Pandemic Has Boosted Our Love for the Tuna Melt

In the early stages of the pandemic, many of us went to our local grocers to stock up on shelf-stable foods — and toilet paper — in response to a request to shelter in place.

When we shopped, one of the things we apparently all bought was a lot of canned tuna.

As a populous, we have always liked tuna in a tin; it gained popularity during World War I when we wanted to easily send food products to the troops. Canned tuna has remained one of the most popular seafood products sold in the United States. And its popularity is apparently rising. The amount of tuna sold compared to this time last year is reported to be substantially higher. But the biggest news may be that the old-fashioned tuna melt so many of us grew up eating is making a comeback. It is called “the most supermarket-driven of sandwiches.”

A recent article in Bloomberg News touts the “return of the tuna melt.” Reading their tribute to tuna reminded me how much my long-deceased father liked those cheesy, tuna fishy sandwiches. My mother made one for him at least once a week. She baked it and hers were always open-faced with a little dill pickle mixed in with the mayonnaise and a slice of tomato on top.

My husband is a seafood lover, tuna fish especially, and I recently realized I have never in our 30-plus years of marriage made him a tuna melt. So, with Father’s Day upon us, and our anniversary coming up in a week, I thought I would gift my spouse with the world’s most delicious tuna melt — as well as the recipe for making it. I relied on the “Tinned Fish Cookbook” by Bart van Olphen, a well regarded chef and “passionate sustainable seafood advocate.” He indicates he has a soft spot for combining “creamy tuna salad with melty cheese [and] the crunchiness of fried bread.”

I do not like tuna fish all that well, but I am getting hungry just writing this column. More importantly, I am paving the way for a uniquely memorable Father’s Day eating experience. Perfection in this cookbook version of the sandwich comes from well-drained tuna, 1/4 cup diced red onion, 1 scallion (white and green parts finely chopped) and 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley. I think my mother used more than the 3 tablespoons of mayonnaise this recipe calls for because my dad liked it “goopy.” And she would never have added the few dashes of hot sauce that is recommended. In my husband’s case, the inclusion of hot sauce guarantees this gift will please.

A cast iron skillet and “rustic bread,” each slice well buttered on the outside, are recommended. Sharp cheddar cheese is a given — two slices per sandwich. The frying part takes about 3 minutes. And there you have it — voila. A Father’s Day gift to be forever recalled. If I really wanted to impress I might make the homemade ketchup that the recipe offers, but I will defer on that. We have a pantry full of ketchup — it is next to all the tuna fish.

Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. 

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