First, I want to remind you of the one capital-T Truth that pervades the universe. Ready? Get out your pencils: “There’s no accounting for taste.”
You’re partial to rough denim jeans, for example, while I prefer supple leather chaps. (Did I just type that out loud?) Or, more on-topic, even though you’re the roast beef and Swiss type, I’d never proselytize on behalf of my heinously tasty deviled ham. And that’s because there’s no such thing as “The Perfect Sandwich.”
I will suggest, however, that, regardless of the sandwich you fancy, there are steps you can take to ensure it’s as good as can be. It’s like the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. That bichon frise wasn’t the best dog on the planet; it was just the closest to its Platonic ideal. Dig?
Something to remember is that the components of a sandwich are experienced individually rather than subsumed, Borg-like, into the whole. Unlike, say, a beef stew, where the ingredients are all simmered together, each ingredient in a sandwich is experienced individually. The bread, the mayo, the lettuce — every individual item is there to be tasted.
Now, between your cupboard and your fridge, you’ve probably got more than half a hatful of yummy things to put into a sandwich: your delicious leftover roast chicken, a jar of excellent peanut butter, a can of high-quality tuna. Notice those descriptors: “delicious,” “excellent” and “high-quality.” The first step to a great sandwich is great ingredients. And nothing, in my stupid opinion, is as important as the bread, and that’s where we’ll start with the handy suggestions.
Bread, of course, is the one thing that all sandwiches have in common. Oh, sure, throw a jibarito in my face, why don’t you, crowing about how that Puerto Rican-style sandwich and its Latin cousins replace the bread with flattened and fried plantain slices. And now that you’re brimming with righteous indignation, you may as well continue: “Ooh, and what about those sandwiches that use two deep-fried chicken scallopini instead of bread?”
OK, Lumpy, I’ll give you the jibarito, with the caveat that, at least those plantains are starchy like bread. As for that other abomination, sure, you can call a hamburger between two chicken breasts a sandwich. And I can dress my duck in a vest and call him Jeeves, but he’s still not going to buttle me my brandy Alexander, is he? That chicken monstrosity is a sandwich like Dracula’s a bat: Everything’s cute and tasty until somebody gets their neck punctured.
So, look, here’s my point: You need bread for your sandwich, but, the kind of bread is entirely a matter of taste. My kids like that gnarly bread with whole grains and bits of nuts and shards of fossilized teeth. Blech. Me, I like plain white bread.
Lastly, I know again what you’re thinking: “Toast? Not toast?” Sweet mother of Pinesol, do I have to decide everything for you? Just get some good bread, and do with it what you will.
This one sounds obvious, but, stay with me: When using condiments like mayo or mustard, spread them evenly and generously across the entire interior surface of the bread. Oh, stop rolling your eyes. Ignore this piece of advice and that last bite of sandwich will be as dry and tasteless as Caligula’s day planner.
This is also important: Whatever you place on your sandwich, whether meats or cheeses or the crumbled remains of Nefertiti’s funerary roast, be sure they’re layered evenly so that each bite is as consistent as a Venus Williams backhand.
And, finally, and I know this disputes the theories of many respected sandwiterians: Never make a sandwich whose height exceeds the diameter of your yawning maw. My Kendall College colleague, chef Elaine Sikorski, has coined a word, “eatability,” to evaluate the entire experience of consuming whatever it is. I’m thinking of those mile-high hamburgers that have become such a rage these days, the ones that are only enjoyed to their fullest back on the Island of Lost Souls by those human-rattlesnake hybrids who have to dislocate their lower jaw just to fit the darn thing in. In the words of Louis Jordan, “Brother beware.”
Eatability also means layering the ingredients in such a manner so as not to have them cascading unfettered from the first bite onto Madge’s Chanel bustier.
In short, all of this advice adds up to just one overarching thought: Make all your sandwiches with love.
Now, go fix us some lunch.
Prep: 15 minutes
Makes: about 4 sandwiches
The ham-to-mayo ratio can be altered depending on how sloppy or dry you like it. Follow the base recipe, then dress it up with one or more of the variations.
1 pound cooked ham, cut into bite-size pieces and minced in a food processor
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 small onion, cut into small dice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 to 2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 cup mayonnaise, or to taste
Hot sauce, as needed
Salt, as needed
Black pepper, as needed
1. Combine first five ingredients.
2. Add mayonnaise a little at a time until you achieve desired consistency.
3. Add hot sauce to desired strength.
4. Season and chill for one hour before serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 382 calories, 27 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 74 mg cholesterol, 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 29 g protein, 2,104 mg sodium, 0 g fiber
1. Swap part of the mayo for sour cream, creme fraiche or cream cheese.
2. Use a different mustard, like spicy Creole mustard.
3. Use green or red onions instead of white.
4. Add a tablespoon or two of pickle relish.
5. A clove or two of minced garlic never hurt anyone.
6. Try a squeeze of lemon juice or a spill of vinegar of your choice.
7. Add another veg, like a small dice of celery or carrot.