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Sunday, May 08, 2005

PBJ/BLT/BAP/ETC/ETC

If sliced bread was the best thing to happen to bread, then aren't sandwiches the best thing to happen because of sliced bread?

When you think about it, almost every cuisine on Earth has their version of the sandwich. The French have the Croque Monsieur. The Vietnamese have the Bahn Mi. And the countries of the Middle East have the Falafel.




However, no culture is more enthusiastic of putting something in between two slices of bread more than that of America. When you see a cuisine listed as "American" and wonder, like I do, what exactly does that mean, think of the sandwich. Because it is the sandwich that says more about who we are now more than any Johnny-Come-Lately cuisine that purports itself to be "New American". In fact, I'll go one step further and proclaim the Sandwich as the national symbol of modern American cuisine.

Reigning over the culinary landscape of neo-classical American cuisine are the Ham and Cheese, the Peanut Butter and Jelly, the Turkey Club, the Hot Dog, the Grilled (or "Toasted") Cheese, the Po Boy, the Philly Cheesesteak, the Hamburger, the Monte Cristo, the "French" Dip, and the classic BLT. Joining this American elite are the new immigrants, such as the Cuban Sandwich, Bahn Mi, the Falafel, the Gyro, and the Torta. Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses yearning to be free, and while you're at it, break out a sandwich or two!

Why do we love sandwiches so much? Maybe it's because of our busy lifestyles. Maybe it's the result of our industrious nature. Maybe it's something in the water. But, whatever it is, it's contagious. In fact, in some parts of the world, it's downright imperialist! Still, if you ask any American what food holds a special place in his or her memory, chances are the almighty sandwich makes a big impression.

I'll never forget the banana/mayonnaise (sometimes banana/peanut butter) sandwiches on white bread my Mom would make for me to take to school. Or my first Monte Cristo during my first trip to the original Rose's Deli in Portland, Oregon. Or the Cuban sandwiches I made when I worked at Ybor Pizza and Subs in Tampa, Florida. And, to a lesser degree, all of the hamburgers and Big Macs I made during my month-long stint at McDonalds, where I worked as a teen.

If you think about it, most of us eat a sandwich at least once a week, if not more. During the various jobs I've had, I've eaten sandwiches daily at times. When I use to work for an engineering firm on Second Street, I hung out a lot at Lee's Deli for their cheap, but huge, Turkey Clubs and/or Reubens. Lately I've been lurking around Little Paris on Stockton Street for their Bahn Mi (though occasionally I can be seen at Vietnam on Broadway). By the way, Little Paris has the best, but Vietnam makes the sandwich upon order.

When I had a volunteer job that often required driving to Fresno, I was always excited to stop by Taqueria El Rodeo in Los Banos for the best Tortas I've ever had.

And when I lived with a bunch of squatters and anarchist punks, the sandwich du jour was one on 3 seed bread with avocados, almond butter, sprouts, and cream cheese. High in fat, yes, but vital when you're living on the cheap.

So, since sandwiches are such an important part of my life, I've decided to share a few of my favorites with mucho gusto that I still enjoy regularly. Some of these are remnants from my past, while others I've discovered recently. I'll share two with you now, then check in with you later in the week for more.

3 To 5 Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Some of you don’t have this experience, but for those of you who do, it’s sure to bring back memories. I call this the 3 To 5 Grilled Cheese Sandwich because it was perfected in the golden hours between 3:00 and 5:00 PM, while waiting for Mom to get home from work. Recently it has come back with a vengeance in mine and Bruce’s place, as Bruce has gone the goal in perfecting it. He will make notes below, but mine remains simple, the way I like it.




What you need:
A loaf of quality sliced white bread, preferably sourdough
Some good cheese such as Cheddar, Gruyere, or Emmenthaler
Butter

1. In a skillet set on medium heat, melt your butter (1 or 2 tablespoons).
2. Cut your cheese into thin slices and put in between the 2 slices of bread. If you’ve gotta go there, and some of you already do, I guess you could use that stuff they call “American” cheese. Personally, while I like American cheese, I feel that stuff belongs only on cheeseburgers and on cheeseburgers forever it shall remain. I tend to favor the Gruyere. Most regular supermarkets now carry these cheeses and they aren’t expensive, unless you plan on using a whole lot. Whatever cheese you choose, it should be a good, flavorful, melting cheese.
3. Place your sandwich in the pan and swirl it around getting as much butter on it as you can. Cover and check every minute or 2.
4. When that side has lightly browned, turn over the sandwich and swirl around the pan to mop up any leftover butter. If you don’t have enough in the pan before you turn it over, add a little more. Cover again and check in a minute or 2. I have to stress that it is important to keep watch over your sandwich. You can cook it pretty quickly by raising the heat, and cooking it quickly is preferable, especially when you’re trying to get back to your TV show, but watch it or it’s toast (pun very intended). By the way, covering it helps keep in the heat, thus melting the cheese. If you do it uncovered, which is shameful, your cheese doesn’t melt.
5. Once it’s done, take it out of the pan, cut in half on the diagonal, and eat.

I guess you could add things in between your cheese and bread, but then it becomes something else…you know, like a bastardized Monte Cristo or something. I like to keep it real, maybe eating it with a little side of plain ol’ yellow mustard and mayo.

Bruce says:

OK well I do, in fact have a few things to add.

1. I use only sliced sourdough and I toast the “inside sides” of the bread first in a toaster oven. Don’t toast both sides as the “outside sides” will get toasted in the skillet.
2. I use Gruyere cheese and only Gruyere - preferably real good Gruyere (never American cheeze!). You may need to pay a little more per pound but it works out to a few pennies more per sandwich and a lot more flavor. Cut the cheese into ¼ inch thick slices (not too thin) and trim the slices to fit exactly the surface of the bread. I know this seems obsessive, and it is. But, if there is cheese hanging over the edge it will melt into the pan and burn and if the cheese doesn’t cover the bread? Well then it’s just a bite of toast - not toasted cheese - sandwich.
3. I like real butter, not margarine, not unsweetened butter. Real salted butter. Put about 2 tablespoons in the pan on medium and, after arranging the cheese on the bread and putting the top slice on, put a few thin pats of butter on the top. Then put it in the pan and cover for about two minutes. Remove the lid and spread the now partly melted butter around the top with a spatula and press the sandwich down. Check to see if the bottom is brown. When it is nice and toasty brown flip it over with the spatula and lightly press it down, careful not to press out any cheese. Continue to cook uncovered until brown.
4. Take it out of the pan, cut in half (on the diagonal if it makes you happy), and eat. Never put any condiments on the sandwich. The only thing I ever add, and only rarely, is crispy cooked bacon – it’s a treat for the ‘ol arteries. But Kevin’s right about this, a toasted cheese in bread, butter and cheese and that’s it. If there’s other stuff in there it’s something else altogether.

The BAP

In England, a bap is what we Yanks call a bun. In this case, the BAP stands for Bruschetta, Arugula, and Proscuitto.

It's hard to get a lot of my friends and family to appreciate arugula. On it's own it can be a bit too much. But mixed in with other greens, like in a salad, or on a sandwich, it gives a buttery-pepper flavor. For who don't like arugula, I think this sandwich might change your mind. This sandwich was created once I started to appreciate and learn more about Italian food and ingredients. Basically, the sandwich is two slices of bruschetta with arugula, fontina (or Parmigiano Regiano), and proscuitto sandwiched in between.




I love this sandwich for it's warmth and Mediteranean flavors. I also appreciate the fact that it's so easy to make. While prosciutto can be expensive, you only need a small amount for this sandwich, and used this way, it gives you more bang for your buck.

What you need:
A good country loaf, day old (I prefer Acme Sour Batard)
Fontina, Asiago, or Parmigiano Regiano cheese
A bunch of arugula
A few slices of prosciutto
Olive oil, salt, and pepper
A garlic clove

Note: Play all of this by taste and preference.

1. First, wash and dry the arugula.
2. Cut a 3 or 4 inch vertical chunk off of the loaf and then slice that in half horizontally. Toast under a broiler until well done, then rub immediately with a cut piece of garlic. Sprinkle with olive oil, pepper, and course salt.




3. Assemble by laying on the prosciutto, the cheese, and then the arugula. When choosing a cheese, try to remember that it is only a supporting actor, not the star.
4. Press down heavily to force the ingredients together. Think of it as an arranged marriage and you are the meddling in-law.
5. Slice in half and eat right away.

Coming up:

What happens when a Philly Cheesesteak who's never been to Philadelphia meets a Southern Pulled Pork Sandwich refugee?

Stay tuned.

k.

5 Comments:

Blogger drbiggles said...

Hey, is that Bariani Olive Oil there? Is it?

The BAP sounds like a fine idea. I've got some really nice bread at home, I need some decent cheese though. Time to go shopping ...

10:16 AM  
Blogger molly said...

Grilled cheese is just about as good as it gets. Sometimes I have used a bit of mayo instead of butter and it grills up mighty fine. My mom told me that if i cover it, it steams it and doesn't get crisp. Are you calling my mom a liar? I use cheddar, almost only ever Tilamook.

10:55 AM  
Blogger Bacon Press said...

Dr. B,

Why yes, it is Bariani. Why? Because their olive oil is MOLTO BENE!

Molly,

I would never dream of calling your poor, saintly mother a liar, only that she is "different".

Anthropological studies have shown that people north of the Mason Dixon Line traditionally grilled their sandwiches sans lid, while those south of it covered it (this may have to do with religious modesty among the Bible Belt denizens). This difference can be traced back to the infamous Grilled Cheese War of 1842, in which brother fought brother over whether an uncovered-cooked grilled cheese is only 1/3rd the worth of a covered-cooked grilled cheese.

The north won and most considered the conflict to be over, but every so often, some new group of yahoos proclaim that "The South Shall Fry Again". Their symbol is the grilled cheese sandwich, cut twice, diagonally.

As migrants headed West and intermarried, some kept the old ways while others adopted the ways of their new spouse and/or family. Their offspring, tending to favor one side over the other, adopted either the covered or the uncovered version, often in relationship to gender and/or left-handedness.

A recent census of the uncovered vs. the covered revealed that the covered ("red states") make up a majority of the grilled cheese sandwich eaters.

As you see, originally being from the South, I grill mine covered. However, being a proud immigrant to California, I say "do whatever feels good".

k.

6:46 PM  
Anonymous seth said...

Uh, Kevin, it's no coincidence
that the Vietnamese and French
both have sandwiches... and
baguettes... and filter coffee..
and use latin character sets...
or that both the Mexicans and
the Spanish have something called
a "tortilla".

But can you explain how the noodle
came from China to Italy at the
same time that the tomato came to
Italy from the new world?

10:54 PM  
Blogger Bacon Press said...

Seth,

Noodles were just floating around in people's heads at that time, you know, like how you get an idea and then, like literally a day or two later, someone else has the same idea and you were like, "what the f***! Have you been spying on me?" And they are like, "do I know you?"

Think of the invention of noodles like the invention of the Mission Burrito. It was just bound to happen.

Unlike all of this (and I can explain in great, boring, and obnoxious detail), the tomato was brought to the "Old" World as being the "new black", which at that time was probably nutmeg and at which time caused many a sniff and crises of faith in the prescient, pre-millennial world of foodies.

Until this day, Nutmeg has had a major beef with the Tomato, hence the lack of friendly pairing in Continental, Asian, and/or American cuisine.

Perhaps they need a noodle to buffer?

k.

12:35 AM  

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