Spicy Tuna Melt Panini

Thanks to everyone who contributed updates to Panini Happy’s Great American Sandwich Guide! I’ll be working over the summer to incorporate your suggestions into the updated guide. I personally love this resource for checking out awesome new-to-me sandwiches, whether I’m looking for a bite right here in San Diego or I’m traveling to a new city. Today’s Spicy Tuna Melt Panini recipe was inspired by a local favorite sandwich from The Rubicon Deli, which I first learned about in the guide.

What I loved most about the Spicy Tuna sandwich at Rubicon was the balance of bold flavor. With pepperoncini, pickles, pepper jack cheese and habanero mustard it’s definitely got a tangy kick, yet it still tastes like a tuna sandwich (which is, after all, the point). But like a tuna sandwich that was heads and tails above most others I’ve ever tried! Tuna fans: if you find yourself in San Diego or Reno (they’ve got locations in both cities), you must order this (preferably on Dutch Crunch bread, my favorite). In the meantime, try my panini version.

The spicy mustard is a key component of the Rubicon sandwich, but since habanero mustard isn’t always easy to find I simply spiked some regular Dijon mustard with Tapatío hot sauce. BOOM – there’s your spicy kick! I also used some of the pepper jack cheese that the folks from Cabot Cheese recently sent me to try. It melted beautifully and brought more gentle heat. The crunch of the panini-grilled sourdough replaces the Dutch Crunch in the original cold sandwich. Try it and let me know what you think (I hope you love it too)!

Spicy Tuna Melt Panini ...from paninihappy.com


Spicy Tuna Melt Panini

Recipe by Kathy Strahs, PaniniHappy.com

Prep time: 20 minutes | Cook time: 10 minutes | Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 panini


  • 2 (5-ounce) cans solid white albacore tuna in water, drained
  • 1 celery rib, minced
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon Tapatío or other hot sauce
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, at room temperature
  • 8 slices sourdough or other rustic white bread, sliced from a dense bakery loaf
  • 8 thin slices red onion, separated into rings
  • 1 medium-size ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons sliced pepperoncini*
  • 2 plum tomatoes (such as Roma), thinly sliced and seeded
  • 4 ounces pepper jack cheese, thinly sliced


  1. In a medium-size bowl, mix the tuna, celery, and mayonnaise until it’s well combined. Season the tuna salad with salt and pepper to taste.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the Dijon mustard and hot sauce together – add more hot sauce if you prefer.
  3. Heat the panini press to medium-high heat
  4. For each sandwich: Spread butter on two slices of bread to flavor the outside of the sandwich. Flip over both slices and spread mustard on the other side of each. To one slice add onions, avocado, tuna salad, pepperoncini, tomatoes, and cheese. Close the sandwich with the other slice of bread, buttered side up
  5. Grill two panini at a time, with the lid closed, until the cheese is melted and the bread is toasted, 4 to 5 minutes

* You can find jarred pepperoncini – pickled sweet or hot Italian peppers – in the condiments aisle at the grocery store, near the olives.



KathyPanini Happy, online since 2008, is more than just a sandwich blog. Here, you'll find hundreds of my original panini recipes, my guide to choosing a panini press and a whole lot of other creative uses for the panini press.
~ Kathy Strahs
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  1. Oh my yum!! I would love this for lunch, every single day 😀

    Posted 6.27.13 Reply
  2. Oh my heavens! I love tuna melts…and I love that you made this spicy! Looks incredible!

    Posted 6.27.13 Reply
  3. This looks amazing, Kathy! Love spicy tuna melt!

    Posted 6.28.13 Reply
  4. Nessa wrote:

    Not a canned tuna person, but this looks very good!

    Posted 6.28.13 Reply
  5. This looks delicious. With habanero mustard and cheese, it’s perfect.
    This is my first time commenting and I like your recipes a lot.

    Posted 7.1.13 Reply
  6. Love tuna melts! This sounds delicious!

    Posted 7.2.13 Reply
  7. Robin wrote:

    Kathy, this looks yummy!


    Posted 7.6.13 Reply
  8. This looks delicious, my husband absolutely loves tuna melts 🙂 I will have to whip this up for him!

    Posted 7.11.13 Reply
  9. I have gotten more bold with my tuna sammies as I’ve aged so this one is right up my alley. Love the whole spicy thang! And I need to check out that sandwich list again. It’s been a while.

    Posted 7.15.13 Reply
    • Kathy Strahs wrote:

      You should definitely check it out at Rubicon, Kelly! 🙂

      Posted 7.16.13 Reply
  10. Laura wrote:

    It looks like a quick meal for something so delicious! Great Panini!

    Posted 7.16.13 Reply
  11. Erik B. wrote:

    Made this last night and it was terrific! I added a tablespoon of dill pickle relish and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar to the tuna. One medium avocado for 4 sandwiches isn’t nearly enough so I put some guacamole on the bread of 2 sandwiches. This worked out well.

    *rant on* This is what bothers me about the comment section of most food blogs – Every comment above said this “looks” like a good recipe. None of them actually made it. When I read recipe comments I want hear how it turned out, what modifications folks made, etc.. *rant off*

    Posted 9.8.17 Reply