September 14, 2010

"The Compleat Sandwich"

On our recent trip to Florida, I found myself reading an interesting article in Southwest Airline's Spirit Magazine (you know, that magazine in the seat pocket in front of you). The magazine featured a series of stories and tips surrounding (as you know) one of our favorite food items- the sandwich. They posed the sandwich as an American icon, and focused on each component and how to maximize the deliciousness of your overall sandwich through each one. At the end of the articles, they offered a challenge: create your own sandwich and enter it in a contest to win a trip to New York City. I've never entered a food contest, but I think it's about time- plus, how hard is it to make a sandwich?

The contest does have some guidelines: don't try to go too crazy- more isn't necessarily better, focus on fresh, local, seasonal ingredients, and be aware of your "sandwich architecture." I've never really thought about my sandwiches as structures or buildings before, but I actually did learn some helpful hints.

1) If you want toasted bread, only toast a single side and use this facing in. This prevents painful cuts or scrapes in your mouth, and allows for both crunchy AND soft textures from your bread. It also helps maintain the structure of the sandwich and prevents sogginess.

2) "Insulate" your sandwich with your spread of choice. This adds another layer of protection for the bread-- wet sandwiches really are the worst.

3) Be careful when choosing the lettuce for your sandwich (if applicable). Are you looking for a lot of crunch? Try romaine or iceberg. Do you want a soft cushion? Go for Bibb or butter lettuce. Looking for additional flavor? Try watercress or arugula.

4) If there is a primary star ingredient, really make it shine. Don't be skimpy with the "meat" of the sandwich (even if it's not meat!)

Keeping these tips and tricks in mind, I set out to create my own original sandwich. J has an obsession with goat cheese, and recently purchased goat Brie, which became the starting point for my creation. Brie is an underrated cheese for sandwiches, and the goat factor adds an extra dimension of flavor. Brie is a perfect cheese counterpart for sweets, so as an additional spread, I chose cherry preserves. The preserves compliment the sharper goat flavor, and also help to keep everything moist. Another classic combination I had in mind was turkey and cranberry sauce- some of the best sandwiches are created out of these leftovers the day after Thanksgiving. With cherry preserves acting as a mock cranberry sauce, I wanted savory turkey to prevent the sandwich from becoming dessert. I chose arugula as the final component to create some volume and add it's unique peppery bite.

To me, bread is THE key to making a good sandwich. For this creation, I dreamed of using thick slices of fresh olive oil-rosemary bread, drizzled with olive oil and grilled (only on one side!). This bread would not only serve as a perfect exterior, it would also add its own burst of flavor. Sadly, this bread of my dreams was not to be found. I was faced with several other options, and eventually chose pumpernickel. A good pumpernickel bread has a deep, sweet flavor that- while not ideal- is not going to take a backseat. My goal was to have the bread play a large role in the sandwich, and pumpernickel would have to step in as the understudy.. if you will.

I sliced the bread into large, thick pieces- almost an inch thick. I don't mess around. Being careful to remember Spirit's advice, I chose to toast one side of each slice of bread. As my dad pointed out when I made this suggestion to him, "My toaster toasts both sides," I used a pan for the job. I spread sweet, salted butter on both slices and heated them in the pan for 2-3 minutes. No burnt edges here, just enough to melt the butter and crisp up the bread.

Next, I took advantage of the hot bread to help the cheese spreading process. However, Brie needs to be at room temperature or it won't spread well, even with a warm spreading surface. The Brie also acts to "insulate" the bread against the much moister jam, which was the next addition. Then, I added the arugula. This lettuce can be kind of a mess- tons of tiny pieces and little stems can explode out of your sandwich. I thought carefully about this problem and decided to add it directly on top of the jam to help anchor the pile of greens down. On the other side, I applied two large slices of roasted turkey, which contained the impending mess by creating a bit of a dome over it. Top with your second slice of bread (toasted side in!) and slice in half.

I was a little disappointed that I couldn't create my dream sandwich (rosemary bread, where ARE you?), but the pumpernickel actually ended up being very enjoyable. It was crispy, but didn't cut my mouth (seriously, this is usually a problem for me), and was extremely dense and flavorful. The Brie and the jam paired together perfectly, oozing a bit of cheesy sweetness into each bite. The turkey was roasted with a number of spices (including rosemary), adding to the flavor profile, and while providing the literal meat for the sandwich, didn't overwhelm the other components. This is not your typical turkey sandwich!

It was fun to make my own creation, based on ingredients and combinations that I prefer. I doubt I'll win the contest, but I am still taking away some helpful sandwich hints that I'm sure I will use forever. So a question for our readers: Any sandwich creations you have in mind?


  1. I recently purchased a delicious rosemary olive oil bread at Farmacia in old city, which gets its stuff from Metropolitan Bakery.

  2. We've had that version of Metro's bread... unfortunately the word must have gotten out about how delicious it was because they were all out of it when we stopped by. We'll have to go earlier next time!

  3. here is some appropriate music to read the blog by:

    ps Brie on both sides

  4. I would always think to put the toasted side of the bread out! I'll have to try this tip next time.