Charles Siskin: Sandwiches

Sunday, November 9, 2014 - by Charles Siskin

I read in the local paper recently about a sandwich contest and how this one young woman had reached the finals with her blackberry, salmon and avocado entry. That should be reason enough to cancel my subscription.

Honestly do you really think the Earl of Sandwich would have awarded that sweet thing anything more than the guillotine for such a concoction? Well actually the only thing really named after the Earl are the Sandwich Islands hence the connection. As for the salmon and blackberry Queen, some bacon and a smashed avocado spread with capers and fresh dill would be excellent.

What came first the Earl or the Sandwich is of no matter as the bastardization of what was once and will again be the mighty sandwich will first have to overcome the likes of paninis and wraps, open-faced cuties and stuffed pitas.

Personally I’m thinking of an amazing pimento cheese sandwich I had recently that nearly blew my awesome new multi-stripped socks off. I mean what else would you wear to gym, white tennis socks? Get a grip, those are not just yesterday, they are totally the day before.  P.S. The ladies back at the “home” can barely eat their cottage cheese when I walk by.

Okay I’ll admit I was very hungry when I ordered that pimento cheese sandwich and I waited a bit longer than I wanted, or at least I felt as though I waited a very long time, which happens when you are literally starving. However when this perfectly toasted sandwich piled high with homemade pimento cheese arrived topped with crisp lettuce and juicy ripe tomato slices plus slices of dill pickle, I pounced on it. Not a pretty sight but a welcome one.                 

There are so many unusual, some bordering on the bizarre, ingredients and combinations being offered that I wonder where it all began? I fear even more to know if it will end.

Now I’m no connoisseur of Philly Steak sandwiches whatsoever, but if it is good food then I’ve got to try it. I will admit I’m hanging on about the Good Humor truck that passes me every evening during the summer when I’m out walking with my little dog, Madame.  I watch as Mr. Good Humor rolls up with music playing and bells ringing and little children on vacation run out waving $5 dollar bills. Suck it up, these are tourist prices.

So on the recommendation of my friend, the local food reviewer, I made my way to this restaurant that is nearby my home. I ordered their famous Philly Cheese Sandwich and looked around to see most of the tables empty except one other party. At that point I decided to help the owner out by getting the full Monty, the drink and fries as well. However I instructed the Fry Master “no seasoning please on the fries”. You got it…no surprise ending except what my blood pressure reading would have been had I dared to consume in excess of the recommended 2000 ml of salt a day.

After what seems like an inordinate length of time, considering there was no back up of orders in the open kitchen, my eagerly awaited sandwich arrived. Heads up people my only dining experience in Philadelphia centered on seafood. Also I buy their fat free cream cheese locally but not the flavored ones. And yes, I have a sincere hatred for their baseball team versus my embarrassing Atlanta Braves-down 17 games at season’s end- but for now I’m looking down at some really scary eats.

Brotherly Love Bro, eat the sandwich I thought. Terrible mistake. What looks bad taste bad. I checked out my sweet tea. Are you kidding me? How can you screw up sweet tea in the South for goodness sakes? Wrong. I switched to real Coke which was flat. I’m thinking they these folks have been abandoned by the Coke delivery truck as well.

I begin to wonder if this meal could make old Ben Franklin drop his kite and flee the lightning or cause another crack in the Liberty Bell? Or on a happier note keep the Phillies in last place?

I’m not a serious connoisseur of sandwiches, but I have met some terrific ones over the years in places like New Orleans at Central Market where a muffaletta will feed two people and is the perfect picnic food.  Or check out most delis in New York where you can get a pastrami sandwich so large it might feed more than two plus the added benefit of having your cholesterol shoot way past 200.  

Today’s combination of ingredients, some sounding way more unusual than tasting and some tasting way too unusual, are meeting foodies demands for clever combinations of sandwiches. With the influx of people coming from different parts of the world to our shores and bringing their need to create the foods they grew up on, stores like Whole Foods, Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s are introducing us to the flavor of places we may never travel to but are able to enjoy, with an occasional slipup, through their foods.

There are Vietnamese sandwiches made on French baguettes, a crossover from the time when the French occupied the country. There are kebab and falafel sandwiches served in pita pockets, deep fried sandwiches like the Monte Cristo and Korean tacos a fusion dish that comes to us courtesy of our neighbors out in Los Angeles of course.

One that I plan to try some day from Pittsburg made famous by the Primati Brothers has the fries and the cole slaw as part and parcel of the whole sandwich.

It is ironic that the Primati Brothers made this sandwich famous since I remember my children doing something similar when we took them out to dinner and we told them it was disgusting. Who knew? In fact one of the chain restaurants is currently advertising a new sandwich where they have added large fried onion rings on the sandwich itself. Nothing is sacred including the burger.

Several days ago I was overcome with the need for a real old fashion hamburger like the ones where they slather the bun with mayo and melt cheddar cheese over the top of the burger then top that with crisp crunchy lettuce and juicy tomato slice. A side of dill pickle doesn’t hurt either.

So I rushed home heated my Georgie Forman and put together what I had been fantasizing about only a short while before.  Was it wonderful? Yep. Just wished I had the fries and a coke but I don’t want to push the envelope.

One of the sandwiches we have here on the Gulf is this classic grilled grouper sandwich that is truly “done right”.  Served on a buttered baguette with a side of excellent tarter sauce, it is available at a lot of places here on the coast.  What makes it special is the honest simplicity of the ingredients. Same with my burger, no gimmicks.

I’m not sure young people today understand the understated sandwich. They’ve been weaned on the double burger patty melt or the”Cap’n What’s It” totally battered fish sandwich (that’s an abuse case waiting to happen) which on close inspection has less than one ounce of whiting tucked inside at best.

Now I’m imagining a double decker club sandwich made with several of the following ingredients: real turkey, maybe roast beef or ham sliced off the bone, cheese, bacon some lettuce tucked in along with tomato and sliced dill pickle.  I’ll bet the ladies back and the “home” would throw down their Bingo cards for that one.

Toby’s Chicken Salad Sandwich

My late maternal Aunt was a wonderful cook. She grew up on a farm in Alabama and of my Grandmother’s six children she was the one who, never marrying, became the best cook having learned from the locals who worked in my grandparent’s home.

In addition to the big Sunday meals my Aunt Toby would prepare for the entire family, aunts, uncles, children and whomever showed up at my Grandmother’s house over on Pine Street, she would sometimes make chicken salad from the leftover Sunday baked chicken, should there be any.

Because today there is only my bride and myself at home, we usually purchase a rotisserie chicken from the likes of Publix or Fresh Market. (We will sometime in late spring have a Whole Foods here in Destin as well) Because there is always leftover chicken I like to turn it into chicken salad. It’s perfect to pack for a trip to the beach or take to work or have for dinner as well.

2 or more cups of diced cooked chicken

2 ribs of celery cleaned and diced

2 boiled eggs peeled and diced (I remove the yellows but that’s your call)

1 or two tablespoons of Hellman’s real mayo (again it’s your option on how closely you are watching your cholesterol and how subtle you like your salad-some people drench their salad in the stuff!)

2 tablespoons or more of sweet pickle relish (sometimes I dice up Bread and Butter pickles instead)

1 teaspoon Kosher salt or to taste and a good grind of the pepper mill

Toss all the ingredients together and taste and correct seasoning as needed

Of course you can add toasted almonds or spiced walnuts, white grapes, curry or cayenne pepper for a bit of unexpected kick. 

This is your basic recipe and one I really don’t tamper with just spread on a roll, croissant or some excellent bread from one of the aforementioned grocers.                 

(Charles Siskin, food connoisseur and former Chattanoogan now living on the Gulf Coast, can be reached at charlessiskin@mediacombb.com)


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