Canned Tuna, it turns out, is relatively new on the culinary scene. Before 1903, sardines made up the bulk of American canned fish. That year sardine supplies were in short supply. A grocer in California named Albert P. Halfhill decided to pack empty sardine tins with Albacore Tuna. The fish itself was considered a “nuisance fish’ because it’s large schools got in the way of catching the prized sardines. Mr. Halfhill discovered that, when steamed, the tuna turned an appealing white color with a great taste. He was not alone in his liking for canned tuna. In less that a decade, tuna was being produced by 13 factories delivering 115,000 cases a year. Then, during World War I, easily transported canned tuna was sent overseas to feed the troops. It became so wildly popular that by 1954, the US was the world’s largest producer of canned tuna eclipsing Italy and Japan who had invented canned tuna.
|The Lunch Counter at Woolworth’s on King St.
in Charleston S.C.
Was the Tuna Melt invented here?
|Palace Diner in Biddeford Maine.
Home of the Ultimate Tuna Melt
The secret to a great tuna melt goes beyond creating a great tuna salad like this one. This recipe is full of flavor and not nearly as mayonnaise-y as most. The cucumber here adds another dimension in flavor and crunch. And while the ingredient list is substantially longer than you would expect, every ingredient brings a nuance to the finished salad. If you make the salad and immediately make the tuna melt, you will avoid the arctic chill of many a Tuna Melt. The original recipe called for Brioche Bread. I much prefer the English Muffin as a base – I am a sucker for those nooks and crannies. I also believe that the muffins should be toasted prior to the addition of the tuna salad. This has the same effect as pre-cooking a tart shell so there’s no soggy bottom. Finally, I grated the cheese rather than using a slab or slice of cheddar. I think it melts better that way. The Palace Diner version caps off the sandwich with iceberg lettuce and a couple of pickles. I served my pickles but, as a Tuna Melt purist, left out the Iceberg. To my way of thinking, I achieved the Ultimate Tuna Melt. Here is the recipe:
1 English hothouse cucumber, sliced ⅛” thick
2 5-oz. cans water-packed solid white tuna, drained
5 thoughts on “In Search of the Ultimate Tuna Melt (and Bread and Butter Pickles to go with it)”
Hi there. I am so glad you reminded me of this wonderful sandwich and its history. I am, however, a bit puzzled by your reference to Warren Bobrow as it appears here and I am totally flummoxed by the (…). Can you supply the missing links? Thanks so much.
Thanks so much for the link!