Why It Works
- Brushing the bread with oil or butter ensures it's evenly coated for proper griddling without accidentally saturating it with pools of grease in the pan.
- Adding extra mayo plus panko bread crumbs to the tuna salad creates a texture that is moist and light and fluffy, but not runny.
- Toasting both sides of each bread slice ensures maximum flavor and textural contrast.
This is perhaps the most iconic rendition of a tuna melt, and it is defined by its simplicity. It features little more than canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise, bread, and sliced cheese, but when you pay attention to the details, it's a work of art. Those details include toasted each bread slice on both sides, mashing the tuna thoroughly with the mayo, and properly melting the cheese.
This recipe can be made into open-faced sandwiches or closed, but try to keep in mind the ratio of bread thickness to tuna filling: You'll want a thicker slab of bread for open-faced sandwiches and thinner ones for closed. If your bread is pre-sliced, its thickness may be the determining factor.
Once you've mastered the classic, have fun with your tuna melts. We recommend this Jewish deli-style tuna melt with celery, relish, and Swiss cheese, for starters, but you can also go wild with this fully loaded tuna melt with bacon, pickled peppers, avocado, and more.
- One 5-ounce (142g) canned oil- or water-packed tuna, drained well
- 1/2 cup (120g) Hellmann's mayonnaise (see note)
- 2 tablespoons (10g) panko bread crumbs (optional; see note)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Two 1-inch-thick slices (for open-faced) or four 1/2-inch-thick slices (for closed sandwiches) white sandwich bread
- Vegetable oil, clarified butter, and/or melted butter, for brushing the bread
- 4 slices Cheddar or American cheese
In a small mixing bowl, combine tuna, mayonnaise, and panko (if using). Using a fork or stiff rubber spatula, stir and mash mixture vigorously until well-combined and almost no flakes of tuna remain. Season with salt and pepper.
For Open-Faced Sandwiches: Position oven rack about 6 inches from broiler element, and preheat broiler. Using a pastry brush, lightly but evenly brush both sides of each slice of bread with oil, clarified butter, or melted butter. In a large cast iron or nonstick skillet, or using a griddle, toast bread slices on first side over medium heat until nicely browned and crisp, about 3 minutes; using a cooking weight or spatula, gently press down on bread slices while toasting to ensure even heating and browning.
Flip bread and lay one slice of cheese on top of each bread slice. Mound tuna salad on top of cheese, spreading it in an even layer, then top each with remaining 2 cheese slices. Continue to cook until bottom of bread is well toasted, then transfer to a baking sheet and broil until cheese is well melted, about 1 minute. Serve.
For Closed Sandwiches: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Using a pastry brush, lightly but evenly brush both sides of each slice of bread with oil, clarified butter, or melted butter. In a large cast iron or nonstick skillet, or using a griddle, toast bread slices on first side over medium heat until nicely browned and crisp, about 3 minutes; using a cooking weight or spatula, gently press down on bread slices while toasting to ensure even heating and browning.
Flip bread and lay one slice of cheese on top of each bread slice. Mound tuna salad on top of 2 of the bread slices, spreading it in an even layer. Close sandwiches, placing top bread slices cheese side down, and continue to cook until bottom of sandwich is well toasted; press down gently on sandwich with cooking weights or a spatula to ensure even heating and browning.
Flip tuna melt and cook until second side is well toasted. If your cheese at this point isn't melted enough, transfer sandwiches to a baking sheet and heat in oven until cheese is well melted, about 3 minutes. Serve.
We don't often specify brands, but in this classic tuna melt, Hellmann's adds its signature flavor. Feel free to use another preferred brand or homemade if you prefer.
Panko helps make a tuna salad that's light and fluffy and moist without being runny. If you don't have it, do not substitute with another type of bread crumb as they will be too dense. Instead, reduce the mayonnaise from 1/2 cup (120g) to 6 tablespoons (90g).
For the fat to toast the bread, a neutral vegetable oil will make very crisp toasts but won't add any flavor; clarified butter will also make very crisp bread with a buttery flavor; melted butter will add buttery flavor too, but its water content will impede crisping slightly. You can use any three by themselves, or toast with oil for maximum crispness and then lightly brush with melted butter for just a bit of that rich dairy flavor.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The tuna salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container overnight.