Monday, March 26, 2012

The Art and Joy of the Sandwich

if you build it they will come. they will come and enthusiastically eat, enjoy and be happy. there is something about that hand-held crowd pleaser called the sandwich that makes all who indulge feel jubilant & satisfied.  add a cup of delicious soup and you have just defined "comfort." visit another country and you can generally tell a lot about the place by eating a sandwich. in italy i had some of the best sandwiches of my life. even at a gas station. in italy, sandwiches are serious business. usually served for lunch, the sandwich is, architecturally speaking, the perfect meal.  meats, cheeses, vegetables, savory spreads and fresh baked bread all brought together in a symbiotic, sensual dance of flavor, texture and delight.  ask anyone who has been to defonte's in brooklyn and you will see what i mean. quite simply,  the sandwich is the stuff that culinary dreams are made of. 

yes, i know, many of us (myself included) do not partake of our daily bread these days but that does not mean we cannot substitute and reinvent the sandwich in another form. lettuce wraps, brown rice tortillas, rice paper wraps, apple slices ( i like mine with chicken liver pate), etc. all make a tasty platform on which to arrange our favorite, fresh ingredients and create our own individual masterpiece.  

my family loves a good sandwich. i pack them for their school and work lunches. i often serve them for breakfast and sometimes we even eat them for dinner! sandwiches can be very special and quite far from the old days when mum would say "nothing fancy tonight, just some cold sandwiches in the icebox."  warm toasted sandwiches like croque madam, rubens and the ever popular post thanksgiving feast known as "thanksgiving on a roll" (fresh roasted turkey, stuffing, sweet potato and cranberry relish) have taken the sandwich into a new realm, elevating it to meal status.

after all, who can deny that good ole' stand-by the grass-fed hamburger when its been crafted to perfection. our family burger, "burger with the lot," is made of grass-fed bison and has a huge knob of cold butter jammed inside the patty when cooking, is served rare on a sourdough roll and is topped with melted cheddar, sliced beet root, bacon, caramelized onion, a fried egg, fermented ketchup and homemade pickles....and that has been trimmed down. it used to include a ring of fresh organic pineapple as well but the kids can't handle it when it's that big.  because i don't eat the bread roll, i usually wrap mine in a neat parcel made from a large romaine lettuce leaf. i have been experimenting with grinding different meats to make the best burger flavor. 50/50 grass-fed beef & bacon seems to be a popular burger recipe ratio these days. mmmmmm, good eats!  

when people ask me about my sandwiches and what i use to make them i always tell them to please cook their own meats.  lunch meats from a deli counter are dodgy.  that means, not to be trusted. processed meats can contain additives and most probably are not as fresh as they can be. i generally stay away from deli meats except for prosciutto and dry italian salami which i am not making at home.....yet.  i have gotten into the habit of roasting a well seasoned, herb stuffed turkey breast every saturday morning (i buy it from di paola's turkey stand at the market).  this usually provides delicious turkey sandwiches for the entire week which is about two or three times per week for three or four people.  same goes for chicken. roast or poach a whole pastured chicken each week. use the meat one night for dinner, use the leftovers to make chicken salad (meat, celery, red onion, tarragon, homemade mayo, sea salt & pepper) and then the bones to make broth for soups and sipping. that one pastured chicken will take you far. i hand slice my sandwich meats but i like the idea of having a small electric meat slicer in the home kitchen for getting the most value out of your meat.

other sandwich meats i cook are skirt and ny strip steak, bacon, uncured ham steak, lamb shoulder (my favorite with mint mayo) and grass fed, well peppered beef (RARE) - that always goes well on sandwiches with a thick layer of grass fed butter or horseradish mayonnaise & whole grain mustard with arugula or watercress.  this one is beautiful on german style black bread or pumpernickel.  and don't forget that all sandwiches are great "open-face" style.  some call this tartine but i generally refer to them as danish style open sandwiches and my favorites are goat cheese & cucumber, smoked salmon on thick butter with capers and thin sliced red onion or herring with curried cream sauce and dill. isn't pizza just an open-face sandwich on thin crust bread? a quesadilla, a mexican grilled cheese sandwich? a summer roll, a thai veggie sandwich wrapped in rice paper rolls? i think so.  remember, a sandwich can be anything you want it to be. fresh, delicious, mostly hand held and easy to decide.

sometimes a sandwich contains no meat at all.  my husband calls this a "salad roll." he likes cheese on his but you needn't do that either if you are on an animal-free diet (please say you're not).  greens, tomato, onion, shredded carrot, beet root, sprouts, cucumber, roasted veggies (peppers, squash, eggplant, onions, etc) and herbs. go for it!  these sandwiches are a little bit of farm fresh heaven and reflect what's coming out of the ground wherever you are.  the key here is in the condiments which should be homemade whenever possible.  a simple vinaigrette to soak the bread, fresh mayo, fermented mayo, herb mayo....start with mayo. here is a simple recipe.....

1 whole pastured egg
1 pastured egg yolk
1 tsp. dijon mustard
the juice of half a lemon
a generous pinch of salt

1 cup of good quality, buttery tasting, late harvest xtra virgin olive oil (chaffin family orchards is really good)
blend the first five ingredients in a food processor.
SLOWLY add in the olive oil in a thin stream - i hold mine way up in the air & drizzle so the stream gets really thin, almost trickling in drop by drop to emulsify.
this basic recipe can be played with in many ways. it is also a great base for a caesar salad dressing, have fun.

other delicious sandwich condiments are olive paste (pit and puree your favorite olive - nicoise, kalamata, picholine, etc. add olive oil - garlic if you want - and store in the fridge), herb and olive oil purees (like a pesto), roasted vegetable puree (red peppers, squash, eggplant, onions, garlic, mushrooms, etc),  spicy honey mustard, horseradish cream sauce, curried lentil or lentil & tomato spread,  sundried tomato paste, chunky salsas, nut butters, avocado & lemon puree, white bean get my drift, yes?  

now the bread. the floor and ceiling of our construction.  no pressure there.  the bread is almost the most important piece of the sandwich puzzle. truly great sandwiches start with great bread. "a symphony of crackle" as colette said in my favorite movie, "ratatouille." we are fans of the upstate NY bakery bread alone. we buy them at the markets and they are also available at whole foods. wherever you are located, please source out a fresh, well baked, loaf from a good bakery. we prefer the french levain but sometimes go for the sour rye with caraway seeds.  we also like the sourdough rye from hawthorne farms and the levain at le pain quotidian.  as far as ready made breads go we keep berlin bakery's sprouted spelt bread in our freezer at all times. my kids relate to this bread and i like the fact that it is sprouted.  if you are eating bread please make sure that they are traditionally prepared with only the freshest few ingredients. most packaged breads will have a huge list of ingredients i wouldn't feed to my worst enemy. and please don't be afraid of good bread. if you are not diagnosed with celiac disease or an allergy to grains, please enjoy a life filled with delicious, well prepared bread.  the best case scenario would be to bake your own traditional sourdough bread each week.  

so there you have it. sandwiches are cool. whether its a bacon egg and cheese sandwich for breakfast, a fresh roasted cold lamb sandwich for lunch or a grilled cheese quesadilla with salsa & raw sour cream for dinner, a sandwich is usually a good idea.  make your ingredients yourself whenever possible (even breads) and only buy the freshest cleanest food to put on your sandwich and in your body. be creative, play with variations and experiment with flavors to see what you and your family like.  The next time you call your Family2Table serve them a sandwich and see if they don't all light up with joy!  

some our family's favorite sandwich combinations:
tarragon roasted turkey with fresh mayo & arugula 
wild salmon salad, green onions & celery with fresh mayo and pea shoots
sardines on buttered bread with thin sliced red onion and dill
goat cheese & scrambled egg on bacon fat toasted sourdough bread
prosciutto de parma and fresh mozzarella with black olive paste
sliced ham and raw swiss cheese with spicy whole grain honey mustard
bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado with chipotle mayo
rare lamb with mint mayo and roasted red peppers
salad roll with roasted vegetable mayo
smoked mozzarella with arugula & sundried tomato paste
dark meat chicken salad with wild watercress
crispy pork and vegetable thai summer rolls with sweet chile sauce
hummus & roasted red pepper with shredded carrot and raisin salad
bison sausage and cheddar quesadilla with fermented salsa, sour cream and guacamole
crispy roasted cod with roasted tomato relish 
sweet italian pork sausage, balsamic roasted red onions & peppers

what are some of your favorite sandwich combinations?