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What makes a good sandwich?

Creating a decent sandwich is as much an art form as it is assembly line construction. Arguably the most versatile food on the planet, the humble sandwich is an accessible meal easily transported and consumed. Variations of the sarnie exist throughout most cultures and share a few key attributes. A bread-like exterior that contains a wholesome filling that can be eaten without cutlery. But how do we go about making a good one?

It’s probably best to take a look at some of the most successful sangers out there. Some might make a strong case for the BLT, a classic only surpassed by the Club Sandwich, which benefits from the addition of chicken and mayonnaise. However, it’s the toasted bread of this iconic sandwich that truly separates it from the crowd, adding that additional contrast in textures.
In the US, peanut butter and jam is a combination equally as revered, though in more nostalgic quarters. This mighty concoction makes a powerful filling, and one that’s being explored in the pastry sections of many successful restaurants.

And it should be pointed out that sandwiches are not merely for the grab and go section of a supermarket. The restaurant and diner is a stage where the idea of the sandwich truly excels. London’s Jeremy Lee, Chef at Soho’s Quo Vadis has elevated a toasted eel sandwich to cult level status. We are also at a time when very few mid-level restaurants would develop a menu that didn’t include a house hamburger.

The hamburger is the sandwich that has travelled the farthest. Crossing boundaries between cultures the world over. Even putting hipster burger chains and fast food giants aside, the burger is a sandwich that has been taken seriously for some time. From the burgers knocked out on city street food stalls, to those served at the Mandarin Oriental’s Bar Boulud, the science of the perfect burger is widely understood – ground beef patty, crisp lettuce, probably bacon, some cheese, and the vinegary tang of something pickled.

South and Central America explore the hand-held harmony of meat stuffed bread exceptionally well. The taco is a perfect case in point, small corn flour tortillas, stuffed with the bright acidity of pico de gallo, and the sweetness of meats like pastor, carnitas, carne asada and biria.

The katsu sandwich is a variant hailing from Japan, a country renowned for their meticulous attention to detail. A current darling of London’s lunch landscape right now,
the katsu sando is built using crustless white bread, shredded cabbage, tonkatsu sauce and a breaded cutlet of pork or chicken – often in panko crumb.

With the rise in vegetarian and veganism, there are a lot of developments going on in meat-free sandwich offerings. Whether it’s Mediterranean roast veg and hummus, or raw beetroot wraps, the free-from sandwich marketplace is experiencing incredible growth.

So what makes the perfect sandwich? It should probably be agreed that a decent sandwich requires multiple fillings. A lonely slice of cheese or ham is never going to steal any hearts. It needs contrast in textures, but also in flavours – a little sharpness or acidity to rub up against any sweetness and savouriness.

There’s still a great deal of experimentation to be had in the realm of the humble sandwich, with few authenticity rules or expectations. With the UK sandwich industry worth around £8bn a year, it’s an offering we should all be paying attention to.


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