate sustainable seafood advocate: He advises British food star Jamie Oliver on the subject and has written cookbooks in both English and his native Dutch.

His new book includes 45 recipes for different kinds of canned and tinned seafood, from anchovies and sardines to less conventional options such as mackerel. “Tinned seafood is considered secondary to fresh. But people should think of it as a way of preserving – that’s a technique that’s so popular now,” said van Olphen.

Van Olphen has a soft spot for the tuna melt, which combines creamy tuna salad with melty cheese within the crunchiness of fried bread. He notes you can substitute your favourite cheese for cheddar and even use a thick layer of salty grated Parmesan. But it’s hard to argue with a cheese that melts all over the tuna salad as it toasts in the skillet.

Tuna melt two ways: With Cheddar and with Jalapeño Jack, which the author preferred. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

The former chef in van Olphen hacks the classic by making a homemade ketchup to serve as a dipping sauce for the tuna melt. It’s a good, tangy, sweet tomato mix.


Serves two


Six-ounce can of oil-packed tuna, drained

Quarter cup diced red onion

One scallion, finely chopped

Three tbsp coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Three tbsp mayonnaise

Hot sauce, such as Tabasco

Salt and freshly ground pepper

Four slices of rustic bread

Two tbsp unsalted butter

Four slices of sharp cheddar cheese

Ketchup (recipe follows), or your favourite store-bought bottle


In a medium bowl mix the tuna, red onion, scallion, parsley, mayonnaise, and a few dashes of hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

Butter each slice of bread on one side. Divide the tuna mixture on the unbuttered side of two bread slices and top with the cheddar and then the other two bread slices, buttered sides up. Warm a griddle or cast-iron skillet over moderate heat and fry the sandwiches, carefully turning once, until the bread is crusty and the cheese is melted, about three minutes per side. Serve hot with ketchup.


Makes about two cups

Two tbsp olive oil

One garlic clove, minced

Half cup chopped red onion

One 14-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes

Half tbsp tomato puree

One tbsp dark brown sugar, plus more to taste

One tbsp vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic and red onion and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened but not browned, about five minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, sugar, and vinegar and cook over low heat, breaking up the tomatoes, until thick, about eight minutes. Let cool, then transfer to a small blender and puree. Season the ketchup with salt and pepper, and more brown sugar, if desired.