October 26, 2010

Crafting the Incredible, Edible Sandwich

A sandwich I recently made with white bean spread, cucumber, red bell pepper, fresh mozzarella, tabbouleh, kalmata olives, fresh parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper on toasted foccacia.  Salty, sweet, savory, crunchy, toasty cool and refreshing all at once.
Some of you may have heard of the gourmet sandwich shop chain 'Wichcraft, originally from New York (it was started by Tom Colicchio, the judge on Top Chef). It's a pretty appropriate name for a sandwich shop, not only because its so clever of a name, but because sandwiches really are crafted. You do not just make a good sandwich. You craft it.

If I had to decide on a favorite food, it would probably the sandwich. Nothing, for me, can better encapsulate so many flavors, textures and contrasts. What can be both crunchy and silky smooth, both toasty warm and cool and refreshing, spicy and sweet all at once?

The sandwich can.

What can be the most satisfying, easy to make meal in the world? What can be the perfect meal or the perfect snack? What can please a little kid or the most discerning epicurean?

The sandwich can.

Maybe it's because a sandwich is more than the sum of its parts. Good sandwiches are about making things work together. It's about the heat of that pepper, the crunch of that cucumber, the creamy cool wave of the mayo and the crunch of the toasted bread. Whether it be a dozen ingredients or two, sandwiches are about the interaction between the parts.

Cucumber, mayo, olive oil, salt and pepper on whole grain.
 So simple and so good! 
That doesn't mean its hard to craft a great sandwich. In fact, I'm sure you've done it, many times. A peanut butter and jelly is a wonderful sandwich. Peanut butter and jelly work wonderfully together. One of my favorite snacks in the world is sliced cucumber, mayo, olive oil and salt and pepper on toasted whole grain bread.

 But perhaps you've been wanting to reach further- to experiment with what goes between those two beautiful slices of bread.  Here is a quick guide to sandwich crafting. Mix and match different types of ingredients. I think that savory and sweet work great together. Here are some examples of flavors you might want to consider and some examples of what to use:

  • Something Savory...
    • Meats like smoked turkey, salami, prosciutto, bacon, grilled chicken, roast beef, roasted pork, barbecued meat,  fish, shrimp.
    • Eggs! (Fry them, hard boil them, soft boil them, poach them) 
    • Vegetables like sauteed or roasted mushrooms, asparagus, eggplant, avocado, sauteed greens. 
    • Beans, such as a garlicky white bean spread. 
  • Something Sweet...
    • Spreads like tomato relish, onion jam, fruit jam (goes great with meats).
    • Produce like fresh fruit slices such as apple slices, figs, pears, peaches, etc, fresh tomatoes, sweet potatoes. 
  • Something Fresh and Crunchy...
    • Cucumber slices, fresh lettuce, arugula or other greens, alfalfa sprouts (they're good!), fresh bell pepper, red cabbage, red onion. 
    • Pickled vegetables. Don't limit yourself to pickled cucumbers. Pickled carrot, pepper, and so on are also delicious! 
    • Coleslaw. 
  • Something Creamy...
    • Mayonnaise! (try making it yourself, its easy and so good, though I do use Hellmann's quite often). 
    • Soft cheeses like goat cheese, cream cheese, gorgonzola, etc. Or just melt some hard cheese. 
    • Creamy salad dressing.
    • Spreads like bean spread, olive tapenade, hummus, etc. 
  • Something Spicy...
    • Hot sauce.
    • Hot pepper slices.
    • Cayenne pepper, pepperoncino, or other dried pepper products.
    • Curry powder.
  • Something More...
    • Any kind of cheese.
    • Fresh herbs like parsley or chives.
    • Garlic, horseradish, etc.
    • A squirt of lemon, or lemon or lime zest.
    • Olives and capers.
And don't forget, good bread is key to a good sandwich!  So go get the ingredients (I'm sure there are already some in your fridge or pantry). Then think it, craft it, assemble it, maybe go grill it or toast it. 

And don't forget to eat it, in all it's glory!

I would love for people to share their favorite sandwich, simple or complex as it may be, in the comments below. What is your perfectly crafted sandwich? Also, feel free to add to the tips and ingredients in the list above.