Between Two Slices
You can call me Earl.
Do you have a serious relationship with your sandwiches?
I do. (G and I have an understanding.)
I do not take making sandwiches lightly. This is another food rule I learned from my dad (see last week’s issue).
I think we Americans have personal sandwich hierarchies. Depending on where we live in the country, they can differ, but a few sandwiches gain our collective attention from childhood.
Entry into the world of sandwiches usually begins with a good, old-fashioned peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I had a long term relationship with PB&J since it was packed in my brown paper lunch bag from first grade to senior year of high school. My preference: white bread, light on peanut butter, generous on jelly, preferably strawberry or raspberry.
A close runner-up has to be grilled cheese, white bread and American cheese slices. Skillfully toasted by mom, of course, because she was never shy with butter. Even as a picky kid, I turned up my nose at Kraft American cheese slices pretty quickly, so soon she used slices of cheddar or provolone. Side note: my grilled cheese was almost always served with a bowl of Campbell’s tomato soup, topped with croutons, and a small pile of sweet pickle slices.
I think my first serious sandwich lesson was when Dad introduced me to Dagwood Bumstead from the comic strip, Blondie. The comic strip started in 1930, but it was a series of films from 1938-1943 that endeared me to Blondie and her sweet, but scatterbrained, sandwich-loving husband, Dagwood. Dad and I watched them on Saturday mornings.
A Dagwood is a tall, multi-layered sandwich with meats, cheeses, and condiments. It looks like this:
My Midwestern childhood led me to sloppy Joe and submarine sandwiches, hard salami, ham and cheese, chicken or egg salad, and fried bologna.
Mom taught me about her favorites, BLT’s, Monte Cristo’s, the Club sandwich, and patty melts. Dad tutored me about meatball subs, the Reuben, corned beef, and gyros, and the art of breakfast sandwiches.
Between Dad’s lessons, personal experience, and culinary school (“layers of flavor”), I’ve come to understand that each part of a sandwich requires attention to detail.
The bread is important, probably just as important as what’s inside the sandwich. Nine times out of ten, it has to be toasted.
The condiments have to be skillfully chosen. I remember my dad had zero tolerance for anything but Heinz ketchup. If we went to a restaurant and he discovered they used Hunt’s ketchup, he was personally offended.
I follow his lead and only use Heinz ketchup, but as far as mustard is concerned? I can’t have enough. If you open my refrigerator, you will find yellow mustard, Dijon, whole grain, hot, and honey mustard.
Whatever the choice of condiment, it has to be spread to all corners of the bread. Every bite of the sandwich needs to be balanced.
My lifelong wanderlust, inherited from my dad, has given me so many gifts, not the least of which is more sandwiches to love.
I’ve had: soft shell crab in Martha’s Vineyard; po’ boys and muffalettas in New Orleans; Italian beef in Chicago; beef on weck in Syracuse, NY; hot browns in Louisville, KY; a Cubano in Miami; pastrami in New York City; croque monsieur in Paris; banh mi in San Francisco; smoked meat in Montreal; pulled turkey bbq in Nashville, TN; and Primanti and Polish Boys in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
What’s my favorite?
Well, it changes, but I keep these in rotation at home: a Caesar Club sandwich inspired by Ina Garten; spicy Italian sausage, garlicky broccoli rabe, and provolone on a sub or ciabatta roll; and that leftover turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce, stuffing, and gravy the day after Thankgsiving.
What are your favorite sandwiches?
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Thanks again for reading! I care about you. Please don’t forget to eat your greens.
***Written to The Monkees 50