Sandwiches are simple in the sense that the only rule you truly have to follow to make a sandwich is that you need to put something in between two slices of bread. But great sandwiches constitute more than just an ordinary PB&J (peanut butter and jelly). Great sandwiches balance protein, dairy, vegetables, sauces and bread into a perfect food item.
What we generally consider as the humble sandwich here is actually so beloved in some cities of the world and is considered a top cultural food. Take the Cubanos (Cuban sandwich) for Miami or the Chivito for Uruguay; the latter enjoys an exalted status as the country’s national dish. There’s even a day that’s dedicated to sandwiches, namely the National Sandwich Day, which honours the day believed to be when sandwiches were invented.
The story goes that John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich was such a compulsive gambler that he ordered his servant to serve him meat in between two slices of bread so it wouldn’t interrupt his game. But most food scholars believe that the sandwich was actually born the day after bread was invented and that the Earl of Sandwich just became synonymous with the dish due to his title.
Suffice to say, with Malaysians having such a diverse range of culinary offerings to choose from, the humble sandwich doesn’t really rank high on the list of our “sought-after” food. Most of us just go into a convenience store and choose between an egg or sardine sandwich while wishing we had nasi lemak to eat instead. When we do want to appreciate a great sandwich, it can get quite pricey, especially if you live in the city. The best way around this is to learn how to make it yourself at home.
To start off, you need great bread. You can opt for something from the grocery store but do bear in mind that the bread is one of the most important components to a sandwich. So how about splurging a bit on decent bread?
Buy a good loaf from a well-known bakery and although the price may feel rather stiff, just think about how many sandwiches you can whip up out from that one loaf. Furthermore, you can always freeze the excess. And since you’re going to splurge, you might as well do some experimenting. I personally like sourdough loaves because it adds some acidity to my final product. But if you’re trying to impress guests, I’d suggest using a charcoal loaf because it’s quite interesting aesthetically.
The next thing you need to determine is the type of sandwich you want to make. You can always make something simple like a tuna melt or grilled cheese. If you do, then aim to use the best ingredients you can find. For example, all you need to do is figure out what the main ingredient is in your simple sandwich. If it’s cheese, buy good cheese — don’t use singles. Buy something that you need to grate or cut yourself because chances are they’d taste far better than processed cheese.
If it is egg or tuna, make sure you use free range eggs or good quality tuna and ensure that real mayonnaise is used to flavour your egg and tuna. There is fake mayonnaise out there; they tend to be under RM10 per jar.
If you want to make something a little nicer, then you’ll need to determine what type of meat and vegetables you want to use. Then it’s a matter of balancing your main ingredients with the right sauces and spreads. This, of course is really up to your taste bud. But there are some rules.
When working with beef, try and pair it with vegetables that won’t be lost in relation to its strong flavour and texture. Use things like roasted red peppers and eggplants instead of lettuce. Also, it’s advisable to pair it with something that will complement the strong aroma of the beef, like mustard or horseradish sauce. Even the cheese you use shouldn’t be too mild — strong cheddar would pair great with beef compared to mozzarella.
When working with main ingredients like salmon, try pairing it with refreshing ingredients to combat the fishy smell and flavour. Try your best to use things like rocket or radishes and squeeze a lemon on top to get a little acidity in there.
You could also make a vegetarian sandwich, but try and use meatier vegetables to give your sandwich more bite. Mushrooms and eggplants are great. And play it up a bit by adding some herbs or vinegar to your vegetables to create a far more complex “dish”. I personally like balsamic, tomatoes and thyme as a combination or eggplant and rosemary with apple cider vinegar.
That said, you’re the master of your own sandwich. You can create it however you want. But try your best to experiment once in a while. It’s a great reason to and it certainly would be nicer than the RM3 option that you end up grabbing from the convenience store.