Looking for a tasty and easy way to enjoy a classic tuna melt? Look no further! My recipe takes this comfort food favorite to the next level.
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One of my favorite nostalgic comfort foods is a toasty tuna melt. It’s always on my list to order at a diner, but it’s simple and easy to prepare at home. It’s a great way to take my classic tuna salad and transform it into a delicious leveled-up grilled cheese sandwich. It only takes a few minutes to cook for a quick lunch or dinner.
My tuna melt sandwich recipe starts with thick slices of bread and layers of cheddar cheese, juicy tomatoes, and a creamy protein-packed filling. Buttering the bread ensures golden brown and crisp pieces. Serve with a side of potato wedges, crispy chips, or a dill pickle.
- Canned Tuna: Use three 5-ounce cans of tuna in water and drain well. White albacore tuna will give a lighter color and firmer texture. Light tuna will be darker in color and softer in texture, with a more robust fish flavor.
- Mayonaise: The emulsified egg and oil sauce adds creaminess to the salad.
- Vegetables: Celery and red onions add a delicious crunch and freshness.
- Relish: Add tanginess with sweet pickle relish, dill pickle relish, or chopped pickles.
- Herbs: Sliced green onions and chopped parsley add an herbaceous taste.
- Mustard and Citrus: Dijon and lemon juice add a hint of spice and tartness.
- Seasonings: Salt and pepper enhance the savory taste.
- Bread: Purchase thick pieces of white, wheat, or sourdough bread, about ½ inch thick. This will create a sturdy sandwich.
- Cheese: Add about 1 ounce of mild or sharp cheddar—two slices or ¼ cup grated.
Make the salad
Use a fork to break up the tuna into smaller flakes. This will mainly be needed if using solid white tuna. Combine the fish with the mayonnaise, celery, red and green onions, relish, dijon mustard, parsley, lemon juice, salt, and pepper.
Mix until the tuna mixture is combined. It yields about 2 cups, ½ cup per sandwich. The salad can be prepared up to 5 days in advance, making it ideal for meal prep.
Butter the bread
The fat and milk solids in butter help the bread develop a golden brown hue and flavorful surface. Use softened butter to make it easy to spread a thin layer on one side or each piece. I also find it easy to brush on melted butter for an even coating, especially if the bread tends to be more delicate.
You can skip this step. However, the bread will be drier. If you want to reduce the amount of butter, you can lightly grease the pan each time the sandwich is flipped. Vegetable oil can also be used. I’ve also used mayonnaise to spread onto the bread for a crisp surface, but it will have a slightly eggy flavor.
Build the sandwich
To ensure that the cheese starts to melt first, it’s important to layer the sandwich a certain way. Add the cheese slices or grated cheese to the bread so it’s on the bottom. This gives it closer contact with the hot pan. Add the tomatoes on top, followed by ½ cup of tuna salad.
Place the other piece of bread on top. Now you’re ready to toast the sandwich! Alternatively, add cheese to the top and bottom for extra gooeyness. This also helps the sandwich stick together if you add additional ingredients to the tuna salad.
Cook the sandwich
The trickiest part of making a tuna melt is the timing of toasting the bread and melting the cheese. I prefer a nonstick pan or cast iron skillet that retains the heat well. Preheat the skillet over medium-low heat, then add the sandwich buttered-side down with the cheese on the bottom first.
Cover the sandwich with a lid to trap the steam. This will help melt the cheese and slightly warm the tuna salad. The moderate heat will gradually toast the bread, but check for doneness after 2 minutes. Adjust the heat down if needed.
Carefully flip the sandwich over, cover, and cook until the other side of the bread is golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Slice and enjoy immediately for a hot meal.
This recipe for tuna melt is a great base to start with, customizing it to make each sandwich even more exciting. Try these different toppings to switch up the flavor.
- Cheese: Mozzarella, swiss, smoked gouda, pepper jack, Monterey Jack, Havarti, Colby, or Gruyere.
- Bread: White, wheat, sourdough, squaw, mini melts on Hawaiian rolls.
- Cheese: Mozzarella, smoked gouda, cheddar, pepper jack, Monterey Jack, or Gruyere.
- Eggs: Chopped hardboiled eggs for richness and more protein.
- Vegetables: Alfalfa sprouts, lettuce, or cucumber.
- Avocado: Sliced or mashed avocado.
- Spiciness: Make it spicy with cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, chipotle powder, or diced jalapenos added to the tuna salad.
- Bacon: Add a few slices of crispy bacon to the sandwich.
- Potato salad
- Macaroni salad or Hawaiian macaroni salad
- Fruit salad
- Coleslaw or vinegar coleslaw
- Potato wedges or sweet potato fries
Frequently asked questions
The key ingredients are thick pieces of bread, tuna salad, and cheddar cheese. The sandwich is toasted until the bread is golden brown and crisp and the cheese is melted. It can be served as an open-faced sandwich, especially if adding a lot of toppings.
Try sour cream or plain Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise in the tuna salad. This will add a tangier flavor. Mashed avocado is a good dairy-free substitute.
Any type of melting cheese to give the characteristic cheese pull and help bind the sandwich. Cheddar, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, swiss, gouda, Gruyere, or Colby are good choices. Avoid dry-aged cheese like Parmesan.
Toasting tuna melts in the oven
To cook multiple tuna sandwiches simultaneously, bake them in the oven. Heat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC). Evenly space them on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake on the middle rack for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted. The hot enclosed environment will quickly dry the surface of the bread and melt the cheese.
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- 15 ounces canned tuna packed in water, drained, 1 ½ cups
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup diced celery, ⅛" dice
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
- 1 tablespoon dill relish
- 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 2 teaspoons sliced green onions
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ cup softened butter
- 8 slices bread, white, wheat, sourdough
- 8 slices tomato
- 8 slices cheddar cheese
- Make the Salad – In a large bowl, use a fork to break up the tuna into smaller pieces. Add the mayonnaise, celery, onion, pickle relish, mustard, green onions, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine, mixing well until the desired consistency is reached.
- Butter the Bread – Spread some of the softened butter on one side of each bread slice. Alternatively, melt the butter and brush on the bread.
- Build the Sandwich – Add 2 slices of cheese on top of one of the unbuttered sides of the bread. Top with 2 slices of tomato, season with salt and pepper. Add ½ cup of the tuna salad. Add the slice of bread on top, butter-side up. Repeat to make four total sandwiches.
- Cook First Side – Heat a large cast iron skillet or nonstick pan over medium-low heat. Once hot, add two sandwiches to the pan. Cover and cook until the bread is crisp and golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Flip Sandwich – Use a spatula to carefully flip the sandwich over. Cover and cook until golden brown and the cheese has melted, about 2 to 3 minutes. Cook the remaining two sandwiches.
- Cut & Serve – Slice and serve immediately while still warm.
- Cheese Options: Swiss, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, Pepper Jack, gouda, or provolone.
- Using Shredded Cheese: You’ll need 1 cup of grated cheese. Add ¼ cup per sandwich.
- Toppings: Sliced avocado, lettuce, pickled onions, pickle slices, or sprouts.
- Using Light Tuna: Typically Skip Jack, flavorful, softer texture, darker in color.
- Using White Tuna: Albacore is firmer, lighter in color, and milder in taste.
- Using Pouched Tuna: Does not require draining.
- Cooking in the Oven: To cook multiple sandwiches simultaneously, evenly space them on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 400ºF (200ºC) on the middle rack for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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