If we define a sandwich as two slices of bread filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, relishes, fillings, and/or vegetables, then Rabbi Hillel the Elder was the first recorded creator of the sandwich, in the first century BC. Hillel put apple slices, nuts, and spices between matzos to eat during Passover, a dish which is still served at Seder and is now called the Hillel Sandwich.
During the Middle Ages, thick slices of coarse stale bread called trenchers were used in place of plates. Meats, cheeses, and other foods were piled on top and the concoctions were eaten with their hands. Clearly they were the first open-face sandwiches. They were not, however, called a sandwich but went by the highly creative names of bread and meat or bread and cheese.
The term “sandwich” was first used in eighteenth century England at a gentleman’s gaming club in London, and appeared in a newspaper article about John Montague, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. The Earl was a hardcore gambler who would sit for long hours at the tables refusing to leave to eat and drink. His valet would bring him snacks of meat and cheese between two pieces of bread so he could continue to play cards with one hand while eating with the other. Other gamblers quickly started asking for the same snacks as Sandwich, and the name stuck. (As a side note, the Earl was a patron to Captain James Cook who discovered the Hawaiian Islands and, guess what, named them the Sandwich Islands.) In the early 1900s, soft white bread began to be sold commercially in the United States and because it was easier to use, sandwiches started to appear in school lunch pails. But it wasn’t until the ’30s–when sliced Wonder Bread appeared in markets–that sandwiches really became popular. Now they could be prepared quickly and not only were an easy lunch for children to take to school, but also for adults to take to work.
Today we eat sandwiches for lunch, we eat them for dinner, and we even eat them for breakfast! They are easy to prepare, portable, and fit so perfectly into the fast paced hectic life styles so many of us lead. Hot or cold, open faced or closed, no matter how you stack them, sandwiches are an American favorite, any time and any place.
Spicy Southwestern Club Sandwich
If you add some chile “kick” with chipotle mayonnaise a regular old club sandwich is transformed. Vary this sandwich by replacing the avocado with guacamole, or the turkey with chicken.
2 chipotle chiles in adobo plus 1 tablespoon of the adobo sauce
1 large clove garlic
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
6 slices hickory-smoked bacon, cooked and drained
4 slices toasted sourdough bread
4 ounces thinly sliced smoked turkey
1 small tomato, sliced
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, sliced
Place the chipotle chiles, the sauce, and garlic in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Mix the chipotles with the remaining mayonnaise ingredients and allow the mixture to sit for an hour to blend the flavors.
To assemble, spread one side of each piece of toast with the mayonnaise. Layer the bacon, turkey, tomato, avocado, and lettuce on two slices of bread. Top with the remaining slices of bread, cut in half and serve.
Yield: 2 sandwiches
Heat Scale: Medium
Grilled Cheese and Chile-Marinated Onion Sandwich
This is an adult take on that childhood favorite–grilled cheese sandwiches served with a bowl of canned tomato soup. In the summer I like to “really grill” these on our backyard grill rather than using a cast iron skillet indoors. Or, if you have a pannini grill by all means use it. And instead of bland tomato soup, serve these sandwiches with a cool and spicy gazpacho.
Chile Marinated Onions:
1 medium red onion, sliced in 1/8-inch slices
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 allspice berries, coarsely ground
1/4 teaspoon ground habanero chile
8 slices whole wheat or rye bread
1/4 cup whole grain Dijon-style mustard
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
In a medium non-reactive bowl, whisk the oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, allspice and chile together. Add the onions and toss to coat. Marinate the mixture for 30 to 45 minutes at room temperature, stirring occasionally. Drain the onions before using.
To assemble the sandwiches, spread the mustard over on side of each slice of bread. Top half of the slices with a thin layer of cheese, tomato slices, the onions, and finish with the remaining cheese. Top with the remaining slice of bread and secure the sandwiches with toothpicks. Brush both sides of the sandwiches with olive oil.
Heat a gas grill to medium. Place the sandwiches on the grill and close the lid. Cook, turning to prevent the bread from scorching for about 8 minutes or until the sandwiches are browned on both sides and the cheese has melted.
Cut each sandwich in half on the diagonal and serve.
Yield: 4 sandwiches
Heat Scale: Hot
Chile-Spiked Tuna Salad Sandwich in Pita Pockets
I got hooked on tuna with chiles when the Bumble Bee company packed a line of tuna with jalapenos. Boy were they good! Sadly, they are no longer available but since then I always add some form of chile when I prepare a tuna dish. In this one I’ve used New Mexican green chiles but jalapenos or serranos are a tasty substitution.
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons prepared chile sauce
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish sauce
6 New Mexican green chiles, roasted, peeled, stems and seeds removed, chopped
4 green onions, chopped
1/4 cup green olives, sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 (7-ounce) can white tuna, drained and flaked
2 pita rounds
2 hard cooked eggs, chopped
1 medium tomato, chopped
In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, chile sauce, horseradish, and green chiles and mix to make a sauce. Stir in the onions, olives, parsley, and tuna and allow the salad to sit, under refrigeration, for 2 hours to blend the flavors.
To assemble the sandwiches, cut each pita in half and open each half to form a pocket. Divide the salad between the four pita pockets. Top with the lettuce and tomatoes, garnish with the egg and serve.
Yield: 4 sandwiches
Heat Scale: Medium Hot
Most people think of the po’boy as New Orleans’ premier sandwich but the muffuletta (say: moo-foo-LET-ta) , which was invented in 1906 by a Sicilian grocer, is a lesser known native sandwich. Similar to a submarine with an olive salad topping, muffuletta was originated by Signor Salvadore, the founder of the famous Italian market called the Central Grocery. Muffulettas are hard to find outside of New Orleans and everyone there closely guards their recipe, so I’ve developed my own spicy version of this popular Louisiana sandwich.
1 1/2 cups chopped pimiento-stuffed green olives
1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons chopped celery
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped capers
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 anchovy fillets, mashed
2 to 3 teaspoons crushed red chile
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons lemon juice, fresh preferred
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 large round Italian bread loaf or 4 French rolls
6 ounces assorted sliced cold cuts such as Genoa salami, ham, Mortadella and smoked ham
6 ounces assorted sliced cheeses such as Muenster, mozarella, provolone and Jack
1 large tomato, sliced
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small red bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, thinly sliced
Combine all the ingredients for the olive salad in a non-reactive bowl and mix well. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator overnight. Drain the salad mixture, reserving the marinade.
To assemble the sandwiches, cut the top or tops off the bread or rolls and scoop out most of the soft insides. Brush the cut sides of the bread with the reserved marinade. Spread half of the olive salad on bottom of the bread and layer the cold cuts, cheese, tomato, onion, bell pepper and lettuce. Top the mixture with the remainder of the olive mixture and the bread.
If using a round loaf of bread, cut into quarters and serve.
Yield: 4 sandwiches
Heat Scale: Mild to Medium
Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.