Crab & Tomato Melt (Open Faced Sandwich — or Structural Cheese instead of Top Bread)

The Final Crabby Melty Yummy Item

At left is one of my favorite styles of sandwich (in the strict “once slice of bread w/stuff on it” definition of sandwich…), the open faced sandwich with cheese as the top structural element in lieu of bread.

This particular melt was built on top of a slice of home made bread with heirloom tomato slices, dungeness crab, and cabernet finished goat cheddar cheese. It was seasoned with black pepper, mayo, italian seasoning, and a touch of fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Done right, it can be picked up and eaten like a regular sandwich.

The key to doing it right is in the construction. Yes, I take my sandwich making very seriously.

Detailed construction techniques after the fold.

The Foundation;  Bread, Mayo, and Italian Seasoning

For any open faced melt, you have to start with a foundation that is strong enough to support the entire contents without being pinched from above. As with many of life’s culinary delicacy’s it was the middle to lower class — the poor folks — who discovered the preparation in an ongoing effort to make low quality foods or relatively scarce ingredients into something not only palatable, but delicious.

The open faced sandwich was originated as a means of serving food without the use of a plate. Traditionally, the food was piled on really stale/hard bread — a trencher — and, once the food was eaten, the trencher was fed to the dogs, the poor, or the diner himself ate it.

For my foundation, I used a slice of home made bread that has been out long enough that it is fairly crisp on the edges and still semi-moist in the middle. If all you have is soft bread, toast it lightly until it is structurally sound, but not so long that it starts to brown significantly. You want a little bit of give.

On the bread, smear a bit of mayonnaise and add some italian seasoning. This puts the mayo and seasoning away from the direct heat used later. Mayo tends to get off flavors when heated too much and italian seasoning just burns.

Layer #1: Fresh Heirloom Tomatoe Slices

Next? A layer of vegetables.

For this particular melt, I used medium thickness slices of fresh heirloom tomatoes. Another delicious alternative is cucumbers or, even, lettuce. If using turkey or ham instead of crab, thin slices of green apple also work really well here.

The oil of the mayo will keep the bread from soaking up too much of the moisture of the vegetable and losing structural integrity. And the layer of food on top will cause the veggie to stay fresh, though it will be heated through.

Layer #2: Meat of One Dungeness Crab (with Black Pepper, not shown)

On top of the vegetable layer is the meat layer. I used the meat from one whole dungeness crab, one of the few leftover from Crabtacular VI.

Pile the meat on as high as you like. Just about any kind of already cooked meat will do. Turkey or ham works quite well, too. Replacing the vegetable with cole slaw with a light dressing (light as in “not much”, not as in “low calorie”) and topping with pulled pork works wonderfully.

In any case, the meat should definitely be mounded a bit. You want the cheese to both melt into the meat and roll down the sides onto the layers below.

If you like black pepper and salt, this is the layer to put it on. It will mix well with and draw out some of the flavors from the meat.

For this project, I used simple black pepper. The crab was already fairly salty both by its nature and from having been boiled in salted water.

Layer #3: Topped with Cabernet Goat Cheese and a Touch of Lemon Juice

The final layer is the structural element on top that holds this all together and makes a top cap of bread unnecessary. It is the glue that binds.

I.e. Cheese.

As long as it is a cheese that will melt and then mostly re-solidfy after cooling a bit, it will work.

I used a locally made cabernet finished goat cheddar. The cheese maker first makes goat’s milk based cheddar cheese, then hangs the wheel of cheese in a barrel full of cabernet wine and lets it sit for a few months. The resulting cheese has a bit of the sharpness of a cheddar, mellowed by the use of goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk, and has veins of purple winy fruitiness.

Pile slices of the cheese on top. Not too thick, but thick enough that, upon melting, it will reach the veggie or bread layer underneath the meat.

For any kind of a melt that uses seafood, I like to squeeze a touch of fresh lemon juice over the top.

The Final Crabby Melty Yummy Item

Into the broiler with your creation!

This is the trickiest step of the entire process, not because it is hard but because it is so easy to get wrong.

You can use a toaster oven or regular oven. Doesn’t matter as long as it has a broiler setting and enough room that there are at least 1.5″ from the heating element to the top of the cheese.

You’ll want to put the creation on top of a cooking sheet of some type in case some of the cheese drips off the side.

Turn the broiler on medium to high and slide the work product underneath.

Now the tricky part….

Keep a close eye on it.

Typically, a melt will go from underdone to perfect to burnt in less than one minute. Your challenge is to detect when that minute is upon you and remove the sandwich at the right second within.

Specifically, it should be removed once the cheese has melted, started to bubble and there are signs of browning. The amount of brown is up to you, but you want to make sure the cheese doesn’t make that split second transition from brown to black (burnt).

Let it sit for a second and then dig in. If you did it right, you should be able to pick it up by the edges of the bread and it should stick together without risk of breakage.

Even if it isn’t quite that strong, it’ll still be delicious with knife and fork. It just won’t scratch the sandwich itch.

Full credit where credit is due…. this is based on the Ham-Cheesy that my Mom would make for me often when I was growing up. In that form, it was ham and cucumbers, typically. Maybe with tomato.

Of course, most of my cooking inspiration comes from my Mom. She is a fantastic cook and, in hindsight, I realize how lucky I was to sit down to such fabulous meals as a kid.

6 Responses to “Crab & Tomato Melt (Open Faced Sandwich — or Structural Cheese instead of Top Bread)”

  1. annbb says:


  2. Scott Thompson says:

    Putting the pepper on before the cheese is also helpful because pepper, being plant-based, will burn. The cheese can serve as insulation against that possibility.

  3. Your Sis says:

    Looks almost as good as a ham cheesy. And I want the goat cheese.

  4. Amie says:

    This looks absolutely amazing! Do you think a brush of olive oil and garlic would work in lieu of the mayo/seasoning as far as keeping the tomatoes from making the middle of the bread too soggy?

    Also, trying to mentally construct the flavours of the cheese you used, but I’m total fail. Methinks I’ll have to hunt it out next time I’m out your way since it’s pretty atypical of anything I know of locally.

  5. Susie says:

    Holy cow, that looks so incredibly good. Re: Amie. I tend to think the brush of oil olive is a good idea

  6. Golden Age Cheese says:

    Wow this looks absolutly amazing! One of my favorite sandwiches includes tomatoes, basil, and fresh mozzarella. This looks like an excellent way to spruce even that great sandwhich up with the crab! Great post!! Thanks so much

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