Thursday, March 04, 2004

A Sandwich is a Sandwich ...

What food could be more taken for granted than the humble sandwich? It’s status as the ideal “grab and go” item readily accessible from bullet-proof glass, drive-up windows everywhere has only hurt the appreciation for this magnificent creation.

Stop the car. Better yet, find a table. Sit. Relax. Now, eat slowly, and contemplate the beauty and history that is The Sandwich.

The first documented sandwich, according to Linda Stradley, author of “I’ll Have What They’re Having,” was in the first century B.C. The rabbi Hillel placed a mixture of nuts, spices, apples and wine between two matzohs and served it with bitter herbs as part of a Passover custom. The filling was a reminder of the suffering of the Jews in Egypt.

During the middle, ages, meat and other foods where piled on top of thick slices of bread called “trenchers,” sort of a substitute for a plate. After the meal, the gravy-soaked bread was tossed to an animal or less fortunate individual. Judging from the lack of readily available spices and fresh meat in the middle ages, the gravy and filling were likely a reminder of suffering as well.

But when did the sandwich, become The Sandwich? Not surprisingly, this uncomplicated, man-food staple was dubbed “The Sandwich” during a poker game in the 1700s. Most credit the name to John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. During the game, Montague refused to get up from the table and demanded his valet to get him some meat tucked between two pieces of bread. The others at the table requested, “I’ll have the same as Sandwich.”

Of course, the French claim they had invented the sandwich much earlier than Sandwich. But, according to the French, they pretty much invented food in general. Come on, England’s cuisine history includes items like blood pudding, and something called spotted dick. Let’s give the Brits one for a change.

Now that we know how the sandwich came to be, what exactly is the true definition of a sandwich? According to the official 20-pound textbook for culinary school that I drag around these days, “sandwiches are comprised of three basic components: bread, spread and filling.” Sounds really appetizing, huh? I paid tuition to learn that one. Look deeper into the takeout bag, my friend, and see it is so much more.

Bread. The average American household seems to have a strange fixation with The Great White Wonder and other tasteless mass-produced breads. These items are less bread than some highly compressible substance made primarily of air and a few unpronounceable chemicals. Generally the only “wonder” in it for me is “I wonder how they can call this bread.” Roman Meal. Yeah, right. The Italian culture has much better options like Ciabatta and Foccacia. Europe in general has a much better grasp on the meaning of bread. Crusty loaves from brick ovens, rich with flavor and al dente texture. In other words, BREAD. Bread that makes you curse the Atkins diet and rebel in a wild, orgiastic carb-frenzy.

Spreads. Spreads can include butter, mayonnaise, or a pureed spread, like peanut butter. Butter in general, rules. It can even be eaten as a snack alone for some of us. But why be so plain? Spread abound. Why not red chile butter, wasabi mayonnaise, or fire-roasted red pepper puree? Even the so-called “yellow mustard” doesn’t register on the scale of interesting. In fact if I had never tried real mustard, I’d still hate the whole idea of that condiment. Spicy Sweet Mustard, Chardonnay Wine Mustard, Cilantro Mustard, Tarragon Mustard, Amber Ale Mustard, Dill Mustard. Even Garlic Rosemary Mustard, “A magical blend of spices and herbs, fresh garlic and rosemary with a touch of wine..." Now, THAT’S mustard.

Filling. While some sandwiches just use the spread as filling (hummus or peanut butter), filling is the heart of the sandwich, not just the meat of it. Filling includes meats, vegetables, eggs, cheese, and bound salads. Bound? No, not some type of S&M for PB&J. Bound simply means some type of dressing that holds your salad together. Like tuna salad, egg salad, chicken salad …… zzzzzz. I know, boring salad. It does not have to be this way.

If you want a good bound salad, try a lobster roll at a roadside stand on a coastal highway in Maine. For less money than a bad meal somewhere else, you can dine on a big, sweet, messy lobster salad, with just enough “binding” to keep the lobster on the roll.

You can even get a lobster roll at McDonald’s in Maine. I wouldn’t recommend, much less try it, but you can. You can also get live lobster for five bucks a pound at Walmart. And, you can get a 50-gallon drum of day-old chocolate donuts at Dunkin’ Donuts for bear hunting. Oh sure, glazed will do, but they prefer chocolate. No sprinkles.

If I were going to get shot over a food item, it sure as hell wouldn’t be a day-old Dunkin’ Donut, even chocolate. Maybe it’s only the lesser bear, the Ursidae evolutionary equivalent of Homer Simpson, highly attracted to donuts. Natural selection in action; or rather, unnatural selection going to Bear Hell with half a glazed stuck in your snout, shot by the Homer Simpson of hunters.

And how sporting is that, anyway? Sitting watch over a 50-gallon drum of donuts with a high-power rifle. For a real challenge, maybe one of these hunters should strap a dozen glazed to his backside and go into the woods armed with just a Louisville Slugger? I’m sure there’s a reality show in the making there.

Bear on the deeper end of the gene pool stick to very fresh wild caught salmon. Those are the smarter bear. The smartest ones have the salmon dry-smoked, and served on light rye with Garlic and Rosemary Mustard. Or, they just go to the roadside stand, get a sandwich, and wait for fat tourists.

Recipe: Number One, Spicy.
The local Italian deli has a real name for this one, but no one knows what it is, just walk up to the counter and say, “Number One, Spicy.” If you do not include “Spicy” your manhood will be mocked. Trust the man behind the counter, he is your friend. Number one, SPICY.

1 Ciabattini (small, roll-sized loaf of Ciabatta)

3 Imported Italian meats, sliced thin, piled high to your discretion, about 6-8 oz: Copocolla, Salami, Prosciutto. Get the real stuff. No substitutions.

Imported Provolone, 1-2 slices

3 thin slices of fresh tomato. Hey, you need some vegetables.

Lettuce, iceberg (roughage, helps with all that meat) and crunch. We like crunch. About 1/4 cup of it.

About 1/4 cup Giardiniera, spicy if you dare. This is a marinated vegetable condiment available in jars. Carrots, peppers, cauliflower and other veggies ... Fantastic.

Balsamic Vinagrette (1:2 vinegar to oil mix). Use Modena Balsamic. Real stuff.

Stacking order:

Bottom slice Ciabattini, tomato, meat, cheese, more meat, lettuce, giardiniera, balsamic, top slice of Ciabattini.


© 2004 Beth Bader