Superlative sandwiches

Yesterday’s post about Oscar Mayer got me thinking about sandwiches. I found out from Kate’s Global Kitchen (post from 5/19/01),

Approximately 2.19 billion Oscar Mayer Bologna sandwiches are eaten each year. That’s more than 6 million bologna sandwiches eaten daily and 69 sandwiches consumed every second, according to the Oscar Mayer company.

That’s a lot of sandwiches! I might have contributed a little less than seven ten-millionths of a percent of that total. Or maybe half that much. I forget if I bought a pound or a half pound package of bologna. I got my younger son to eat one bologna sandwich, which he said he liked, but then he didn’t want any more so I ate the rest.

There was one year I ate a lot of bologna sandwiches, when I had my first job after college and made so little that I had to live very frugally, even with no car and my father paying my health insurance premiums (because I said I couldn’t afford it and he said I had to have insurance). I didn’t really mind eating bologna and cheese every day for lunch, but once I made a bit more money at the next job (but now had to pay for insurance and car and rent) I decided I could afford a little variety.

I’ve never been quite as adventurous in sandwiches as my father was. At least that’s how it seemed to me, watching my mother prepare his sack lunch before work every day. Often it was leftovers, such as meatloaf – my mother cooked extra just so he could have sandwiches. I made those sometimes myself, and they were pretty good. But I never tried diced liver, and never plan to. (Liver with onions and bacon isn’t bad. Liver steamed by my mother was … well … not so good.)

Then there were his peanut butter and banana sandwiches. (I found out yesterday – also at Kate’s Global Kitchen – that this was a favorite with Elvis.) I like bananas, and I like peanut butter, but I’d just as soon have my peanut butter with jam (not jelly). I did try making a Fluffernutter once, after seeing the commercials on TV so many times, but I decided it wasn’t all that good. Strawberry jam or plum preserves are much better.

I’m pretty sure I remember my mother making avocado sandwiches for him also. I like avocado, but I put it in my salad, not my sandwich. I like vegetables in a sandwich, but I generally stick to the traditional lettuce and tomato – preferably with bacon (as in BLT). I discovered a number of years ago that mild peppers are good also. I had actually asked for green peppers (or maybe I said sweet peppers – at any rate I meant bell peppers) on my sub at Subway, and what I got was the greenish yellow peppers I now know to ask for as banana peppers.

One of my favorite sandwiches might sound a bit adventurous to you, because it’s one I’ve only had in Spain. There, sandwiches are called bocadillos and look more like subs, because Spanish bread is made in long narrow loaves like French bread, and never sliced. (You could find sliced bread in some grocery stores, primarily for use by foreigners, I’m sure. I never wanted that flimsy stuff when I could have a good loaf of freshly baked Spanish bread.) Spanish pan (bread) has a somewhat harder crust than French bread (both times I went there, for the first week or so the sharp bits of crust would make my gums bleed, until they got used to it), and is wonderfully chewy inside.

One popular and inexpensive bocadillo was filled with tortilla española. In Spain, a tortilla does not resemble a Mexican tortilla much at all, except that it is a flat circle. Not nearly as flat, though, because it’s not made from corn or from flour, but from eggs. A tortilla is an omelet. And a Spanish omelet (“tortilla española“) is made with eggs mixed with onions and sliced potatoes.

(A tortilla francesa, “French omelet,” is a plain omelet without added ingredients. Supposedly this name came about during the Spanish War of Independence against the invading Napoleonic forces, when blockades reduced the availability of potatoes and people were forced to make their omelets without this key ingredient. Naming the resulting plain omelets for their enemies was not a compliment.)

If you’ve never eaten an omelet sandwich, don’t turn up your nose at the idea. It really is very good. The omelet is at least half an inch thick (those potatoes add a lot of bulk to it), and inside a good length of Spanish bread, it’s a delicious and filling meal. I ate a lot of them during the year that I spent in Madrid. (I occasionally ate bocadillos filled with fried squid rings, which look like onion rings but are much chewier and not as tasty – but had the advantage of making a very cheap supper, about the equivalent of 35 cents when I was there in 1983.)

Some of my other favorites while I was there were bocadillos filled with chorizo, a red and somewhat spicy sausage, or a blanco y negro (“white-and-black”), made with one light-colored pork sausage called longaniza, and one black morcilla(the traditional poor man’s sausage made with pig’s blood, onions, and – depending on the region – lard and/or rice, and seasonings). I’ve tried the chorizo sold around here, but it’s the Mexican style and is spicier and more finely ground, so it just kind of comes apart in the skillet and works best as part of a dip or other dish.

My younger son’s favorite sandwich is peanut butter and jelly. Right now we’re using Smucker’s Natural Peanut Butter because it doesn’t have any sugar (he learned from his Eat This Not That! For Kids! book that this is better than the “regular” peanut butter we used to buy), and Smucker’s Simply Fruit blackberry spread because it has neither added sugar nor seeds. (He will not eat anything with seeds.)

Aside from his zeal to avoid sugar in his sandwiches (a concern that apparently does not apply to ice cream sandwiches), he is pretty typical in his sandwich preferences. According to (again) Kate’s Global Kitchen, “The average child eats 1,500 peanut butter sandwiches before graduating from high school.”

This works out to about 2 a week, so Al is well ahead of schedule with three a week he takes to lunch at school, plus another who knows how many for snacks throughout the week. Perhaps this is making up for his older brother, who went through a PB&J phase followed by a tuna salad sandwich phase, but now will only eat turkey and cheese (unless it’s a hot sandwich, in which case meatball marinara is the favorite, followed by chicken patty with cheese).

One sandwich I don’t think I ever encountered until I moved to Pennsylvania, after completing grad school, is the Philadelphia Cheese Steak. What I actually had the first time was a “cheese steak hoagie,” which adds shredded lettuce and some tomato to the traditional cheese steak sandwich. There were few places that served it that way even in the area around Philadelphia, and none I’ve seen since then. But I got to like the regular cheese steak too, and occasionally make my own version of it (I use cheddar cheese because that’s our family favorite, and whatever rolls I find in the reduced bakery rack at Wal-Mart).

So what’s my very favorite sandwich? That’s hard to say. For a long time my favorite at Subway was the Italian BMT, made from Genoa salami, pepperoni, and ham. Once in a while at some restaurant or other I’ve had an absolutely wonderful tuna salad or chicken salad sandwich, but what is served in most places is passable at best, and I’m more likely to opt for a more reliable turkey and cheese. Roast beef and cheddar is one of my favorites, either hot or cold – but roast beef varies a lot in quality also.

I’m not sure if it quite counts as a sandwich, but I really love a four cheese calzone, typically made with ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan. (Sometimes it’s muenster instead of provolone, or romano instead of parmesan.) I have trouble finding places that make it, though – too many places sell only calzone that just tastes like a pizza turned inside out (i.e. filled with mozzarella, pizza sauce, and pepperoni). According to wikipedia, the choice of fillings is up to the chef – I just need to find a chef that likes to make four cheese calzones. (I tried making my own – they were OK but not wonderful.)

Then there’s good old grilled cheese sandwiches, preferably served with cream of tomato soup. Now that I can make myself, and often do, as that’s another lunch my whole family enjoys. Which reminds me – have you ever had grilled peanut butter and jelly? The chef who ran the kitchen in the summer camp where I worked for two years occasionally served them to the kids, and they were a real mess to serve! And that reminds me of an unusual sandwich my father made for us one time – we were unhappy that he wouldn’t let us eat all the bacon at breakfast, but it turned out he was saving them for peanut butter and bacon sandwiches at lunch. As I remember they were pretty good.

How about you? What’s your favorite sandwich? Or what unusual sandwiches have you seen or eaten?


One Response to Superlative sandwiches

  1. Karen O says:

    Egg salad, tuna, chicken salad, bologna (which we refer to as baloney), peanut butter & jam, & occasionally liverwurst as a treat.

    Favorite grinder is roast beef.

    I make a peanut butter & orange marmalade sandwich, which I especially like for Sunday morning breakfast. Just had one for lunch a little while ago. My family thinks it’s weird.

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