I used to love tuna fish sandwiches. It’s true. I ate a minimum of 3 to 4 huge tuna sandwiches a week in a period of time from my late teens until my mid twenties. A period I whimsically entitled “Heavy Metal” and not because of my brief foray into the world of big hair and spandex that I am still feeling the effects of.
And after years of literally hiding in my closet making it tough to both keep a job and raise a family, I have deciding to write about these delicious sandwiches that I wouldn’t currently touch with a ten-foot pole. Nine feet and it would be a whole different story.
Why did I once enjoy these sandwiches so much and why do I no longer eat them and where is my shirt and other questions you may have will be answered to the best of my ability in the paragraphs to come. I promise I won’t “patronize my readers” or “fail to deliver” or “mail this one in” (I did try to mail a previous piece in and was told that this was a website and that “mailing” made no sense at all and my lack of understanding regarding the Internet was “quaint” and “annoying” and “don’t make us come over there”.)
In order for you to understand my love with this sandwich, I need to explain the entire experience which not only bordered on ritualistic but invaded and conquered ritualistic in a series of “peaceful” skirmishes back in the summer of ‘88.
It all started with the raiding of my parent’s refrigerator when everyone else was out and this was always followed by the lining up of the ingredients on the kitchen counter as if they were debutantes at their coming out ball. I had a fascination with debutantes at a young age that was curiously morphed into a love of fungi as an adult.
In my memory, there was always a basketball game on TV as I furiously and passionately constructed my masterpiece like a furious and passionate history teacher at the local community college or a furious and passionate heavy duty mechanic or a furious and passionate conductor of the symphony that is almost going belly-up (it’s that new music these days).
The sounds of the tip off motivated me as bread was toasted, cans were opened, baby hairs were lighting blown and veggies were washed and chopped. I would sit in front of the TV with my favourite lunch and devour a now-gross amount of food and lay back and watch the game both because I love basketball and because I couldn’t physically stand up for the next 75 minutes.
So what has changed in present day? I still love basketball. I still love lunch. I still love acting like a 17 year old at his parent’s house. But, the days when I would eat two massive sandwiches in a sitting are long gone. In this era of eating lighter just in case I decide to drop out and fulfill my destiny to become a ballerina once-and-for-all, multiple large, heaping sandwiches are no longer on the menu. Why did I invest so much time and money buying those menus anyways?
Those days of eating can after can after can of tuna are in the rearview mirror now. My mom was always constantly and articulately trying to convince me to eat less tuna or at least fewer chunks or flakes of tuna depending on which variety of tuna I bought. She talked of her strong dislike of bottom feeders of all kinds and of her love of all of the elements on the periodic table aside from that bastard, Mercury, who should “just stay in thermometers”. She talked of rare Hasidic rituals that forbade the eating of canned fish on even numbered days as well as the odd ones. She also threatened to start threatening me, but, thankfully, it never came to that.
As my habits changed and the brainwashing worked its magic, these sandwiches and the experience of eating them got dropped from the docket and replaced, at least temporarily, with violin music and weeping. But allow me to take this trip down memory lane and tell you all about the sandwich that made me the man I am today. Some would argue I wouldn’t be this man sitting here at the computer typing this if I hadn’t first eaten all of these sandwiches, and to those people, I say “thanks dad and the marionette who sat in for dad for that year when dad went to clown school”.
Here it is — my favourite lunch from my past minus the need for a nap after consuming and the resulting gastrointestinal distress.
*Note: I always made two of these, but this recipe is for one. You can always double or triple this recipe if you have company for lunch or if you want to fully experience regret and guilt when connected to consuming too many sandwiches. Some say you haven’t lived until you’ve done that. Some say those people may not have your best interests at heart.
2 pieces of Bread, toasted (back in the day, I used whole wheat, but there are so many options)
1 can Tuna Fish (I preferred my tuna flaked and in water)
a drizzle of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (or two, if you are feeling a bit loopy)
a splash of lemon juice (or a squeeze from a lemon)
1 green onion, sliced (minced, if you so desire)
3 thin slices, Cheddar Cheese
some Lettuce (back in the day, either red leaf or green leaf were the best options, but these days, I’d opt for peppery Arugula or crunchy Baby Kale)
1 large Dill Pickle (and I mean large — like one you’d see in a jar at a Jewish deli)
2–3 slices each, Red and Green Bell Pepper (in the old days, I only used green as red was hella expensive)
2 thick slices of good tomato (enough to cover the width and length of the sandwich)
6 slices, English or Field Cucumber (the BEST cucumbers were straight from the garden)
1/2 an Avocado (or less or more depending on what you like)
3–4 pieces of Feta Cheese
a teaspoon of grainy Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
*you may notice I have not included mayo in this sandwich as I hate mayo (though a homemade aioli is something spectacular)
- Using a sharp knife, prep your veggies. You could use a dull knife, instead, but think of what the neighbors will say. Wash and assemble the veggies in a straight line on your counter top to both thank them for their service and wish you all lived in a universe where they weren’t so healthy and tasty. Attempt not to cry.
- Start with the cucumber and remove it’s peel, but only if you dislike eating cucumber peel, or are that heartless. Then slice the cucumber in slices as thick as you can tolerate in this current political climate.
- Pick up the peppers, one at a time, and try not to think of that time your dad picked you up before throwing you into the deep end before you knew how to swim. Cut away approximately 1/3 of each pepper, remove any seeds or pith (whatever you do, don’t stop and try to say pepper pith 10 times fast). Cut each piece of pepper into 3 strips.
- With the tomato, first remove the top and bottom, as no one eats those parts of the tomato unless living in fear of reprisals. Then slice two thick, juicy slabs of tomato and watch them fall to the cutting board with a glee you usually reserve for watching snowmen melt while your children watch and cry.
- Take the pickle and, please, for everyone’s sake, refrain from any and all inappropriate jokes as you are “supposed to be the adult”. Slice the pickle lengthwise into 4 thin pieces that will lay flat on the sandwich or on your pillow if you don’t do your own laundry.
- Remove the very end of the green onion and cut into small pieces unless you love huge chunks of onion in your sandwich and, if you do, maybe that is the reason you don’t get invited to more parties.
- Take out a huge chunk of cheddar cheese and, using a cheese knife, slice 3 slices of cheese for your sandwich. You may also slice an extra slice or two “for your homies”.
- Place the bread in a toaster and watch the insides of the toaster turn red hot as it toasts the bread. Allow yourself a loud “ha” as you watch.
- Using a can opener, or your teeth if you are trying to impress a date, open the tuna can. If you own a cat or like to pretend you own a cat for insurance purposes, pour the liquid into a bowl and place on the floor, calling out “here Sprinkles”. Place tuna in bowl with green onions and add the olive oil and lemon juice. Mix thoroughly with a fork or a spoon if you were raised that way.
- Before beginning to assemble the sandwich, pause and look out the window at the horizon. Place one slice of toast on the cutting board and spoon half of the tuna mixture on top (save the second half in the fridge for future sandwiches or to spread all over your face to take a selfie with as proof you aren’t well enough to come to work). Place cheddar slices on top and place in microwave, toaster oven or use a blow torch if you have one handy until cheese is melted (note: if you feel the need to always have a blow torch handy, it may be worth getting that checked out).
- Salt and pepper the melted cheese like there is no tomorrow, unless you know for a fact there isn’t, then don’t. Now isn’t the time for sandwiches. Spend time with love ones.
- In any order you like, place veggies on top of cheese. I prefer the thinnest ones first (but only with veggies and only when assembling sandwiches). I also spend some time letting the veggies know that thin isn’t the goal and that all of them have different shapes and that’s okay. My go to order would be cucumber, pickle, tomato and pepper, but even I vary that once and a while to truly live.
- Once the veggies are stacked and understand the seriousness of my order not to fall or roll around, I place the feta cheese on top because in all instances, two cheeses are always better than one, except when playing high stakes poker or truth or dare (believe me on that).
- Place your lettuce on top of the feta. You can either delicately place the lettuce on the sandwich or make it rain. That’s right, baby, it’s raining arugula at my house tonight!
- Take the second slice of bread who thought it was being left out again like those times you only made an open-faced sandwich, and spread Dijon all over it like the way you spread sun screen on your grandmother’s back, only with more love as mustard is sensitive.
- Mush the avocado with a fork all over the mustard so it can’t go anywhere. To practice, I suggest mushing a wide variety of items with a fork — mashed potato, playdough and your roommates’ foot, but only when they are passed out after a night of heavy drinking.
- Carefully flip the avocado and mustard piece of toast up onto the veggie and tuna piece and take a step back and appreciate your work. If you planned ahead, the audience will give you a standing ovation at this point because of your great sandwich work or because they pity you or both!
- Take a bite and close your eyes. This is what dreams are made of.