The Art of the Sandwich-What makes a sandwich special?

"Let's just grab a sandwich..................." 

We've all said that at one time or another, as if a sandwich is an inferior meal choice.  Granted, some sandwiches are sad, a thoughtless throwing together of pedestrian bread, a schmear of flavorless mayo, some cheese and deli meat, with a slice of under-ripe tomato and a leaf of aged, rusty lettuce. Truly nothing to savor.  I love a sandwich as a meal, and I think sandwiches have the potential to be some of the best food you've every eaten!  Simply start with a bit of inspiration and use tasty ingredients to create a tantalizing, hand-held masterpiece!

Owning and operating the cafe provided a captive audience for experimenting with all kinds of sandwiches.  Cold, hot, grilled, paninis, wraps, the variety was endless and inspiration was everywhere; I could hardly lay down at night to go to sleep without thinking of a new sandwich!  Through lots of experimentation, I discovered some characteristics that were consistently appreciated by our customers, and they became my guidelines for creating memorable sandwiches.

A pinch of synergy, please!

Where do we begin when creating a memorable sandwich?  The common denominator of enduring classic sandwiches, such as the Reuben, is balance.  All of the ingredients and flavors need to complement each other; sandwich synergy!  I worked to identify and refine how each component of a sandwich impacted the finished product.  So let's briefly look at the components of the sandwich;  while hard to put"taste" and "art" into words, this is my attempt!

A Solid Foundation

I once heard a wise man say that you can always judge a restaurant by its coffee and its bread.  I never forgot that, and it was my goal to always have the best of both at the cafe!  The foundation of any sandwich is the "container" or "holder" of the ingredient.  Though often it is bread,  it can be any number of things (bun, tortilla, naan, lettuce, etc.)  And since it is the foundation, it needs to be of the highest quality, in keeping with my sandwich guidelines.  When we first opened, we ordered all of our bread products from a couple of bakeries that delivered fresh every day. The bread, buns, and rolls were always freshly baked from high-quality ingredients, and our customers noticed!  I heard it all the time; "these sandwiches taste so fresh, and the bread is wonderful!".  The bread matters!  So do not skimp; either buy good stuff or make your own.  Along the way, I developed my own recipes for several kinds of ciabatta and focaccia, as well as dinner rolls and bread sticks to serve at the cafe because they were superior to anything we could purchase.  (Many of the recipes are available on the website now, with more to come!)  The point here is that no sandwich can be successful if it is built on a foundation of anything that is stale, dry, soggy, or tasteless, so seek out the best foundation ingredients you can find.

Love those fillings!

Whether making a Reuben, grilled cheese, tuna salad, or turkey wrap, the filling has to be of the best-quality ingredients.  So skip the packaged deli meat and processed cheese and opt for freshly-sliced deli meats and best-quality cheeses.  You will taste the difference!  And that includes all of the produce that will be used in a sandwich; every ingredient adds to or detracts from the finished product.  Fresh, crisp, dry, cold lettuce, ripe tomatoes (ripe or none, under-ripe tomatoes are the bane of any potentially good sandwich!), flavorful (not hot) onions sliced paper thin, and more; all of these elements make or break a sandwich.  The same goes for cheeses, pickles, relishes, condiments; only the best!  And don't forget to season any veggies on the sandwich; a kiss of salt and pepper can be the difference between ho-hum and fantastic.

The finishing touches......

So you've decided on a great foundation and have fresh, flavorful fillings.  Now it's time for the extras that lend personality and that "wow factor" that everyone desires in a sandwich.  Here is where sandwich-building gets interesting and rewarding.  Sauces (different flavors of mayonnaise, relishes, chutneys, jams, and more), cheeses, pickles, bacon, eggs, these are all the things that, when carefully and thoughtfully chosen, make a sandwich memorable.  I wish I could give you a simple formula that would this process effortless, but this is where tasting, experimenting, imagination, and your palate come int to play, the "art" of the sandwich.  The more you play with your food and taste, taste, taste, the more confident you will become when creating new, memorable sandwiches!

Go forth and assemble!

The basic fundamentals of sandwich making are now in your back pocket!  When you think about it, making a sandwich is like creating a piece of edible art, so be thoughtful about what you want to create. What flavors complement each other?  Remember heat needs cool, sweet needs sour, salt needs a bland counterpoint. You might be going for a particular nationality such as Italian or Vietnamese-what ingredients are typically used in those cuisines? Think about the flavors of the season.  And think about the flavors you enjoy in non-sandwich dishes.  Put them in a sandwich!  I think most dishes can be deconstructed and served as a sandwich, it just takes a little imagination! 

The nuances of the art of sandwich making are discovered as you create sandwiches.  Start with recipes that you love, try out the recipes here, then take the leap and create something original.  I promise, you will begin to combine flavors, textures, and temperatures that you've never dreamed of before. 

Now, go forth and create your own original masterpiece!

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