appetiser, blog, main dish, savoury/savory
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Cheese-y Tuna Burgers Three Ways: Mustard, Pesto, and Sweet Chili Sauce

“Is this chicken, what I have, or is this fish? I know it’s tuna, but it says ‘Chicken of the Sea.'”

– Jessica Simpson

Does  anyone else remember the hilariously bad things Jessica Simpson used to say in the early 2000s? Every time I think of tuna that quote comes into my head and I get a little giggle. And I think of tuna a lot as it’s my favourite fish along with mackerel. I love adding tuna to salads, sandwiches, and finding new and exciting ways of using it. So, I’m a wee bit ashamed to say that Jessica Simpson tends to pop into my head a lot more often than I’d really like!

Growing up in my family, Friday’s were always meat-free days, so my parents would get out the big heavy chip pan and make homemade chips (french fries) on the hob. Dad’s chips were always of a thicker cut, golden and fluffy. Mam’s chips were always a bit thinner, darker and, if you were lucky, crispy the whole way through. We’d slather butter on some bread, loading each slice up with chips, some red sauce (ketchup) and, if you liked it, mayonnaise.  

Sometimes though, Mam would change it up and instead of chip sandwiches we’d eat tuna burgers with chips on the side. Luckily, the tuna burgers were sublime, so we never felt we were losing out on those Friday night chip sandwiches. I’ve often burned my tongue on this piping-hot sandwich but it has always been worth it to bite into the gooey melted cheese combined with the tantalising mixture of briny tuna and tangy onion.. Traditionally, I’ve always had mayonnaise and mustard (divine!) as the dressing in the tuna mixture but a lucky accident led me to substituting pesto for the mustard. The pesto, I think, really brings out the flavours of this dish and adds a little pizzazz to this homely meal. Another option, is of course, sweet chili sauce. The sauce brings a subtle spiciness to the tuna mix and works really well with cheddar.

I’ve never heard of anyone else having these besides our family, although in college we used to get Tuna Melts on bread rather than buns. However, I always preferred Tuna Burgers (maybe it’s the bun?) and, for me, it is one of my go-to recipes where I nearly always have the ingredients on hand.

Living in Korea, getting decent burger buns is hard, but thanks to some mini buns in Paris Baguette, I’ve been making my own version of my Mam’s classic Friday night dinner for years. These buns work well in a pinch but recently a friend recommended a different bakery where they have regular sized buns. Delighted with this find, my dinner yesterday (and today’s breakfast) was Tuna Burgers. The recipe below calls for regular sized burger buns but if you want to use mini-buns, use two buns per person.

Cheesey Tuna Burgers Three Ways: Mustard, Pest, and Sweet Chili Sauce

Makes around 8 regular sized burgers.


  • 8 burger buns*
  • butter
  • 1 tin tuna in oil, 210g, drained and patted dry with paper towel.
  • 1 small-medium onion, diced finely
  • around ¼cup dill, sweet, or bread and butter pickles, diced finely (optional)
  • 1 stick celery, diced finely (optional)
  • 1 yellow pepper, diced finely
  •  ½ cup grated cheddar cheese (optional)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise**
  • dressing of your choice**
    • 1-2 tbsp Dijon wholegrain mustard
    • 2-3 tbsp pesto
    • 1-3 tbsp sweet chili sauce
  • 8 cherry tomatoes, sliced in fourths
  • Cheddar cheese, cut into slices to cover both halves of each bun


  1. Pre-heat the oven to around 190 °C.
  2. Slice the burgers buns in half horizontally and butter evenly.  The butter is essential to making sure the buns don’t get soggy. Top the bottom halves with cheese and then place them on some tin foil. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the tuna, onion, pepper, celery, pickles, salt, pepper and grated cheese, if using, in a big bowl. Add the mayonnaise and dressing of your choice and mix thoroughly.
  4. Once combined, divide the mixture evenly on top of the bottom halves of the buns.
  5. Add the sliced cherry tomatoes to top of the tuna and another slice of cheese.
  6. Squish the top half of the bun onto each tuna burger.
  7. Wrap in the foil and place in the oven for around 25-30 minutes until thoroughly heated. Serve immediately.

*Depending on the size of your burger buns you may need less or more of this mixture. I’d recommend the burger bun be the size of a McDonald’s dollar menu size burger.

**The amounts for the mayonnaise and other dressings are merely guidelines; adjust as per your personal tastes.

Serve with a salad and/or Kale Baked Beans and/or chips/french fries. Alternatively, you could serve with Kimchi Fried Vegetables instead of regular chips.


Make it your own:  Substitute scallions/spring onions or red onion for the yellow onion. Don’t like one of the ingredients? Leave it out. You could also add in black olives or sun-dried tomatoes. Additionally, Gouda and Emmental are great substitutes for cheddar. You can also leave out the mayonnaise altogether for a healthier version.

For a larger crowd: When I’ve made these for a larger crowd, I tend to have them as an accompaniment in a pot luck, or as a starter. I use mini-burger buns. This recipe is easily doubled/tripled so if you want to have it as a main, it’s entirely feasible.

This entry was posted in: appetiser, blog, main dish, savoury/savory
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Hello, my name is Maggie and I love to cook. I hail from Dublin, Ireland, where I currently live. This blog, however, began it's life in South Korea where I taught for a little over 3 years. Welcome to Spoon in a Saucepan.


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