Make lunch something to savor with chef John Ash’s favorite sandwiches
What is a sandwich?
Originally, a sandwich meant any variety of fillings held together with two or more slices of bread. Over time, the bread has morphed into all manner of buns, toasts and rolls along with waffles, biscuits and, on the sweet side, cakes and cookies.
For savory sandwiches, anything goes for fillings and toppings, from conventional fish, meats and cheeses to French fries, spaghetti, fruits and vegetables. Each type of sandwich typically has deep ethnic and geographical roots and stories. We cherish those stories almost as much as we love the sandwiches themselves.
In “The Oxford Companion to Food,” Alan Davidson notes that sandwiches officially were born in 1762 in England when the fourth Earl of Sandwich, being an inveterate gambler, demanded meat between two slices of bread so he wouldn’t have to leave the gaming table to eat.
In today’s sandwich world, the classic definition has grown to include anything to hold a filling and eat out of hand. Think about the tradition of folding your pizza, which many believe is the proper way to eat a Neapolitan pizza to turn it into a portable meal. In-N-Out Burger is famous for their “protein”-style burgers, which are wrapped in lettuce and contain no bread at all. The list goes on. It would take many volumes to describe the world of sandwiches!
Here is a sampling of some special ones I like:
In his book “Heart of the Artichoke and other Kitchen Journeys,” New York Times contributor and former Chez Panisse chef David Tanis notes that “A well-made sandwich is a superb thing and not so easy to find in the world, despite the fact that so-called panini seem to be all too available everywhere. Why is it so difficult to get a good sandwich?
“If, for instance, you happen to be in Paris, you can still walk into nearly any bar and get a simple ham sandwich on a fresh baguette, and it will somehow be just right. Fresh bread, good butter, good ham. That’s it. ... A flawless sandwich must be built to order, quickly but perfectly. Not piled with lettuce, tasteless tomatoes, or sprouts and whatever else.”
Ham Sandwich in a French Bar
Makes 1 sandwich
Good cultured butter
Cooked ham or jambon de pays
Split the baguette, butter it generously and lay on the ham. Et voilà!
A hallmark of Louisiana cooking, the po’boy is likely related to northern and eastern hoagie sandwiches, but has more local ingredients. One story is that in 1929, during a four-month strike against a New Orleans streetcar company, one restaurant served the strikers free sandwiches. The restaurant workers jokingly referred to the strikers as “poor boys,” and soon the sandwiches took on the name. The following recipe is called a “dressed” po’boy because it has bacon, lettuce and tomatoes.
Fried Oyster Po’Boy
Makes 4 sandwiches
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups yellow or white cornmeal
1 ½ teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons or more store-bought or homemade Creole Spice mix (recipe follows)
Peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
16 shucked “small” raw oysters
4 brioche or French bread rolls, toasted
4 thick applewood-smoked bacon slices, cooked crisp and drained
Iceberg lettuce leaves, whole or shredded
2 medium tomatoes, the ripest and sweetest you can find, sliced thinly
4 slices sweet white or red onion (optional)
Whisk together flour, cornmeal, salt and spice mix in a medium bowl. Heat 2 inches of oil in a deep saucepan to 350 degrees.
Toss the oysters in the seasoned flour, shake off excess flour and fry for about 3 minutes, until light golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
To assemble, spread the toasted buns liberally with mayonnaise then add the oysters, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion and bun tops. Consume with gusto!
Creole Spice Mix
2 teaspoons sweet paprika powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon each dried thyme, basil and oregano
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Combine all the spices in a spice grinder.
There are two competing stories about the origin of the French Dip sandwich, and neither takes place in France, but in Los Angeles.
First, Cole’s, which still exists in Los Angeles and calls itself the “Originators of the French Dip,” claims the title of inventor. Their story is that the sandwich came about in 1908, when Cole’s head chef, sympathetic to a hungry customer with bad gums, softened French bread by dipping it in the warm jus of the roast beef pan used for sandwich meat.
The second story is that Philippe Mathieu, who was French, invented the sandwich. In 1918, he owned the Philippe the Original delicatessen and sandwich shop, also still in business in Los Angeles. According to that story, Philippe was preparing a sandwich for a policeman and accidentally dropped the sliced French roll into the drippings of a roasting pan. The policeman liked the sandwich so much, he came back the next day with friends to order the sandwich dipped in the meat pan.