TWO SIDES TO A SANDWICH

Some sandwiches are great, but others? Not so much. 

THE GOOD SIDE

 

Sandwiches go hand-in-hand with lunchtimes: weekend picnics in the park, school packed lunches and at-the-desk breaks. That two-hour window is the sandwich’s domain – always has been, always will be. Try as they might, soups and salads will never oust sandwiches as the ever-reliable crutch we lean on for a convenient lunch.

But sandwiches shouldn’t only be savoured at midday. They are a true 24-hour food: not just our bread-and-butter lunches, but breakfasts and brunches, suppers and snacks, dinners and desserts. Prepared in the right way and enjoyed at the right time, a sandwich can be a mountaintop beauty throughout the day.

Consider some classics: croque monsieurs and madames, muffulettas and Reubens. These are inventions that are a delight to eat at any time. Their deliciousness holds no brook with set hours of consumption, the enjoyment in eating them too great to be restricted by traditional timings. Is there ever a moment, for example, when one of them wouldn’t hit the spot? Ever a morning when a croque monsieur wouldn’t get you out of bed on the right side, or an evening when that deli classic, Reuben, wouldn’t send you to sleep smiling?

Pleasure lies in the memory of great sandwiches, too – the ones we place on pedestals so high they can never be enjoyed again: the salt in the air while eating that vinegar-soaked chip butty enjoyed by the sea; standing under the warm rain in Vietnam eating a bánh mì.

Speaking of eating sandwiches at the right time, what of the grilled cheese? Hunger and impatience lead you to adopt the old ‘twice the temperature, half the time’ philosophy. As a result, the crust is normally burned (there’s a kind of perfection in imperfection, and this crust is a flaw that should be flaunted, not hidden) and the inside is a volcano waiting to erupt. But leaving it to cool is time wasted and an opportunity lost. The scalded tongue is small price to pay for the glory of that first bite, the agony of true bliss.

There’s joy in the basic sandwiches, too: the morning delight of a crisp-bottomed egg in a sandwich and the midday magic of a cheese and pickle, or the so-wrong-it’s-right leftover Christmas dinner sandwich and the childlike thrill of scoops of ice cream sandwiched between cookies. Minimal effort, maximum rewards. You have to go some way to get any of them wrong, and even further to find something more satisfyingly simple and joyful.

 

THE BAD SIDE

 

For every brilliant sandwich that hits the high notes and fills us with joy, there’s another that hits no spot and fills no gap. From ones that hurl tradition and good taste down the drain to others that overlook all the essential details, the sandwiches made throughout history and in our homes reveal a catalogue of monstrous mistakes and more.

Some of the best bad sandwiches lie, thankfully, in the past. Who, for instance, could be tempted to travel back to 1928 to eat the Peanutpine, a sweet sandwich full of shame? From Florence Cowles’ cookbook 500 Sandwiches, it features bread, peanut butter, honey, walnuts, lettuce and pineapple (and probably the kitchen sink, too).

Maybe its unappealing nature is a case of tastes changing over the last 80 years, but can the Dagwood, the edible embodiment of bad judgment, hide behind the same excuse? This structurally unsound tower is the graveyard where sandwich fillings go to die. It first appeared in 1936 in the comic strip Blondie – if only it had stayed there. Ever since its birth, this cult sandwich has been recreated by crazed fans. The most reserved renditions limit the fillings to three or four meats, two cheeses and condiments and a few olives (because when a sandwich is the size of your head, what it’s really crying out for is a crown of olives). The versions truest to the original show even less refinement and restraint – on top of all the meat and cheese and olives, extras can include ill-judged fried eggs, anchovies and cold baked beans spilling out the sides.

Sandwich crimes take place in our homes, too, when we forget that there are rules that need to be followed. In our haste, we attack two slices of bread with a knife full of fridge-cold butter. There are never winners or prizes for reaching the finish line faster. Only losers – us, the torn-to-bits bread and wasted butter. Sandwiches can be quick fixes, of course, but there are some situations (grilled cheese being the notable exception) when patience really is a virtue.

Of course, you might be the creator of your very own Peanutpine, an ode to bad sandwiches. Perhaps you decided that, yes, peanut butter and scrambled eggs would be great together. Chances are that you plan on holding it close to your chest right to the bitter end. To keep it a secret, eat it alone, lights switched off, no humans (or mirrors) around for miles and miles. After all, you don’t want it to go down in infamy, do you?