Remember in that Laurie Colwin novel, Family Happiness I think it is, where Polly and her brother (can’t remember his name, but yes, this is in Family Happiness) talk about “building” sandwiches? I know exactly what Colwin means there. I build sandwiches too, and my husband tells me I have an annoying tendency to crow about how wonderful the sandwiches I build are. But I’m telling you: they are so good, it’s ridiculous.
A few years back I got into the habit of making sandwiches that were designed along the lines of a Banh Mi. Since I don’t eat pork products, and don’t like baguettes, I used meats I would eat, and substituted ciabatta loaves (preferably those made by Bread and Chocolate, a bakery in Hamden, Connecticut). I made my own pickled ginger, and would carefully construct these multi-layered sandwiches and then eat them practically moaning with joy. My husband never understood. He clearly thought I was nuts.
Last Friday, I made a truly stupendous brisket. As we ate it for dinner, the three of us in nearly reverential silence, I turned to my husband, “and think of the sandwiches.”
He said, impressed, “The sandwiches!”
Our daughter said, “Oh, the sandwiches!”
So you can see, we’re interested in sandwiches.
As it happened today we got around to making some sandwiches. For my daughter, I built a simple brisket sandwich on a hard roll with mayonnaise and pickle relish. When digging supplies out of the fridge, though, I noticed a tub of leftover chicken that needed using up. This was from a very good meal I made during the week: a kind of Chinese-style meal. I’d done a brown braise with sliced chicken breast with lots of onion and scallion and ginger and soy sauce and sugar and a few other things. “You know,” I said thoughtfully, looking at the meat in there: three smallish slices, just enough to fill a sandwich nicely. Then I reached for a jar of onion, pepper, and tomato relish someone gave us, and a small jar of leftover Caesar salad from last night.
I took my hard roll, and spread mayonnaise on one half of the roll. Atop that, I spread a thin layer of the relish. And then I moved upward: chicken and then salad. I put the other half of the hard roll on it, pressed it down for a few moments, and sat down to eat a really, and I mean, really, excellent sandwich. But even as I ate it, I was thinking, “This could be better.” I wanted to expand on it. I wanted it to have even more oomph. It was ridiculous. “You know, this is really good,” I said to my husband, “but I feel like it could be better.”
“uh-oh,” he said. He was in the process of building his own (brisket) sandwich.
“I was thinking, with a little bit of avocado slice, some red onion, and maybe some tomato, this would be really over the top. The trouble is, I wouldn’t be able to fit my mouth around it.”
“You know, there’s a lot to be said for simplicity in a sandwich,” he reminded me. “I know,” I said peevishly. “It’s just that I want all those flavors in one thing.”
The good thing about sandwiches is that you can always work on building new ones. You can always make a new combination. You don’t have to have the same ones over and over and over again, if you don’t want to. Sometimes, in fact, often, I wish I could re-eat sandwiches I’ve made, they were so good. But it’s also really fun to think of the new sandwiches we will make at home. My daughter and I often talk about the sandwiches we will make for lunch. (She doesn’t approve of cream cheese on sandwiches ever, but I can work with that.) Onward to tomorrow, when we’ll be making sandwiches on pain de mie I’ll be baking tonight.