You’ve gone to a lot of trouble making a delicious gourmet sandwich with the freshest veggies. You splurged for the expensive deli meat, got expert advice from your supermarket’s cheesemonger and even baked your own homemade ciabatta. The problem comes when you sit down to enjoy it — that toothpick you inserted does little to hold your sandwich together. You consider grabbing a fork, but you power through, leaving most of your ingredients on your plate, where you have to enjoy them outside the confines of your bread.
Don’t fret — that will never happen to you again. According to Sisha Ortúzar, co-founder of NYC gourmet sandwich restaurant ‘wichcraft, “Sandwich architecture can mean the difference between a great meal and a mess that will ruin your tie… or your blouse.” To enjoy your gourmet sandwich, all you need is a little sammy know-how, some help from experts Ortúzar and Alton Brown and a killer sandwich recipe.
Some general tips from Alton Brown
In his Good Eats episode titled “Sandwich-craft,” the Food Network’s resident gastronomical technologist, Alton Brown, had some general rules of thumb we should all follow when building a gourmet grinder:
- Soft fillings should be served on soft breads.
- Make sure there’s a moisture barrier (i.e., something creamy or oily) between your bread and wet ingredients (e.g., tomatoes).
- Keep slippery ingredients away from each other.
- Use a bread you’d be willing to eat on its own.
Sandwich Construction 101
Proper engineering is the real key to making the perfect sub or Dagwood. You can’t just slap the ingredients on the bread willy-nilly.
Let’s take a look at the science behind what Chef Ortúzar calls “sandwich architecture” and what Alton Brown calls “sandwich craft.”
The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
While pre-sliced bread can save you hundreds of thousands of sandwich-making seconds over the course of your life, it’s not really the best choice. Skip the pre-sliced stuff. It’s full of a lot of unpronounceable ingredients that, while preserving the shelf life of baked goods, also makes the bread artificially soft (to keep it from going stale as quickly), which will do nothing more than make your sandwich fall apart faster.
As a general rule, your bread should be cut thick (unless you’re using rye). You want it thick enough to hold the ingredients, but not so thick the flavor of the bread overpowers the other flavors.
If you’re using a sandwich roll or sub, don’t cut the bread in half. Instead, use the Third/Two-Thirds Rule: Cut the bread so the top half is a third the size of the full roll and the bottom is two-thirds. This will help hold the mounds of ingredients a gourmet sandwich often has. Make it a little thicker than you feel you need so you can scoop a little of the bread out of the middle to create a shallow cradle for the ingredients.
One last tip on bread: Avoid the toaster and opt for searing it in a skillet until it’s crisp. Also, keep in mind toasting is just for the texture, so face those toasted sides in! It will help create a barrier against sogginess.
Dress to Impress
Whether you’re using a spread like cream cheese or a thin vinaigrette, make sure you don’t overdress your sandwich. If you’re making a particularly messy sandwich, spread a thin layer of an oil-based condiment (e.g., mayonnaise, olive oil) on the slice of bread that will hold the slipperiest ingredients (or on both if necessary).
If you’re using a vinaigrette or other thin dressing and won’t have any slippery ingredients, it might be a better idea to toss the greens you’re using in the dressing.
If your sandwich has sliced (unmelted) cheese, layer it as near the bread as possible. Structurally, this reinforces the sandwich.
However, if you plan to melt the cheese (which you should do before putting on cold ingredients), place the cheese on the meat to prevent it from making your sandwich slide apart (and to maximize flavor).
Take a look at: How to Make the Perfect Baked Potato? Oven-Baked to Perfection
Bring on the Veggies!
Before you stack on the vegetables (or fruits), think about how they’ll interact if they’re placed next to one another. Pickles and tomatoes, for example, should be separated by a layer of greens or onions. If they’re placed next to one another, they’ll slide around and your sandwich will, too. You should also keep them separated from themselves. Don’t layer tomatoes on top of one another or they’ll do the same dance of sandwich death the tomatoes would do with the pickles.
If you’re using a particularly soft veggie or fruit (e.g., an avocado), think about mashing it instead of using slices, especially if there are other wet or slippery ingredients on the sandwich. If you’re using water-logged fruits (e.g., pineapple or watermelon) you might even consider making a purée to toss with the greens. Again, with purées (much like dressings) less is more of these flavorful ingredients.
Meat — Bring in the Reinforcements
Most meats give sandwiches some serious structural integrity and should be placed next to any ingredient that might try to make a run for it.
When using deli slices, you’ll get the best texture from folded, rolled or scrunched meats than from several slices lying flat. If you need two layers of meat to act as a buffer between wet ingredients, ask your deli clerk for shredded meat.
Bringing It All Together
Congratulations on making the perfect sandwich, but if you’re really committed, you’re not finished. Before tuckin’ in (as they say down South), wrap it up. According to Alton Brown, wrapping the sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and letting it sit at room temperature for a couple of hours will meld the flavors and help the sandwich stay together better later. As Brown says, “Believe me, your patience will be rewarded.”
We believe you, Alton — you’ve never lied to us before!