I'm making good on my promise to name a winner between my go-to vegetarian melts and old school, diner-style tuna melts in their (not at all fabricated) fight for my affection, and I'll just come right out and say it: TUNAAAAAA. Clearly, tuna. I had my doubts before, but not anymore. Consider me converted.
In fact, these delightfully weird sammies are responsible for turning three tuna melt skeptics into full-fledged devotees (one of whom is wondering at this moment how soon she can make them again). I was shocked at how much we - Cos, Martin, and myself, three people of varying feels about tuna - each enjoyed them because, let's face it, warm tuna salad stuffed into a grilled cheese doesn't appeal to everyone. Tuna melts are notoriously divisive. You're either a fan or you're grossed out. That is, unless you're like us and had never actually tried one but just assumed you'd be grossed out. If that's the case, then you've come to the right place! This one's for you.
If you adhere to these three principles, you'll end up with a tuna melt to win the hearts of skeptics (maybe even your own). What I'm saying is, if you make this tuna melt and you don't like it...maybe you're not into tuna melts?? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
First and most importantly, you must make them with only your BEST tuna salad. If you're tuna salad is meh, then your sandwich will be too, and nobody needs a meh tuna melt. If you don't have a best/fav tuna salad recipe, this is the perfect time to get that sorted. For us the perfect combination was the one you see here with grated white onion, cornichons, and jalapeños. If you like sweet relish then maybe sub it for the cornichons. Take or leave the jalapeños. Temper the onion with a short soak in cold water if you're worried about them overpowering everything. And above all else, get that mayo to dijon ratio just how you like it, working a small spoonful at a time. Overall, its your best tuna salad, so do as the spirits tells you.
Second, you need sharp cheddar cheese, or at least medium. Cheddar or bust though, okay? I've seen so many tuna melts made with swiss and I am extremely turned off by it. I'm also pretty much opposed to non-cheddar grilled cheeses, though, so maybe that's just a me thing. Either way, I'm putting it out here because I believe it's true. For tuna melts, ain't nothing bettah than cheddah.
Third, this is sort of a no-brainer but its crucial enough for a mention, let your butter warm to room temperature for maximum spreadability and make sure to cover one side of each slice of bread completely. It's difficult to dislike well-buttered fried bread. Bonus, the closer to room temperature it is, the less you'll end up using. We only used 1 tablespoon per sandwich and check out that bronze!
Other suggestions that are hella tasty, but not completely necessary for a killer tuna melt: sourdough bread, which has a nice tang and heft that holds up sturdily against all the creaminess; sliced tomato, which sneaks in the tiniest bit of freshness.
Diner-Style Tuna Melts, adapted liberally from Cravings
Yields 4 to 6 medium-small sandwiches (depending on your preferred tuna/bread/cheese ratio)
2 (6.5 oz) pouches or (5 oz) cans water-packed white tuna, drained
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup grated onion (soaked in cold water for 5 mins to cut the bite, then drained)
3-4 cornichons, finely minced
pickled jalapeños, to taste, finely chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 large (i.e., middle) slices of a sourdough boule (or between 8-12 country white)
4 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature (major key)
1 large ripe tomato, thinly sliced (very last of heirloom season, maybe)
4-6 slices cheddar cheese
In a bowl, combine all of the tuna ingredients, and mix until fully incorporated. Taste for seasoning and creaminess factor. Add more mayonnaise, a spoonful at a time, until you’ve reached your creamy peak. If you do end up adding more, add a few more grinds of pepper.
Spread 1/2 tablespoon of butter on each side of each piece of bread. Turn the bread butter-side down and divide the tuna mixture between half of the slices. Layer with tomato and cheddar, and top the sandwiches with the remaining slice of bread, butter-side up.
Heat a small or medium skillet over medium-low heat and cook the sandwiches, smushing down the top side gently with the spatula, until both sides are a nicely bronzed and the cheese is oozing, about 5 minutes per side.
If you used bread from a boule, cut the large sandwiches in half. Devour and let yourself be pleasantly surprised.