How to Make a Sandwich… Yes, You’ve Probably Been Doing it Wrong

The components of a sandwich falling in an aesthetically pleasing artsy manner
The components of a sandwich falling in an aesthetically pleasing artsy manner
Photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash

That’s right, I’m going to rant about sandwiches. Now, I’m going to take a wild and unsubstantiated guess here and say that many of you don’t know how to make a decent sandwich. Some will. This isn’t a hidden and secret art, otherwise I probably wouldn’t know about it. But still, for those ignorant out there, I’m here to help. In the most condescending way I can manage. You’re welcome.

First off, let’s look at the example of an improperly made sandwich. Unsplash have kindly provided us with a great example of this. To the left, we see a sandwich that seems like it should work. Meat, lettuce and cheese. What’s wrong with that? It’s simple, look at the bread. The naked, unbuttered bread of sadness.

You see, that sandwich is missing at least one of the fundamental components of a good sandwich. The fat, or lubrication. The other components are the delivery system, which for the purposes of this article is bread. All you lettuce roll weirdos are just going to have to find that article somewhere else. Next we have the filling, which can vary wildly but usually has at least two components, which provide contrasts in texture and balance each other out. Finally, the oft-forgotten seasoning. Some ingredients, often a condiment of some sort, are overachievers and fulfil more than one of these purposes. Show offs. These principles apply for pretty much every sandwich, hot and cold, although with a few differences.

To start with, let’s look at the component which is arguably the defining quality of sandwiches — the bread. It can be easy to overlook this aspect, but that would be both tragic and foolish. Now, people have different tastes when it comes to bread, preferring different types of flour or even different types of bread, such as bread-buns verses sandwich bread. Personally, I don’t really mind. It depends on the type of sandwich. But what rings true for all bread is that quality matters. If you can, make it yourself. This way you can make sure the bread is exactly how you want it and you know exactly what it’s made up of. Obviously, this isn’t the best option for everyone, but it’s what my family chooses to do. It’s cheap, pretty easy, and provides the best product, as long as we don’t mess it up. If you live near a fantastic bakery, or really any bakery where the bread is freshly made on site, that’s another option. The final option is pre-packaged bread from the supermarket. Now, you can get ‘bread’ this way. But most supermarkets have their own bakery which usually has much nicer bread. Poor quality bread doesn’t bring anything to the sandwich, which is a huge waste. It’s usually surprisingly unhealthy and doesn’t even taste of much. Not to mention having the texture of wallpaper paste after a brief chew. Good bread, however, elevates a sandwich. It’s not just a vehicle to shovel fuel into your body, it makes the sandwich into a meal in it’s own right.

hands holding warm bread
hands holding warm bread
Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash

Next up is the fat, or lubrication. This is the metaphorical glue that binds the sandwich together (note: do not put actual glue in your sandwich). Without this component, your sandwich will be dry and less palatable. If you have a hot sandwich, the fat can sometimes come from the filling, as hot meat or melty cheese will have a similar effect of lubricating your sandwich. I’m going to stop saying lubrication now. There are several options for the fat, the most common being butter, margarine and mayonnaise. All I want to say here is that if you pick margarine and you can eat dairy, then stop what you’re doing. You are wrong. Margarine is not healthier than butter and it tastes like nothing. Mayonnaise is a different product, so if that’s what your sandwich calls for, great. No sandwich calls for margarine. Just throw it out.

Anyway, now we have the filling. This can be as simple as just one basic ingredient, such as ham or cheese. But often the filling consists of a couple of components, this allows for interesting flavour and texture combinations. The BLT is probably the quintessential example of this, with each component of the filling complimenting the others and allowing for a well balanced and delicious sandwich. Some fillings, like lettuce, only really exist to provide a textural contrast and to make you feel healthy and grown up. But there aren’t many rules when it comes to fillings, it just depends on what you have and what you want. As long as the ingredients are decent, if you can afford it, and you ensure the sandwich is correctly constructed with every one of the parts of a sandwich involved, it’s going to be okay.

The final necessary component for a properly made sandwich is the seasoning. Seasoning is one of those things that elevates every meal, but for some reason people don’t consider sandwiches important enough to deserve a bit of salt and pepper (if you’re a proper adult and like pepper, otherwise… grow up and learn to like pepper). This was something I discovered as a teenager, when someone gave me a simple cheese and tomato sandwich. I never really cared about tomato in sandwiches, finding it bland and I felt it just made the bread soggy (tomato especially cries out for seasoning and can benefit from blotting). But this sandwich was something else. It was strangely delicious and it shouldn’t have been. In hindsight, I was probably very hungry and had very low expectations, but still. The bread was just supermarket fare, the cheese and tomato not exactly gourmet, but they didn’t need to be. A bit of salt and pepper made what was basically fuel into something I actually enjoyed. Now, use your brain here. You don’t need to salt a bacon sandwich, that would be overkill. Actually, this leads smoothly and skilfully into my next point.

What looks like a half-decent sandwich
What looks like a half-decent sandwich
Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash

Let’s look at the overachievers who pull double duty. These are fillings which provide texture, seasoning, flavour and sometimes even lubrication (sorry, I lied before). This is where your chutneys and condiments are found. If you were thinking of a sandwich that breaks my rules, it’s got one of these in there. Tomato ketchup is a shining example for simple hot sandwiches, or the delightfully tangy HP sauce if you fancy something more interesting. One of my favourite recent ingredients for this purpose is sauerkraut, it’s salty, crunchy and tangy all in one (it goes great with bacon). The favourite sandwich filler of every child and intelligent adult also adds seasoning and texture to sandwiches. You guessed it, I’m talking about crisps (potato chips for the American-speakers). See, even little Jimmy can make a decent sandwich when improves that uninspired floppy ham sandwich mummy gave him. It’s not hard.

Finally, I just want to make a special mention for carbohydrate stacking sandwiches. These are your potato sandwiches, or chickpea and lentil stuffed sandwiches. For years I, like some of you, didn’t think this should work. After all, it’s not balanced, it’s carb on carb. Then one day, as I ate my usual chip butty (basically a chip/fry sandwich with cheap buttered white bread), I realised that I was being a hypocrite and a moron. Because for all we talk about ‘well balanced’ meals and whatnot, that doesn’t matter. If it works, it works. It doesn’t matter why. For all I like to consider what makes a meal good and how to improve it, sometimes something just works. Sometimes you just need to try it. Sometimes you just need to eat a chip butty and get heartburn and be happy. Unless you actually care about your health, then maybe go for chickpeas or whatever. You do you.

two tacos side by side
two tacos side by side
Photo by Spencer Davis on Unsplash

Yeah, if you think about it, anything can be a sandwich.

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