Quality of ingredients is key to a successful sandwich. I have had outstanding ham sandwiches—consisting of no more than ham, bread and butter—and dismal ones—yet also consisting of the same three ingredients. Whether you prep each ingredient from scratch or source it from a trustworthy food purveyor, opt for the best and aim for simplicity. As in the case of the salad, the sandwich is composed of three distinct elements: bread, filling and spread. (Spread encapsulates items other than peanut butter or Nutella, but we’ll address it shortly.) A sandwich is the ultimate comfort food whether slapped together for a meal en route to class or as a snack at midnight after a fifteen-hour day. Don’t complicate that comfort with stress and endless ingredients. Stick to the sandwich fundamentals and Lord Sandwich (or whoever’s credited with its invention) and Subway Sandwich Artists everywhere will nod their heads in respect.
If I had a soapbox to rant on, I’d dish out my frustration with bread. Why is it near impossible to source a solid loaf? Give me bread with a wicked, crisp exterior and a soft, yet still structural sound interior. Let it whiff of pungent yeast and crunch when torn or sliced. Honestly, any quality bread will do from focaccia to sourdough, ciabatta to classic bun. Once you find your dream loaf, stick to it and support its producer.
The options for fillings are endless. Essentially any dish can be converted to a sandwich filling. As noted in my introduction, keep it simple. If you can’t taste each ingredient in every bite, it’s too many. Although a self-diagnosed glutton, even I know when too much is too much. Balance loose or soft fillings with crisp ones. For example, match pulled pork with lightly dressed chopped cabbage or pre-cut coleslaw mix. Your filling is your only opportunity to shake up the textures in your sandwich, so take advantage. Load up on veggies and stick to lean proteins.
Like its salad counterpart—the dressing—the spread component of any sandwich is too often overthought or underutilized. It provides the dash of flavour every sandwich needs—a reoccurring motif so to speak. The basics are best such as mayonnaise, butter, pesto and nut or seed butters. (Yes, despite my upbringing, I am not a margarine fan.) I am also not a fan of multiple spreads unless like say the classic PB&J they contrast enough to stand up against the other. Whatever the spread, use lightly. With the exception of perhaps regular, nut or seed butters, spreads are just as easily made at home as any filling or, yes, even bread. Like skinny-dipping and prairie fires (i.e. vodka and hot sauce), everyone should attempt homemade mayonnaise at least once in their life.