The Art of the Sandwich
I pack a lunch almost every work day. It is not only economical, it is also usually affords healthier fare than most of the lunch places nearby. Plus, it’s a great way to use up leftovers. I am so fond of leftovers for lunch, in fact, that I sometimes actually plan for it. What people did before the days of refrigerators and microwaves at work, I don’t know.
Well, I do know, of course: we relied on sandwiches and thermoses. The rest of the accoutrements of lunch – the cookies, the fruit, have remained standard, but with the advance of technology, the workday lunch options broadened considerably. Still, the faithful sandwich is a mainstay for many – and for me it is an easy default when the leftovers and my supply of homemade frozen burritos runs dry.
One of my favourite stories about lunch comes from my friend Huckleberry – or from his father, actually. While attending university, his father took exactly the same thing for lunch every single day: a thermos of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, and a cheese sandwich. I’m unclear as to whether there were supplemental baked goodies or fruit, or any accompanying materials. The story goes that he faced each lunch not only with pleasure, but something of a sense of relief that he knew exactly what he would be having, and that he would like it. This is a stolidness of character that one often finds on the prairies, and perhaps particularly amongst those of Scottish stock, but it still merits marveling, in my mind. I wonder if he still enjoys those things today.
I tend not to take sandwiches for lunch, usually. Partially because there are usually some sort of leftovers from the night before’s dinner, and partially because I prefer my sandwiches freshly made, as opposed to having languished for 5 hours, refrigerated or otherwise. I dislike having a chill on the bread, and even a few seconds in the microwave doesn’t really help. If my sandwich can withstand room temperature, I just leave it in my briefcase until lunch time.
There are exceptions that I’m willing to make, of course. Egg salad and chicken salad are sandwiches that I am willing to put up with chilly bread in order to enjoy, although they are both rich enough that I don’t tend to make them often. Delicately minced chives in the egg salad, delicately minced brunoise of celery in the chicken. Good, hearty bread – sourdough or light rye – is required to do these lovelies justice. Do not try to substitute soft, squishy white sheets of (theoretically) edible sculpting putty that passes for sliced bread in the supermarket.
Even when I’m sitting at the boardroom table, though, my glass of water to my right, the newspaper open in front of me, and my lunch arrayed appealingly before me, I can’t help but think how much nicer these sandwiches would be at room temperature, and freshly made. There are so many wonderful sandwiches that do not take well to traveling at all. The noble clubhouse, or the humble BLT, for example. Unless you’re organized enough and willing to put up with the hassle of packing your ingredients separately and assembling on location, you might as well ignore them entirely. But! Freshly made? A flavourful force to be reckoned with! I love reading books like Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book – The Best Sandwiches Ever because they make me feel giddy with the possibilities of sandwiches to come. Sandwiches are inherently open to variety, despite the tendency to complacent repetition that leads us to make the same salami-and-cheese constructions or whatever your default sandwich is. You don’t need to defend salami-and-cheese, by the way – I’m already a fan, especially with hot peppers added – but anything done too frequently becomes a tad dull.
I know that I’m not going to be skewering slices of fresh bocconcini and artisan bread with rosemary stalks, grilling them and then bathing them in bagna cauda. Not on work days, anyway. Just the knowledge of what I could do, if I had the time and energy, is enormously encouraging. Plus, for every complicated extravaganza that involves dirtying up the kitchen to make a single sandwich, there are beautiful little gems like avocado, watercress and bacon sandwich recipes, which are well within the casual assembly or weekend lazy lunch approach. Reading these things gets me all fired up, and I think back to packing exotic-seeming sandwiches (such as cold roast pork with mustard and apple slices) for canoe-trip picnics when I was a teenager, or laboriously constructed layered muffaletta-inspired loaves of bread to take to the beach.
Petrushka introduced me to the joy of barbari bread and roast chicken sandwiches at the same time. We sawed the flat, sesame-topped long loaves of bread open and layered them with homemade mayonnaise, slices of just cooled roast chicken, alternating fresh tomato slices with avocado slices, fresh basil leaves, and a scattering of good kalamata olives. This will always be the taste of summer in a sandwich to me, but it wouldn’t pack well for a lunch. It should be eaten immediately from a kitchen table with the sunshine streaming in almost blindingly, or rushed to the beach or lakeside with all haste to be enjoyed at leisure.
I like exploring the options of sandwich-making. The obvious switch-ups of bread varieties, the contrast of textures and flavours, the use of obscure condiments. Fun with relish. I’m contemplating a chicken salad that uses Moroccan preserved lemon spread instead of mayonnaise, and a thin layer of black tapanade to affix it to the bread. I’m thinking about toasted cumin, and how it might perk up some cold grilled vegetables laid across a thick-crusted, soft-interiored Italian loaf.
I like simple refrigerator-friendly sandwiches, too. I like cheese and dill pickle sandwiches, or cheese and chutney (cheese plays quite well with others, from a sandwich perspective). I eat peanut butter on toast quite regularly. I have nothing against bologna, although I prefer Lyoner sausage, bologna’s elegant antecedent. I’ve extolled the virtues of the simple toasted cheese sandwich and it remains in a place of honour in my sandwich repertoire. What better quickly-prepared, comforting and simple sandwich when one is curled up on a rainy day, or just in need of something hot and soothing? You can get fancy with the bread or the type of cheese, if you must, and it will still be delicious and rewarding.
Now I’m hungry. Good thing I’m baking bread tomorrow.
Welcome to the brand new look for Always in the Kitchen. The new site was developed by Julie McGalliard, who sorted out my barely coherent ramblings about what I wanted, and developed the art and technical components for the entire site. Thanks, Julie!
The older pages will be brought into the new format gradually, as I find the time to do it. In the meantime, please be patient. Let me know if you find any broken links, or if the site is acting weird, though.
Always In the Kitchen
© 2003 — 2006 Dawna L. Read