Cooking Adventures Pt. 4: Talking Sandwiches

As a kid sandwiches were nothing more than a transportation device for meat and even more importantly cheese. I didn’t like anything but white bread, and we had miracle whip and usually cheddar or colby and ham. At least I remember it mostly being ham. Grilled cheese was an option once I was old enough to cook, as was toad-in-the-holes (not a sandwich, I know… but still.)

The moment that changed my opinion on sandwiches was watching Good Eats with my dad. For those that don’t know Good Eats is a cooking show starring Alton Brown, who is kind of the Bill Nye of food. His episode on sandwiches made me actually think about them instead of just eating them.

The composition of a sandwich is trickier than it seems. A basic meat and cheese sandwich even has options. Do you put any dressings on both slices of bread or just one? Do you put salt and pepper and other seasonings on the bread or on the meat? Once you start adding toppings like pickles, tomatoes, lettuce, it keeps getting more complicated.

The basic rules I follow are mayo or dressing on both slices of bread. It prevents moisture from the meat from making the bread soggy. If you are using tuna salad or something that contains mayo I don’t use dressings on the bread though. Instead I like to put lettuce on the bottom half of the sandwich and use that as a holder for the filling. Then cheese goes on top and keeps the top slice safe.

Lunch meat preferences vary by person. If you like thick slices, usually the best flavor comes from stacking them flat or at most folding them in half. Regular slices can be stacked flat but you end up with a thin sandwich and usually meat dangling over the edges. Thinner slices let you “S-fold, which is where hold the meat vertically, let the bottom edge rest on the meat, then fold it back and forth so it makes a series of S shapes on the bread. The idea is you do this several times, one slice next to the other, to thoroughly cover the bread. This gives you a puffy, big looking sandwich. If you get meat shaved or chipped pretty much the only way to go is pile it on. I like it piled high enough you can see it with the top slice of bread on, but not so high you can’t fit it comfortably in one hand.

Adding anything on top of the S-folds can be a bit tricky if it’s not stable. Cheese will sit just fine, it’s not slick enough. Lettuce might slide a bit, same with tomato or pickles. Putting these under the meat mitigate the problem, but doesn’t eliminate it altogether and makes the folding trickier.

Don’t put lettuce next to tomato. Just don’t. This is why you get sandwiches where you take one bite and have tomato either shooting out the other side or coming out with your bite and flopping around making a mess. Too much dressing exacerbates this problem, leaving you with a sloppy sandwich and probably a cleanup. I eat sandwiches really weird so sloppiness is a horrible problem for me (more on this in a bit.)

Combining types of dressings is a risky venture. Mayonnaise is usually the base, because it also keeps the bread from getting too soggy. Too much mustard will make your sandwich drool and spit out any lettuce, tomato, or chewier meats (like salami). Easy way to avoid this is moderation. You don’t need a lot to get that delicious flavor. Oil and vinegar dressings are delicious with mayo or without, but if you’re combining the two I recommend putting the mayo on the bread and pouring the oil and vinegar stuff on the meat. The meat will absorb the flavor and you get the taste without the drool. I also usually put any spices on the meat or on the bread that touches the meat to ensure the seasoning stays where I want it.

Just as examples, some of my favorites sandwiches:

Roast beef with cheddar: Mayo on both sides, roast beef, pepper and maybe salt, 2 slices of pickle, cheese on top.

Italian style sub: White sub roll, mayo on both sides, lettuce on the bottom, ham on that, salami/pepperoni/prosciutto/panchetta on top of that, oil and vinegar style dressing drizzled on the meat, tomato if available, topped with provolone usually. I’ll sometimes switch in havarti or white american but provolone seems to blend the best. I would eat this weird but sub rolls are rectangles, not squares so it doesn’t work.

Bagel sandwich: plain or cheese bagel, mayo on both sides, Sometimes I’ll put a little mustard on, other times I do an oil and vinegar style dressing, lettuce is optional, then salami, with optional ham/panchetta/prosciutto, optional tomato on top of meat. This one works with provolone, but usually I go with white american or havarti. This sandwich is one I don’t eat weird.

Most people I see eat sandwiches eat them starting at one end and working their way to the other. With the bagel sandwich I eat it just like that. With every other sandwich I make, I have a procedure. First, I eat the crust. Then, I eat the corners so it’s a circle. Sometimes I use the back of my hand to balance it and make it easier. Then I take a bit of the circle, so it’s a half moon, then I eat the outer points until it’s a circle again, then repeat until sandwich is eaten.

Gabe thinks this is really weird, I think sandwiches taste best this way.

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