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Not My Mama’s Tuna Fish Sandwich!

Image of Kimchi Tuna Fish Sandwich

This month’s featured staff recipe goes over the top in fulfilling this blog’s only requirement that at least one of Melissa’s products, fresh or processed, be included in the dish. Kenny Kataoka, a longtime member of Melissa’s procurement team, incorporates six (6!) ingredients from the Melissa’s pantry that transform the classic tuna fish sandwich into a culinary experience that he has perfected over time!

“This recipe developed with age—my age,” Kenny explained. “I am an avid tennis player, have been for years. Lunch after a match is where this sandwich was born. I am the type of person who never follows a recipe. I was never satisfied with the traditional Tuna Sandwich, so I slowly made it my own by experimenting with other additives. As I got older, I started using more spice in my foods; no doubt, working with the wide array of spicy products that Melissa’s carries inspired this change in my palate. This sandwich is now my after-match go-to lunch, accompanied by a cold Japanese beer on the side!”

Ah, the tuna fish sandwich! I know it well, and the title of this blog refers to that familiarity, literally. For this writer’s entire grade school career, my bagged lunch of choice consisted of said sandwich— it was the only sandwich I would eat as a kid. (Not true now, and I don’t know why then!) While I am sure that a version of this sandwich has been around for centuries using fresh-caught fish, the popularity by the general public of the classic recipe came about with the invention of three convenience foods in the early 1900s: canned tuna (1904), Richard Hellmann began mass-producing mayonnaise (1905) and, the clincher came in the early 1920s when pre-sliced wheat bread became commercially available. These have been the pillar ingredients of this sandwich for more than a century – a mix of canned tuna and mayo spread on sliced wheat— until Kenny’s Kimchi Tuna came along to break all the rules deliciously!

Rule breakers: no mayo and no wimpy sliced bread. Replace the mayo with a two-color Hatch pepper sauce blend; replace those thin slices with a flavorful cheese bread or any favorite hearty option. Add to the mixture of tuna and Hatch sauce two kinds of pickled peppers, the juicy fresh taste of a few heirloom baby tomatoes, and the real king of spicy – Kimchi (hot). All ingredients from Melissa’s product list and all small diced so that every bite contains the full impact of Kenny’s unique collection of flavors. Hold up - that first bite will have to wait for an odd finishing touch that really works – a generous sprinkle of crushed Fritos Chile Cheese Corn Chips, served open-face! The very tasty, pleasantly spicy-crunchy results resemble nothing that ever came out of the brown paper bag lunches of my youth!
Image of Kenny
Kenny Kataoka has been a Melissa’s procurement team member for some twenty-two years. For most of that time, Kenny has been one of the company’s road warriors, ferreting new products from growing regions across this country and around the globe. That is until the pandemic curtailed travel completely.

“I was part of our domestic and international team that traveled the world looking for those hidden gems of exotic fruits and veggies, then worked with growers to develop marketing and distribution programs,” Kenny described, then elaborated. “I’ve been to over 50 countries, though it also kept me on the road and out of the office for more than six months of the year. Now I am in the office every day managing some of our most popular specialty items such as Pinkglow® Pineapples, Square Watermelons and popcorn.”

The business of perishable fresh produce is a uniquely addicting industry that demands a 24/7 professional work ethic and an inherent market sense. It is not a profession for everyone; for others, the business is so intriguing that they live it almost every minute of the day... and night! There is so much expertise as well as challenges involved in first sourcing and then shipping a temperature-sensitive pink pineapple, for instance, from a small farm in south central Costa Rica to a retail display in Cleveland. Kenny Kataoka is one of those professional produce veterans that our industry depends upon who loves a good challenge.

“Whether I am in the office or out in the field, every day is different. Conditions and markets can change by the minute, so the key is being able to adjust quickly to those changes. One day you’re over-sold, and the next day you have a surplus of inventory. Three years ago, I would have laughed at the idea of selling popcorn; today, I am managing truckloads! And now that I am in the office daily, I am also sensitive to the staff who work remotely, so I try to support them too. It’s a fascinating, sometimes frustrating / sometimes challenging business, and I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything in the world…I love this stuff!”

As mentioned, when not arranging for popcorn deliveries, tennis has been Kenny’s sport of choice since high school because he “loves sweating, the competition and winning matches.” However, we believe he is probably being quite modest in describing his game as “still being very good in my age group.” He played on his high school and college teams; the produce industry’s early morning hours allow him to still play club tennis several times a week. It’s a good bet that he has a few trophies stashed in a display case somewhere!

I am constantly surprised by the wide range of personalities named in the answers to a question that l pose to all recipe participants. If you could invite anyone famous from history or present time to dine at your own table, who would that be and why? Kenny did not deliberate a second:

“Cyndi Lauper! I fell in love with her from her latest talk shows, videos and commercials, and I always liked her music. She seems like a really cool person and the first person I thought of when I read your question. I hope she likes sushi, too”

What? Not tuna fish?

Kenny K’s Kimchi Tuna Fish Sandwich
Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches
Image of Ingredients for Kimchi Tuna Sandwich
2 cans tuna fish (water packed), drained
¼ cup Red & Green Hatch Chile Blend
¼ cup Melissa’s Pickled Yellow Peppers, small dice
¼ cup Melissa’s Pickled Jalapenos, small dice
½ cup Melissa’s Heirloom Baby Tomatoes, small dice
½ cup Melissa’s Kimchi (Hot), small dice
Melissa’s Rainbow Peppercorn Grinder, “to taste”
1 cup Fritos Chile Cheese Corn Chips, crushed
2 large slices of favorite cheese bread, toasted (option depicted: a Ciabatta bun)

Image of combining tuna with Hatch Pepper blend
In medium-size bowl, combine the tuna with the Hatch Pepper blend.
Image of diced ingredients
Dice the yellow peppers, jalapeños, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and kimchi.
Image of combining all ingredients
Add diced veggies to the tuna mixture, sprinkle with several twists of peppercorns and mix thoroughly. Best chilled for at least an hour, though understandable if hunger prevails!
Image of toasting bread and crushed chips
Toast the bread and mash the corn chips into crumbles.
Image of served sandwich with beer
Chef’s Note: spread the tuna mixture generously on a slice, and top with a thick sprinkle of corn chips to add color and crunchiness. Pour a glass of a favorite brand of chilled Japanese beer and enjoy!
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