Tuna melt – it sounds so pedestrian, so banal, so recherché.
If that’s what you are thinking – leave now, I don’t want you in my world and your soul has lost all hope for culinary salvation.
A well-made, proper tuna melt is a sandwich of beauty and unmatched savor, and I will teach you to make the best one on the planet.
First – a tuna salad secret held closely by old-school Jewish deli men that I will share at great risk to life and limb.
This may surprise you, but the secret to a truly awesome deli-style tuna salad is a bit of schmaltz, aka rendered chicken fat!
Yes – schmaltz.
The secret is that you use only enough to add a richness to the mayo that you can’t quite put your finger on.
Trust me – this works and it is the reason so many old-school deli tuna sandwiches tasted so good.
Make this into a tuna melt with top-quality cheese and you have a true diner classic, with a touch of true Jewish deli thrown in for good measure. If you prefer, leave out the schmaltz but trust me, you’re missing out if you do.
My other secret ingredients – a hint of curry powder, which I find really amps up the flavor quotient in a truly delicious way and a special cheese blend that exemplifies deliciousness.
Be sure and finely mince the celery and shallot to the smallest dice you can – and make sure they’re the same size. Textural consistency is very important in this sandwich.
Enjoy my killer recipe, Citizens – it is truly unmatched!
Battle on – The Generalissimo
1 can (6 oz) top-quality solid packed white albacore tuna in oil
2 ½ Tbs Best Foods mayonnaisse or to your taste
½ Tbs plain rendered pure chicken fat (schmaltz) or to your taste
finely minced shallot (alternatively, mild white or Maui onion), to taste
finely minced celery (de-stringed), to taste
Wickles sweet pickle relish, to taste
A large pinch of curry powder
Paper-thin slices of cucumber
Thin slice of heirloom tomato, de-seeded
Mix of grated Gruyere and Beemster Vlaskaas Cheese (my personal blend) or grated cheddar if you’re feeling less adventurous
Romaine lettuce leaves
Make the schmaltz by slowly cooking shredded chicken skin with a bit of oil, or buy some from your butcher – it is also sold jarred in many supermarkets.
Drain tuna and place in mixing bowl. Break up and mash tuna with fork to remove clumps and make a spreadable consistency. Use a stirring motion to flake the tuna as fine as possible. Mix in the mayo. Then add and mix in ONLY enough schmaltz until tuna achieves a rich taste.
Mix in celery, relish and shallot. Add curry powder. Mix again.
The important part:
Tuna should neither be flavored with either too much mayo or schmaltz. You shouldn’t be aware of any blatant schmaltz taste in the tuna.
You can make a tuna melt that stays crunchy without the tuna getting hot by using my hybrid method.
Butter one side of a piece of top-quality bread (I prefer potato bread (old-school!) or artisanal sourdough and occasionally rye), and brown that side on a griddle.
Then put it on a rack in a sheet pan and top with tuna salad and cheese. Run it under the broiler and you have an open faced sandwich with a crunchy bottom layer.
The rack is crucial, because if you just put the bread on the pan, the heat from the cooking can make the bread steam and get soggy.
Add a few sprigs of dill, the tomato slice, cucumber slices and a piece of Romaine lettuce on top. Top with another piece of pan-griddled bread.
Serve with a dill pickle spear and potato chips plus a side of good childhood memories.