THE GOCHISO GOURMET: The Earl of Sandwich

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALWhat supposedly was created by John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich to allow him to continue playing his favorite card games while still enjoying a meal, the glorious combination of proteins or other fillings between baked vehicles, whether they be bread, biscuits, pita or even new-fangled starches like rice or noodle buns, the sandwich has earned its place on the culinary table, including the Gochiso Gourmet’s table.

I’m by no means a classically trained chef, but I learned the art of the sandwich from one of my earliest cooking mentors, Mom. Mom was one of the original carbphobic consumers.  Although she cooked rice every day, it was mainly for Dad and the rest of the family. And when she did consume bread, it wasn’t just any slice of bread, but Hollywood Bread straight from the freezer. Once I was well into my collegiate education majoring in Nutritional Science, I realized the reason why Hollywood bread was marketed as low calorie… the slices were only one-fourth to three-eighths inches thick! Nevertheless, that marketing approach worked with the original Mrs. T. And because the slices came straight from the freezer, they had to be toasted to create Mom’s sandwich, which is one my personal mantras for the perfect sandwich … toasted bread.

The Right Bread

OK, it doesn’t have to be toasted Hollywood Bread. In fact, I don’t even know if they still make Hollywood Bread, but don’t fret, there are basketfuls of great breads in the marketplace, even at your local supermarket. For the prototypical sandwich, I prefer bread with a light crackly crust,  but not so crackly that it ends up cutting your upper palate. And within that crackly crust, I prefer a chewy interior flecked with uneven air bubbles, which is the mark of a perfectly risen dough. And of course, before sandwich construction commences, both slices must be lightly toasted,  which can be accomplished via an oven or even on a flat top or grill.

Banh mi. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

I also enjoy miniature rolls, but those sandwich applications are usually designated for specific sandwiches, like Italian beef, oyster Po-Boys or banh mi. And while pretzel buns or brioche buns complement any burger, I don’t classify any burger as a sandwich (even if they are cooked ground beef patty sandwiches) as I place burgers and encased tube meats in their own categories.

Lubrication

Lubricating both slices of your chosen bread is also critical for maximal sandwich enjoyment. I usually select a mayonnaise-based dressing along with a second form of lubrication based on the protein within. In fact, I feel that there’s only one sandwich that should employ just one basic form of lubrication: a BLT, which simply should be dressed with plain mayonnaise on each slice. Period. All other sandwiches should be dressed with distinct spreads. For instance, I’ll dress the bottom slice of bread with a smoked tomato mayonnaise for any smoked proteins while it might be a honey mustard mayonnaise for lightly cooked poultry or pork or a basic tartar sauce for seafood. The top slice of bread can be dressed with anything from a course fig compote to a thickened marinara to basic guacamole or hummus again depending on the protein selected.

And I do feel that where each dressing is slathered makes a difference in your sandwich enjoyment. Since the dressing placed on the top slice of bread faces your tongue, that dressing plays the role of rhythm versus the dressing on the bottom slice which is more harmony to the main ingredient, the protein. Therefore, I always slather the heartier dressing on the top slice.

Accoutrements

I know that most basic sandwiches usually contain lettuce and/or tomato slices, but this is where sandwich Architecture 101 is critical. You see, if you slather mayonnaise on the bottom slice, followed by a flat slice of lettuce topped with tomato slices, you’re immediately asking for sandwich failure. The mayonnaise will simply provide lubrication for that flat slice of iceberg lettuce to slide on with its shiny surface acting like Teflon for that tomato slice. As soon as you take your first bite, you’re likely to create that lettuce-tomato-protein “Frisbee” that simply jettisons out of the sandwich. So while accoutrements primarily provide complementary flavors, they also can lead to sandwich disasters if not place properly.

So while I might include lettuce (even iceberg lettuce) and tomato slices in a sandwich (as in a BLT), I’ll roughly shred the lettuce to disrupt their Teflon texture and I’ll place the tomato slices on opposite ends of the protein.

But why limit your creation simply to lettuce and tomatoes? Smoked proteins whether beef, pork or poultry all benefit from the crisp texture and acidic bite of a nice slaw. Italian beef always marries well with giardiniera and sautéed peppers, and thinly sliced sweet onions enhances most proteins, especially when placed over the mayonnaise based dressing (like a good tartar sauce).

Muffaletta. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

The Protein

This is where the standard sandwich usually contains the thinly, deli-sliced cold cut options found at the supermarket. While you can create great sandwiches with these ready to use options, the world of proteins are so much more than Oscar Mayer. I’ll admit that I do enjoy my fair share of animal protein between two slices of bread whether it is of the Oscar Mayer variety, or if it’s thinly sliced pork tenderloin with a fig compote and spicy mustard, pulled smoked pork with a vinegary slaw or smoked then flaked tuna mixed with mayonnaise like the usual canned variety. And who says that only tuna can be mixed with mayonnaise for the perfect protein salad? Chopped lobster and celery with mayonnaise also makes a mighty tasty sandwich. Or even leftover roast beef, pork or poultry especially when combined with a spiced mayonnaise. Like a barbecue sauce spiced mayo with chopped beef or a grilled stone fruit spiked mayo with chopped roasted pork or a curry enhanced mayo with chopped roasted chicken.

And proteins don’t have to strictly be animal based protein. Several years ago I created a vegetarian “BLT” employing smoked tofu patties instead of bacon intensifying the smoky flavors with a smoked tomato and onion mayonnaise. Sometimes the protein is also the lubrication, as in the case of my hummus sandwich garnished with thinly sliced red onion and fresh cilantro. I also mix slightly smashed whole garbanzo beans (or other beans) to the hummus to give it a little more texture or my fat free cream cheese “sammies” adorned with minced sun dried tomatoes, chopped Kalamata olives and cooked eggplant slices. But if you still need the appearance of meat, there’s always a host of vegetarian bean and rice based patties you can find at your local supermarket freezer section — in fact, my local Safeway sells vegan “hamburger” patties that cook and look like ground beef patties.

So the next time you plate those two slices of bread, think more than just peanut butter and jelly or tuna salad. Jazz up your sandwich with repurposed leftovers or simple refrigerator standards. After all, we all deserve to eat like Kings… or at least Earls…

And I haven’t even touched on those sandwiches created with submarine rolls … also known as hoagies or those sandwiches employing round buns encasing meat patties … also known as hamburgers but that would be another column. And if you are interested in submitting your ideal hamburger recipe for the annual Sutter Home Build a Better Burger contest, the entry deadline is at the end of this month  (www.sutterhome.com/build-a-better-burger-recipe-contest)

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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