Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 20, 2014

Foodie with Family: A right and wrong way to sandwich

Local columnist

---- — I like to think I’m pretty relaxed in the kitchen. I prefer to consider myself open to all sorts of possibilities. I acknowledge there is no one right way to make most dishes.

I say most because, all that said, there are rules — rules, people — about sandwiches in my world. These rules are serious, hard-and-fast, and are not to be broken upon penalty of sad sandwiches. In my mind, sad sandwiches are the sorriest foods around because, done properly, they can be glorious.

When I say “done properly,” I don’t necessarily mean expensive and hard-to-source ingredients although they are fun from time to time; I refer to the actual construction of the sandwich.

“What’s so hard?” you ask. “You put meat or cheese and vegetables between two slices of bread and it’s a sandwich.”

At the risk of appearing fussy, let’s review my rules.

Foodie with Family Basic Sandwich Rules

1. Dress the bread before you add the innards of the sandwich. If you’re just using one spread or dressing, spread it on both slices of bread. Using mayo and mustard? Fig jam and Dijon? Put one spread on one slice of bread and one on the other. Why? It’s just nicer that way. Plus, the dressing you use protects the bread from getting soggy if you’re adding juicy things like tomatoes or pickles.

2. Next comes the meat. For the love of all that is good, though, don’t just flop the meat on the bread and call it done. Hold the slices of meat by the end and let it fold onto the bread like an accordion. Flat sandwiches equal sad sandwiches. Draped and folded meat increases the height of the sandwich, to be sure, but it also makes bites a nicer texture.

3. Cheese is next on the list. I most often put my cheese right atop the meat, because I love to toast sandwiches and I like the cheese to melt down into the meat.

4. Vegetables, fruits or other fun things come next.

5. Top it with that last piece of bread, spread side down.

I’m not done yet. I have more ways to help you craft the ultimate sandwich. These, however, fall more into the ‘helpful suggestion’ category, though.

n Match your type of bread to your fillings to enhance both of them. Are you making a roast beef sandwich with horseradish mayonnaise? Use a hearty pumpernickel or whole wheat. Fried egg and cheese? Try a toasted rye. Is it a delicate brie, apple, and honey Panini? Put that on a mild country white or oatmeal bread. Cucumbers and cream cheese with sprouts and sweet onions are wonderful on honey whole wheat.

n If you want to have a toasted sandwich with a bunch of vegetables and would like to keep the vegetables fresh and crunchy, assemble the sandwiches to the point where you would add the vegetables but stop right there. Toast the sandwich –open faced with the second piece of bread next to it on the pan- under the broiler. Remove the sandwich from the oven, add the vegetables, then dress the toast and add it to the top of the stack.

n Speaking of vegetables, try to cut them into pieces that you wouldn’t mind eating whole. A slab of fresh tomato looks lovely, but is likely to flop right out of the sandwich with the first bite. Try cutting it into quarters or eights before arranging on your sandwich for optimal eating pleasure.

Now that you’re all looking at me like I’m nutty, let me share some of my favourite sandwich toppers with you. These Quickled Red Onions are almost always in our refrigerator. We top sandwiches and salads alike with them. They’re chopped and stirred into pasta salads. They’re so easy to make and so flavourful that you’ll never want to be without them.

Quickled Red Onions (Quick Pickled Red Onions)

1 large red onion

3/4 c. red wine vinegar

3/4 t. salt

Slice the blossom end off of a red onion, lay the now stable, cut surface on your cutting board. Slice the onion in half and remove the peel. Holding the root end, slice the onion into thin half moons. Put them into a heat-proof bowl. Bring the vinegar and salt to a boil and quickly pour over the onions. Wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least an hour, removing the wrap and tossing with tongs every 20 minutes, then re-covering, until the onions are bendable. When they reach that point, load them into a jar, pour the pickling liquid over them and screw a lid tightly in place. Refrigerate until well chilled.

Bacon Horseradish Mustard

1/3 c. spicy brown mustard

2 T. to 1/3 cup prepared horseradish

8 strips of thick-sliced hickory smoked bacon, cooked to crispy, drained and crumbled.

Stir all of the ingredients together with a fork. This can be served immediately or stored in an airtight container the refrigerator for up to three days prior to serving.

And finally, the ne plus ultra of all sandwich toppings everywhere, amen: bacon jam. This salty, maple-infused, chewy, bacon spread tastes like a breakfast at a great diner. We love bacon jam on fried egg sandwiches, on ham sandwiches, in quesadillas, breakfast burritos, on pizzas, and on spoons. Take the plunge and make this. You’ll thank me.

Bacon Jam

3 lb. bacon

4 large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

8 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat side of a knife or a pan and peeled

1 c. cider vinegar

1 c. packed light-brown sugar

½ c. pure maple syrup

1½ c. very strong brewed black coffee

1 t. freshly ground black pepper

Cut the bacon slices into one inch strips. Add the bacon to a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon, stirring frequently, until the bacon is browned. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the bacon to a paper-towel lined plate. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon drippings into a heat-proof jar with a tight-fitting lid.

*Save the bacon drippings in the refrigerator. That’s too much flavor to trash.

Place the Dutch oven back over the medium-high heat and add the onions and garlic. Stir well and reduce heat to medium. Continue to cook for about 8 minutes, or until the onions are mostly translucent. Add the remaining ingredients, stir well, and drop heat again, this time to low.

Bring to a boil, stirring frequently, and boil hard for two minutes. After two minutes, stir the browned bacon into the onions and liquid.

Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally to make sure things aren’t sticking, adding ¼ cup of water if it seems to be drying out. When the onions are meltingly soft and the liquid is thick and syrupy, remove the dutch oven from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

Transfer the contents of the Dutch oven to the work bowl of a food processor that has been fitted with a blade. Fit the lid in place and pulse several times or until the Bacon Jam is a spreadable consistency. Scrape into a jar (or jars) or a container with a tight fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to one month or in the freezer for up to six months.

Can be served cold, room temperature or warmed.

Note: The bacon jam could take up to three hours to reduce to a syrupy consistency. Just stick with it.