Updating the sandwich (+ recipes)
Apparently we have the Fourth Earl of Sandwich to thank for the humble sandwich. He set the trend in the 18th century when he asked for something he could eat in one hand while he played cards with the other. And so a lunchtime stalwart was born.
Do you have an egg mayo fixation or are you more of a BLT type? Perhaps banh mi is your obsession, that tasty Vietnamese sandwich - a product of French colonial rule - that combines a crunchy baguette, paté and mayo, with Vietnamese pickles, coriander and loads of other zesty herbs. Maybe it's a sabich that you crave - this Israeli sandwich is made from a pita bread filled with fried eggplant, boiled egg, pickles and a sweet and sour mango sauce and it's a damned fine thing.
Me, I'm a bit of a club sandwich gal - but don't hold that against me. Old-fashioned it may be, but a good club sandwich is a delicate pleasure that is totally unchallenging and perfect for afternoon tea, weddings, funerals or cocktail parties. My grandmother used to make them for her bridge afternoons.
Just don't put any curry in that egg layer, thank you.
My sandwich-making expertise lies in the old-school triangle white bread variety rather than any of the interesting sandwiches you can find today. You see, the first paid job I got when I left school was at the Westpac bank cafeteria down on Wellington's Lambton Quay. Each morning, 26 loaves of thin-sliced white bread would be waiting for me on the bench, ready to be buttered, filled and sliced. Those bankers loved sandwiches.
My morning routine started with buttering, then it was four loaves of ham sammies, four loaves of ham and mustard, three loaves of egg (no curry), one loaf of tomato (why when we all knew they would go soggy?), two loaves of cheese and pineapple (disgusting), club sandwiches ... and so it went on.
This was 1970s New Zealand and there was nothing like a lamb and guacamole wrap or a Spanish ham and cheese bocadillo. Back then ethnic food was eaten by ethnic people, and the rest of us forced down dull, white English stodge.
I did learn a few good tricks. To soften butter, dice it and put it in a bowl of just-tepid water. As the water isn't actually hot enough to melt the butter, within just a few minutes it becomes creamy soft, the water can be drained off and you are in business with a big bowl of soft, spreadable butter.
The butter in the sandwich isn't just for taste, it glues the whole thing together, as well as providing a barrier against soggy fillings. A fresh tomato sandwich is a thing of joy but unless you eat it close to the moment it's made, it will be soggy. Deseeding the tomatoes by halving and gently squeezing out the seedy pulp before you slice them, helps to hold the sog at bay.
Ensuring the bread is super-fresh is the key to great sandwiches. If you are at home and not needing to make 26 loaves of sandwiches, you should freeze any leftover bread in its bag right after you have used it. The only thing worse than soggy sandwiches is stale ones.
These days there are seeded breads, paleo breads, gluten-free breads, baps, focaccia, Turkish breads, pitas and wraps to name but a few of the bready choices for any filling of your fancy. With so many ingredients to choose from to mix and match, sandwiches have never looked better - so be adventurous!
The combo of canned tuna, mayo, spring onion and lemon is an old-time fave. Vamp it up with some capers and a splash of red wine vinegar and throw it into a loaf of French bread with salad fixings for a great pan bagna-style sandwich to share. Get the recipe
One of the best things about a roast is the cold meat sandwiches for lunch the next day. Fresh bread, a tangy spread and crisp leaves are essential. If you don't have roast beef, quickly fry a steak, allow to rest, then slice thinly across the grain. Get the recipe
If you want that super-fresh sandwich effect for a picnic, pack the freshest sliced loaf you can find, mix the filling in a bowl, keep it chilled and assemble your sandwiches on the spot. They'll never taste better. I like to use poached chicken for a succulent result. Get the recipe
From Essential Annabel Langbein (Annabel Langbein Media, $65), a compendium of Annabel’s best-ever savoury recipes and cooking tips. For more, visit annabel-langbein.com