My most beloved sandwich EVER is tuna salad on focaccia with cheddar, sprouts, and marinated tomatoes from The Cheese Shop in Williamsburg, VA. I loved the sandwich so much, in fact, that I decided to pursue employment there. Employment gained, I enjoyed many a lunch break with this delicious sandwich (and a host of others to avoid the doldrums.) In my capacity as a Cheese Shop laborer, I was even called upon to make the crunchy-fruity-creamy salad and was given….THE RECIPE.
The Cheese Shop is so fabulously successful in part due to its consistency. The sandwich menu hasn’t changed for YEARS – there’s no compulsion to follow culinary trends; you’ll find no pretense here. The house dressing recipe is a carefully-guarded and undisturbed secret that has kept W&M alum flocking to the Shop summer after summer.
That being said, I do know of one amusing change to the Cheese Shop menu — When I began working at TCS, The Power family (that’s really their name) had just opened The Fat Canary next door and Tom Power Jr. and staff were blazing through the kitchen with excitement, know-how, and the kind of culinary hubris that only a brand new restaurant can elicit. When TPJ discovered (or rediscovered, as surely he had known all along) that the tuna salad recipe called for dried onions, rehydrated, he demanded that each cook at the Fat Canary chop one onion and send it over to the conjoined twin establishment to their left. Thus the time-honored recipe had been tweaked, but surely for the better.
Cheese Shop Tuna Salad
1 pound tuna, cooked in vegetable oil, salt and pepper; or two cans of the best canned tuna you can find
5 celery stalks, brunoise
1 small onion, brunoise
1 c. red seedless grapes, halved
3/4 c. walnuts, chopped
3/4 c. mayonnaise (I’m a Duke’s girl)
1/4 c. lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Allow to chill for a while to insure maximum flavorosity.
When I was growing up, I didn’t like tuna salad – in fact, weird eater that I was, I wouldn’t even try it. Little Stephanie was interested in raw cucumbers and tomatoes, mushrooms in any form, green beans, and SALAD. I could crush some salad bar. I didn’t eat hamburgers (not until senior year of high school had I even so much as tried one,) didn’t eat sandwiches (not even pbjs,) and I was most certainly not interested in mayonnaise-based salads of any kind. I was a strictly vinaigrette-seeking youth.
I’ve branched out to be a more equal-opportunity eater. I went from not liking tuna much at all to making tuna melts almost every sunday for family meal at Millie’s. Perennial favorite among staff is a riff on 81/2’s eggs with tuna sauce. It’s composed of tuna cooked in olive oil, capers, red onion, and lovely hard boiled eggs.
Tuna Salad with Capers
I cook them in olive oil, lemon juice, and s&p until completely cooked – about 20 minutes – at 350.)
1 small red onion, minced
4 stalks celery, minced
1/2 c. parsley, minced
1/4 c. mayonnaise
3/4 c. olive oil (you might not need all of it, but have about this amount on hand, and add it as you see fit — the salad should taste abundantly of olive oil.)
salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste
1/2 c. capers
4 hard boiled eggs
Combine everything but the capers and eggs, and mix until smooth. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt, pepper, and lemon juice levels as necessary. Mix some of the capers into the salad and reserve the rest for the top. Finish with remaining capers and hard boiled eggs.
My recent dearth of tuna left me with one last unexpected tuna boon – Tuna Noodle Casserole. Until very recently (like, as in the past couple of weeks,) I’ve found the very idea of such a casserole disturbing. My family was not above packaged foods – boxed mashed potatoes, shake n bake, etc – but we never went the tuna/hamburger helper route. In fact, with the notable exceptions of Mom’s Chicken Divan and Ginger’s Poppyseed Chicken, we weren’t very casserole-y people.
So, why did I suddenly develop a craving and a nostalgia for something I’d never eaten before? Well, one theory is that it’s comfort food at its purest. These days there have been a series of deaths affecting people whom I care about deeply — When my coworker’s father died last week, the idea instantly came to me to make her this casserole. I didn’t see any other options. I wanted my sympathy, my compassion to her in a time of grief, to translate in each bite.
I made two full casseroles so that Jonny D and I might verify whether or not this came across — Our reverent, silent, swift eating told me it had.
Tuna Noodle Casserole
2-ish pounds of tuna, cooked as mentioned in either of the recipes above; or 3 cans, drained
5 stalks celery, brunoise
1 onion, brunoise
1 c. mushrooms, diced
1 clove of garlic, smashed into paste
1 c. peas (I use frozen and simply thaw them by running them under warm water)
1 can cream of celery soup
1/2 c. sour cream
1/2 c. whole milk
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
2 c. cooked egg noodles – careful not to over cook, as they’ll continue cooking in the casserole.
1 c. vigo bread crumbs
2 T. butter
Saute the celery, onion, mushroom, and garlic in vegetable oil until transluscent. Add peas, season with s&p and remove from heat.
Toast the bread crumbs in butter until GBD.
Combine all casserole ingredients and top with toasted bread crumbs. Everything is cooked at this point, so you’re really just heating the casserole and distributing flavors — Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Make two, and give one to someone who needs it.