Join The Club
By Carol Ritchie
It is believed that the sandwich originated several centuries ago in Europe as simply sliced meat on buttered bread. Eventually, layering meats and other ingredients between two slices of bread became a popular hand-held meal, and by the early 20th century Americans were indulging in the sandwich craze. Of course, the attraction to this quick, handy, delicious meal has continued to increase in the past 100 years, and now more than ever, the sandwich is only defined by one’s imagination. Its composition and flavor possibilities seem limitless, with seemingly infinite ingredients and types of bread to build upon.
Since its introduction to North America, the sandwich has always been a popular choice of meal for lunch. Since time is usually of essence, the sandwich is both quick to prepare and quick to consume. This is convenient for short lunch breaks at work and at school. When packing a lunch to go, there are three considerations that top the list of sandwich preparation requirements: good planning and organization, proper handling and storage and choosing a variety of flavors and textures.
Pop Quiz: Dare to Prepare
It’s always good to have a plan. Especially when time is short and lunch ideas are lacking. A monthly strategy is a good place to start. Study the wide variety of choices in breads and filling ingredients. Be prepared to stock the refrigerator and pantry once a week, but with a slightly different medley of ingredients each week of the month. Choose an assortment that allows different combinations and flavors for every day of the week. Keep a selection of condiments, herbs and spices and canned goods readily stocked. Shop for bread, fruit, vegetables, meats and cheeses weekly, or when freshly available or on sale.
Don’t settle for just one type of bread (or simply white or whole-wheat); try baguettes, ciabatta, croissants, pumpernickel, marbled rye, challah (egg bread), brioche, sourdough bread, oat bread, potato bread, rustic artisan breads, multi-grain breads, Hawaiian sweet bread, white chocolate bread, cheese bread, raisin bread, damper (soda bread), flatbreads (tortillas, pita bread, lefse, tandoor bread, focaccia), onion rolls, matza, bagels, biscuits, scones, English muffins, crumpets (whew!…) or if you’re in desperate need for a sugar fix and look to a recent breakfast sandwich promotion - donuts! Even with a limited supply of breads and fillings on hand, an occasional random shuffling will offer different tastes and textures throughout the week. Treat the bread as an empty canvas, upon which to paint with the colors of food - a mouth-watering masterpiece! Unlike the traditional sandwich where the filling is mostly hidden from view, the one slice open-faced sandwich presents an artistic option, but it’s not always as convenient to pack or eat. Nevertheless, be courageous and creative when building your sandwiches. If you have studied well, the answers will be most delicious. Discover new combinations and lunchtime will never be boring.
The ABCs – PBJ to BLT
From avocado to zucchini, and every ingredient in-between, a sandwich is filled with anything and everything you can imagine. What once was a rather simple choice of white, wheat or rye, has now become a major factor in sandwich making since bread choices are nearly as wide-ranging as choices for fillings. Many grains, cereals, herbs, spices, seeds, nuts, vegetables, fruits and cheeses are components in various breads, offering a variety of options in taste, texture and health benefits. Even the kids’ favorite peanut butter and jelly has become a choice from dozens of flavors and degrees of chunkiness. You can choose SunButter (from sunflower seeds) or almond butter, Nutella (chocolate-hazelnut spread) or tahini (sesame seed paste), peanut butter with honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, raisins, or spicy chile peppers, strawberry jam or peach preserves, lemon curd or jellied cranberry sauce, honey or agave nectar, orange marmalade or mint jelly; the list goes on and on. PBJ is no longer the sandwich your parents once enjoyed - it’s so much better!
Many sandwiches host a variety of lunchmeat options. From turkey to salami, from smoked meats to prosciutto, these choices have grown to a variety of flavors as well. Complement with an assortment of sliced vegetables, sprouts, chilies, herbs, olives, pickles, capers, cooked egg, bacon, fruit and yet another array of topping favorites to choose from - cheese. Soft to firm, mild to sharp, sliced to shredded; more and more international cheese varieties are becoming readily available for sandwich enjoyment. And don’t forget the condiments; from mustard, ketchup, relish, olive oil or mayonnaise, to wasabi, chutney, horseradish, hummus or vegemite, these simple spice spreads (plus salt, pepper and a variety of vinegars) enhance sandwich flavors, or perhaps if desired, radically overpower the fillings within. Salad spreads, such as egg salad or tuna salad, have been popular sandwich fillings for decades, but with the world of ingredients at our fingertips today, a BLT just might be a new sandwich spread consisting of Brie, lobster and truffle! The ABCs of sandwich ingredients spell delicious flavors in sentences of textures and paragraphs of dining pleasure.
See Spot Run. (Lucky Leftovers)
You can have it hot or cold. Eat it fresh or one day old. Dinnertime serves up some fun. For what remains, you’ll see Spot run. But poor Spot won’t get the lucky leftovers in this doggie bag. Dinner from the night before becomes lunch the next day! Something left to put away? Save it for another day. A filling that you’ll like a bunch, when it’s in your sandwich lunch. Any leftover chicken (grilled chicken, chicken Parmesan, rotisserie chicken), turkey, roast beef, pork chops, beef brisket, salmon, sausage, chicken fried steak or meatloaf makes excellent sandwich fillings, cold from the refrigerator or re-heated. Simply slice, top with your favorite condiments, and garnish with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and thinly sliced red onions. This idea is highlighted in my variation of a chicken club sandwich, Lunch Club Chicken Ciabatta (see recipe below).
For beef brisket or a roast, slice or shred the meat, heat in the microwave (if desired) and mix with barbecue sauce to taste. Top with coleslaw (kept cold in a separate container until ready to serve) for a cool twist. Of course, there’s always the standard restaurant-style sandwiches to pattern your homemade creations after: hamburger, hot dog, chili dog, muffuletta, reuben, sloppy joe, gyros, quesadillas, grilled cheese, po’ boy, Philly cheesesteak, submarine sandwich - just to name a few. From yesterday’s dinner plate to tomorrow’s lunch box is an easy read. It’s a novel approach to utilizing favorite foods throughout the week.
1 + 1 = It’s A Wrap
The conventional sandwich is comprised of two slices of bread plus a filling. Modern sandwiches stretch the envelope in geometric dimensions. Using various flatbreads, such as tortillas, pita bread, lavash or breads simply designated <wraps>, the “sandwich wrap” is basically as simple as it sounds. Like the original wraps, the burrito and the soft-shell taco, place your choice of filling in the middle and wrap it up! Fillings are generally cold cuts (deli meats), cheese and sliced fresh vegetables, however, there is no limit to the imagination - if it fits, it’s a filling! And the wrappers are no longer limited to breads. In an effort to lower carbohydrates, perhaps eliminate gluten, or simply for different flavors and textures, sandwich wraps can be made using lettuce greens, grape leaves, spring roll-style wrappers, crêpes (thin egg, milk and flour pancakes), phyllo (paper-thin layered pastry dough - for a hot sandwich, since the phyllo dough needs to bake) or anything flat and tasty to surround a filling. It’s simple arithmetic. One wrap around one filling is twice as easy and exponentially inventive.
It’s Alive!!! Brown Bag Basics
Whether you’re packing a lunch box for work with refrigerator storage available, or the kids’ brown bag lunch that will sit for hours in a locker, it’s important to prepare and pack sandwiches accordingly. Sandwich salad spreads (especially those combined with mayo) and meats and cheeses are at most risk for spoilage when kept at room temperature for more than an hour. (Or for a minimal amount of time when exposed to Texas heat.) Wrap these sandwiches well and keep chilled until ready to eat. Transport in insulated lunch bags or lunch boxes with ice packs, if possible. If refrigeration is available at the lunch location, use it.
Sandwiches with peanut butter, jams or jellies, or fresh sliced veggies are less likely to spoil at room temperature for a few hours, however, vegetables will begin to dry out and breads will absorb the moisture from the filling and (depending on the texture and denseness of the bread) tend to become soggy. It is always preferable to find the most appropriate protective wrap for the type of sandwich prepared, keeping in mind the time that will elapse prior to serving. Choices include aluminum foil to waxed paper to plastic sandwich bags to rigid plastic containers. A good solution for sandwich condiments (preventing soggy bread by early prep) is to use prepackaged servings as restaurants do for take-out meals - add the condiments when ready to eat. Proper food handling, preparation and storage will prevent your sandwich from becoming your next science project before lunchtime.
Final Exam: Lunch 101
From its interesting history, to the mathematical probability that you’ll be enjoying one in the very near future, the sandwich combines the complex science of taste and texture to spell out delicious meals for lunchtime, especially when it’s once again the time of year to hit the books. Prepare in advance for delicious days in the lunchroom. Study the variety of options. Mix it up with a multiple choice of ingredients. Fill in the blanks with your favorite fillings. It’s true, you can use any bread to wrap your sandwich, but it’s false to assume every sandwich will stay fresh without refrigeration. Select the best answers carefully. Your lunch box is soon to be full of scrumptious sandwich surprises with tasty treasures certainly worthy of an essay of excitement and exclamation! Enjoy a passing grade, for you have graduated from Lunch 101: The Sandwich!
Lunch Club Chicken Ciabatta
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
4 ciabatta rolls (or ciabatta bread loaf, cut into 4 sandwich servings)
8 gourmet lettuce leaves
4 slices Colby Jack cheese
2 grilled chicken breasts, cut into strips
2 plum tomatoes, thinly sliced
8 slices crisp cooked bacon
In a small bowl, stir together mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Spread this mixture inside the bottom halves of 4 ciabatta sandwich rolls (or divided loaf). In each sandwich, layer 2 leaves lettuce, 1 slice cheese, 1/4 of the total chicken strips and tomato slices, and 2 slices bacon and place top halves of ciabatta bread over ingredients. Wrap sandwiches securely in wax paper (or plastic sandwich bags) and chill in the refrigerator until ready to eat or tuck in a lunch box.
Carol Ritchie is the host of "Cookin' with Carol." She has taught cooking classes in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for 20 years.