If memory serves most of us correctly, we gobbled bunches of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches during our formative years. In fact, the National Peanut Board declares the average child will have consumed somewhere around 1,500 PB&J’s before graduating high school. But that’s just the innocent beginning of our nation’s love affair with the sandwich. Simple, gourmet, toasted or on rye with a liberal schmear of mayo or mustard, Americans have a super-sized appetite for sammiches—we happily chow down 45 billion annually.
Crown the sandwich king of American food—there are countless shops and franchises peddling them and infinite ways to make the filling between two slices of bread interesting. Not the sexiest of cuisines in terms of style, but a sandwich is certainly amongst the most satisfying. And I’m certain there’s some unwritten law in the universe that requires a picnic to have at least one sandwich on its al fresco menu to be deemed a proper picnic—preferably a crusty baguette piled with Italian meats and cheeses.
In grade school I toted lunchboxes packed with braunschweiger sandwiches—thick rounds of smoked pork liver sausage nestled on tears of iceberg lettuce topped with Hellmann’s (we weren’t a Miracle Whip household) and slapped between two sheets of Wonder bread (Mom trimmed the crusts). Certainly not an asset on the lunchroom trading floor, but when my humble sandwich was paired with an irresistible Hostess Twinkie, I could score the luscious from-scratch chocolate buttermilk cake Shari’s mom made or a bag of Fritos from any number of classmates. One of Dad’s signature culinary triumphs was a mouthwatering Reuben sandwich he made by special request, bucking tradition by replacing Russian dressing with homemade Thousand Island. My first real appliance post-college was a toaster oven in which I deftly turned out bubbling ham and cheese sandwiches. And when the Panini craze caught on I joined right in, getting perverse pleasure from making a picture-worthy sandwich with artisan bread and paycheck-busting ingredients—and then smooshing it beyond recognition on a VEG (Very Expensive Grill).
Sandwiches make some lovely cameo appearances in memorable cinematic scenes. Leave it to some YouTube-loving movie fan to post a nearly two-minute video of Greatest Movie Sandwiches, including two of my favorites. There’s Meg Ryan’s iconic everything-on-the-side pastrami sammie at Katz’s Deli in New York City and the Runny Egg Sandwich Adam Sandler made in “Spanglish”—a lousy flick rescued by a crave-worthy recipe (Thomas Keller originated the insanely delicious combo of bacon, lettuce, tomato and cheese topped with a fried egg). Add to that my personal honor roll of big- and small-screen sandwiches—the intent munching of Carnegie Deli’s mile-high classic creations in Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose” and in season five of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Larry David’s valiant attempts to swap sandwich ingredients with Ted Danson, who, just like my stubborn Joy Elementary buddies, refused the sales pitch. Maybe if David had thrown a bonus Twinkie into the trade, Danson would’ve accepted the switcheroo.
Or perhaps the offer of a lowly PB&J could have sealed the deal with Danson. Ah, to remember a simpler sandwich time. Long live the sandwich, the undisputed king of American food.
-Kimberly Winter Stern
Dean & DeLuca stores across the country contribute to the nation’s annual 45-billion-sandwich tally. Executive Chef Andres Moncayo of the Charlotte, N.C. D&D says his store sells approximately 96,500 sandwiches each year. The most popular? “Roasted sirloin and Havarti cheese with caramelized onions and horseradish cream sauce,” grins chef Moncayo. “Not your average sandwich.” My stock would have tripled in value during school lunchtime trading that little number. Two to go please, chef.
Here chef Moncayo shares two sammiches, coming soon to the Dean & DeLuca Wine Bar in Charlotte. Add some homemade sweet potato fries, a crunchy pickle spear and a laid-back attitude for the perfect summer dinner.
CHICKEN MUFFELETTA SANDWICH
Note: The olive spread must be made ahead and refrigerated for at least two days.
2 ounces Kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1 ounce capers
0.7 ounces peeled garlic cloves, minced
1 cup diced celery bunch
3 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
¼ bunch fresh Italian parsley, chopped
¼ cup green onion, chopped
½ teaspoon oregano
0.06 quart extra virgin olive oil
2 ounces red wine vinegar
4 ounces grilled chicken breast, sliced thin
½ ounce provolone, sliced
½ ounce Swiss cheese, sliced
1 ounce baby arugula
Focaccia rosemary bread
Combine first 10 ingredients in a large bowl and mix well, making sure everything is immersed in olive oil and refrigerate at least two days. To make the sandwich: halve the bread lengthwise. Spoon olive spread on one side and coat the other side of the bread with oil. Add the chicken breast, cheeses and arugula.
1 ounce each:
Genoa salami, sliced thin
Prosciutto, sliced thin
Mortadella, sliced thin
Capicola ham, sliced thin
Fontina cheese, sliced
Mozzarella cheese, fresh
Extra virgin olive oil
One ciabatta bun, sliced
Drizzle both halves of ciabatta with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Layer meats, then cheeses on bun. Top with tomato confit and other half of bun. Preheat a Panini press and cook sandwich according to manufacturer’s instructions until golden and crisp, three to five minutes. Or, if cooking on the stove, preheat a skillet with butter or oil to medium low. Add sandwich, and then press a heavy pan to weigh it down. Cook until golden and crisp, three to four minutes per side.
Overland Park, Kan.-based freelance writer Kimberly Winter Stern writes travel, food, lifestyle and design. Also known as the gregarious and cuisine-informed Kim Dishes, listeners tune in weekly for her on-the-road segments on “LIVE! From Jasper’s Kitchen,” a popular Kansas City radio food show. Prolific in eating, writing and discovering, this foodie satisfies an innate desire to sample the world’s gastronomic rainbow by meeting food artisans and trendsetters, gaining insight into the culinary points-of-view of everyone from cheese makers, chocolatiers and chefs who set their city’s locavore pace to farmers who are passionate producers. Stern is a sought-after writer, with work appearing in Better Homes and Gardens, Unity, KANSAS! Magazine, 435 South magazine, KC Homes & Gardens, Generation Boom, Shawnee Magazine, KC Magazine, KC Home Design, KC Business and Midwest CEO. Stern is a national blogger for the Dean & DeLuca Gourmet Food Blog where she cooks, styles, shoots and writes about life and cooking … and loves to lick the bowl clean. This writer may have been given product and/or other compensation from Dean & DeLuca for this post.