Secrets of the Sandwich Maker

henry may15 sammy post.jpg

Photo by Terrence Henry

"Too few people understand a really good sandwich."
--James Beard

The other day I mentioned that we enjoy Argentina's Coca-Cola at lunch with our usual sandwich of "avocado, basil and roasted red pepper." A friend read that and emailed to ask:

I'm intrigued by this sandwich you mention: I want this sandwich, I want to adequately recreate this sandwich. Is there anything else on it? Oil? Mayo? What kind of bread do you use? I assume from one of your earlier posts that it is not a baguette. Is there anything else i need to know about making this sandwich? Would cheese be good on this? I await your reply.

I told my friend that the sandwich was pretty much as described: we roast some peppers, slice some avocado, add some basil leaves, stuff it all into a fresh baguette, then finish it with a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of kosher salt and black pepper. (Sometimes we'll add some shaved parmigiano reggiano.) For the baguette, we have settled for a bakery in our neighborhood. As you can see in the photo above, it's one of those super-starchy kinds, with a terrible crumb structure, but the crust is decent, it's fresh (usually just ten minutes or so out of the oven), and serves as a decent enough vehicle for the sandwich's innards.

And of course we like to mix it up with our lunchtime sandwich. Above, we made one with prosciutto, arugula, and buffalo mozzarella. We've played with other combinations, using different mixtures of cucumber, prosciutto, salami, goat cheese, sun dried tomato, roasted eggplant, cracked red pepper, parsley, butter, or a soft Argentinian cheese that is similar to Laughing Cow, but without all the processing and excessive pasteurization. Mayo is never allowed, unless we were to do something like a BLT with pancetta, oven-roasted tomatoes, and arugula. (And now we will.)

On the side, we'll have an impromptu salad of some cucumbers with basil, goat cheese, olive oil, and salt and pepper, or just plain avocado with the olive oil and seasoning. We'll have potato chips sometimes as well. We prefer Lay's, made here the same as back home, with just three ingredients: "Potatoes, Vegetable Oil, Salt."

I've been a sandwich-maker at three delis -- a bagel shop, a bakery (both in McLean, Virginia), and a deli in Monterey, California -- and each taught me something new: at the bagel shop I learned that bacon makes a great addition to nearly every sandwich; at the bakery I discovered that ham-and-cheese croissants are best made with gruyere, and with the ham and cheese (and mustard!) baked into the croissant; and at the deli in Monterey I found that red onions caramelized in butter make a great sandwich topping. (And, like roasted peppers, they are easy to make in batches in advance.)

Sandwich lessons have come from other places of course, as they do for everyone--a friend taught me that honey and curry make canned tuna much more interesting, and my wife showed me that thinly sliced cucumbers, like bacon, are good on just about any sandwich you can think of.

There's nothing unique to Argentina about this lunchtime habit of ours, other than it is a little cheaper to do here, and it's also something we now have the time for, since we are "retired." The assembling doesn't take long, and we could certainly shop ahead if we wanted to, but we like to go out each day and build our sandwich based on what looks good (and going out for fresh bread is a must). And I can't capture how nice it is to finish that sandwich and then go curl up with a book instead of checking emails. The sandwich itself has become such a great part of our day, though, that we aim to keep doing it even when we re-enter the working world. (Shudder.)