The Perfect Sandwich – And How to Make It
By Jo Keohane
Possibly because it’s the quickest, easiest way to deliver a hit of tasty carbs and protein to our systems, or maybe because it somehow feels slightly healthier than other snack, there’s just something so appealing about the humble sandwich.
As if to confirm what we already know, Subway have now officially knocked McDonalds from their perma-perch, racking up the most outlets both in the UK and around the world.
Whether or not you believe foodie folklore, that the sandwich was named to honour the fourth Earl of Sandwich’s habit of eating slices of meat between bread in the mid 18th century, it’s clear that with the sarnie Britain was on to an early and rarely-won culinary victory.
But the nation that really embraces the sandwich, of course, is the U S of A. And, in fairness, in their capable hands, the sandwich has been elevated to an art form. I’m convinced that Americans basically seem to believe that almost anything tastes better wedged between two – preferably large – bits of bread.
“Hunks of pastrami”
Witness the Philly Cheesesteak (hunks of steak and melted cheese), the Ruben (hunks of pastrami and melted cheese), the Cuban (hunks of spicy pork and melted cheese), the grilled cheese (no meat but plenty of melted cheese), the hotdog and the granddaddy of them all – the burger. I could go on.
In famous New York delis like Katz’s and Carnegie, as large as the bread may be, the filling should be bigger still. Actually, if you ask for a simple cheese and tomato they’re likely to look at you with pity. In the country where a slice of cheddar is practically considered a condiment, it’s not unusual to find over a pound of meat beefing up your bread roll.
But although things might be more subtle on our side of the Atlantic, we can still confidently hold our own when spreading the bread. Everyone has a strong opinion, but this is my top ten – the Sandwich Hall of Fame.
1. The BLT
Really hard for anyone to mess this one up – it does what it says on the tin. Crispy, streaky bacon, fresh tomato, mayo and lettuce, on toasted bread. No need to, but for variation try a drizzle of good quality maple syrup. Or go Californian and add in some avocado tossed in lemon juice.
2. The Club Sandwich
This double decker cousin to the BLT is the perfect hangover cure. Your get more energy giving protein – and it even has an extra bit of toasted bread for soaking up any excess from the night before. The key to a good club is nicely charred chicken and eggs somewhere between soft and hardboiled.
“Fluffy toasted white bread with pure molten mature cheddar”
3. The Humble Egg Mayo
An oldie but goodie – this is still one of the nation’s most popular sarnies. There should be enough filling for it to ‘squidge’ – and it’s even better with home made mayo (see recipe below).
4. Toasted Cheese
You can argue about whether this needs any additions (tomato, pickle or even onion) but there is something unbeatable about fluffy buttery toasted white bread with pure molten mature cheddar oozing out.
5. Coronation Chicken
The idea of coronation chicken has been ruined for some by one too many artificially sweet plastic boxed sandwiches at the motorway service station. But done right the combination of juicy chicken and mango chutney with tangy curried mayonnaise is a classic. Originally developed in 1953 for the Queen’s jubilee, at a time when we’re celebrating all things royal it’s definitely one of the best of British.
6. Tomato, Butter and Salt
Ok, this may be the epitome of the old fashioned sandwich but it’s such a nice contrast to all the overfilled, multi-ingredient behemoths we’re now used to. All you need is really good quality bakery bread – brown or white – and thickly spread butter. Slice ripe tomatoes thinly, sprinkle with salt – and be surprised by how good this tastes.
7. Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Bagel
The secret to this simplest of sandwiches is a good shmeer of cheese. If you consider that in New York City cream cheese is cut in slices rather than spread them you start to get the idea. If you fancy pepping it up a bit add some red onion, capers and lemon juice. Creamed horseradish also goes brilliantly well with smoked fish.
“There’s a special place in my heart for the chip butty”
8. Bacon Butty
Surely the envy of the world? If its not, it should be. Whether you like your bacon slithery or grilled to crunchy perfection, your sauce red or brown, your bread toasted or soft, this is basically the breakfast of champions.
9. Chip Butty
Of all the salty carb overloads I’ve ever imbibed (and there have been a lot) there’s a special place in my heart for the chip butty. I like mine spread thick with butter and almost soggy with malt vinegar. And to think you can still find this culinary gem for under a pound. You can’t say fairer than that.
10. The Ploughman’s
As a food fan as fussy as the next I’m reluctant to call the ploughman’s a sandwich because we all know it’s really a plate. But I can’t leave out the combination of ham, sharp cheddar, nice fresh salad and homemade chutney now can I?
“Seasoning lifts the ingredients and helps them mesh”
How to Make a Good Sandwich Great
The secret of no-sog sandwiches? Butter your bread to the edges. Toasting the bread can help too.
Get someone else to make your sandwich for you. I’ve no idea why but it always tastes so much better.
Get creative. Butter, mayo and mustard are great, but pesto, soft spreadable avocado, salsa and vinaigrette all add moisture and flavor.
Tame raw onions by soaking in cold water for 20 minutes and then drying them. This gives a far mellower flavour.
Don’t forget the salt and pepper – as with any dish, seasoning lifts the ingredients and helps them mesh.
Homemade mayo makes all the difference – and isn’t hard at all.
Homemade Mayo Recipe
1 egg yolk
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp Dijon mustard
250 ml vegetable oil
White wine vinegar to taste
Mix the yolk, salt, pepper and mustard together in a medium bowl.
Slowly, drop by drop, start to add the oil, whisking all the time.
Do not add any more oil until last drop is incorporated or the mix may split.
After around a half of the oil is incorporated, very slowly pour in the rest, continuing to whisk.
Add a teaspoon or two of white wine vinegar and more salt and pepper to taste.