Thursday, April 30, 2020

An escape to tuna melts -- April 30, 2020 column


I wasn’t going to write about Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and his tuna melt.

His debut cooking video was a hoot, but I resolved to stay out of the ensuing fracas over his undrained tuna, his betrayal of Duke’s for Hellmann’s, and his microwave technique.

But I loved Sen. Kamala Harris’s tweet in response to Warner’s video: “Mark – we need to talk. Call. Please. Your friend KDH.”

The California Democrat’s how-to video tutorial on tuna melts with Warner as pupil was charming and fun.  

In the era of Room Rater, when the home backgrounds of celebrities on video chats are graded – see @ratemyskyperoom on Twitter -- Warner compliments Harris on her lovely kitchen. She says she saw his kitchen, too.

It’s an “extra kitchen,” says Warner, a Democrat and one of the wealthiest senators.

“I only have one kitchen,” Harris deadpans.

He teases her about the teaspoon of Dijon mustard in the tuna as a “Northern California” addition and, going all Everyman, brandishes a block of Velveeta and a package of bologna for the future.

When the tutorial is over, you think you’ve wasted 10 minutes of your life, but you’ve laughed. You feel better. That’s not a bad use of 10 minutes in the middle of the worst health crisis any of us has ever seen.

More than a million Americans have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, and more than 60,000 have died. Healthcare workers risk their lives daily going to work 13-hour shifts with just one protective N95 mask to wear all day.

News about the economy is apocalyptic. The U.S. economy shrank at a 4.8% annual rate in the first quarter, the worst quarterly slide since the fourth quarter of 2008, and analysts predict a cataclysmic drop of 30% in the second quarter. More than 26 million Americans are out of work.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump let national stay-at-home guidelines expire Thursday. Despite warnings from health professionals that social distancing is still needed to avoid a surge in cases, Trump wants to see people sitting “right next to each other” at baseball and football games soon.

After dragging his feet on using executive power to produce masks and other personal protective equipment for medical workers, Trump sprang into action to avert a meat and poultry shortage.

About 20 processing plants around the country had shut down after thousands of workers crowded close to each other on beef, pork or chicken assembly lines had fallen sick, and some had died. The plants created disease hot spots that are overwhelming rural hospitals.

Trump declared the plants “critical infrastructure” and ordered them to reopen. He said he would protect companies from legal liability if they are sued by employees who get COVID-19 on the job.

That little can of tuna on the pantry shelf suddenly was far more appetizing than animal proteins processed by workers under duress and scared for their lives.

I was making tuna melts long before Warner and Harris made them cool – if the comfort food sandwich can ever be cool. Weeks ago, I found tuna melts just the thing for a stay-home lunch and have made them several times.

I’m evidently not alone. Tuna is so popular some groceries stores have started limiting sales.

So here’s my take: Mix drained and flaked white or light tuna, chopped celery, chopped red bell pepper, grated sharp cheddar (right from the bag, no need to grate your own) and minced pickles. I like cornichons, those fussy little French dilled pickles, but sweet gherkins work too.  

Add a dollop or two of Duke’s Light mayonnaise. Not too much. Sprinkle on pepper, mix again and stuff the mixture into whole wheat hot dog buns. Yes, they exist.

Warner used sliced white bread. Whole wheat buns let you flirt with virtue.

Wrap each tuna melt in aluminum foil and cook 20 or 25 minutes in a 350-degree preheated oven -- not the microwave a la Warner. The oven gives the sandwich a melty interior and a toasty top.

While you’re busy chopping, mixing and stuffing, keep your mind on the tasks at hand. 

Let the tuna melt be your temporary escape to a simpler and safer time. Enjoy.

©2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Marsha, who but you would pair a recipe for tuna melt with an analysis of our present crisis? Well done as always! Keep on making the good stuff!

  3. Thank you, Dan! Nice to hear from you. Hope you are doing well and staying safe.