Stealing from the Restaurant: Big City's Tuna Melt

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Photos by Eric Barton

My intention when I sit down at Big City is usually to order one of their excellent salads. What I get instead is usually something with a whole lot more carbs and fat: a simple-yet-perfect open-faced tuna melt piled onto English muffins and covered in melted cheese. The $11.50 dish is nothing fancy, but it's a good example, in this era of comfort food menus, how a chef can elevate something simple that mom used to make.

In trying this dish myself, it wasn't hard to guess the ingredients. Or the way they put it together. Yes, one serious screw-up follows in this recipe, but in the end, I'm going to go as far as to say mine is a bit better than Big City's.

It seemed that Big City kept the tuna salad part of the tuna melt simple. So I started with tuna in water, Dijon mustard, mayo, chopped celery, a bit of powdered garlic, a good dash of dill (I used dried, but fresh would've been better), and salt and pepper.

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Since my wife doesn't like tuna, I made a second bowl full of chicken salad with the same ingredients as above.

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Next came getting the salad perched perfectly on toasted English muffins (I used multi-grain to make them a bit more healthy). I'm guessing Big City uses an ice cream scoop, which I don't own. So I filled a glass ramekin halfway with the salad and topped it with the English muffin.

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Next comes the best part: a slice of American cheese on top. No need to press it down much and mess up your mold -- it's destined to melt across the top anyway.

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Now here's where I screwed up. It doesn't take long under a broiler to burn the crap out of cheese, which I did in under three minutes.

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Luckily, the burned part of the cheese wasn't hard to remove: I simply scooped off the burned part with a spoon.

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I added a new slice to cover up the bald spot. This time, two minutes under the broiler did the trick. I plated mine with a bit of cottage cheese with a dollop of strawberry jam in the middle. It provided a nice sweet contrast to the salty tuna.

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And in the end, I had a damn fine fascimile of the tuna melt from Big City. In fact, two ingredients seemed to improve it. First, the American cheese melted better than the cheese used at Big City -- I'm guessing they use a mild cheddar -- and the melty cheese even managed to mix with the salad a bit, which tasted fabulous.

Second, I used multi-grain English muffins, which were actually a bit crunchier than the regular white flour ones and gave it a bit of a nutty flavor that went well with both the tuna and the chicken.

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