Making the perfect sandwich is an activity fraught with difficulty. Sure, it is easy enough to place a couple of slices of ham between two thin pieces of plastic bread or cut open a roll and spread with a liberal layer of mayonnaise before adding a hastily cut tomato and some tasteless cheddar but this is mere sustenance rather than the gastronomic perfection that a sandwich can offer. And I’m sure you know me well enough by now to know that a basic butty would not be enough to satisfy.
The beauty of a sandwich lies in its inherent simplicity but that simplicity can also be its downfall: if each element is not perfect then the whole thing disappoints and serves to stave off hunger rather than create a perfect food moment. And before I go any further I’d like to point out that it really isn’t about cost, I’m not snobby about these things and there are times when a stack of watery wafer thin ham and three Kraft cheese singles wedged between two slices of Warbutons bread can hit the spot like nothing else. To go even further, a few minutes under the grill or in a Breville and you’ve got the food of the gods. But it wouldn’t be right to do this in rye bread, for example and this is at the heart of what I am trying to say: the elements have to fit. A burger wouldn’t be right in a bagel, a toastie in a teacake is just plain wrong and smoked salmon and cream cheese just wouldn’t taste right in cornbread. A hot dog should be served in a fluffy white roll, brie belongs on a baguette and a chip barm cake could come in nothing other than, well, a barm cake.
The origins of the sandwich are often attributed to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich and is one of the more famous stories in food history. The legend has it that he enjoyed eating meat between two slices of bread because it allowed him to continue playing cribbage without getting the cards greasy. Although the Earl may have popularised the eating of sandwiches, and gave his name to the snack, they have been around in various forms since the first century BCE and no doubt prior to that as well. What hasn’t changed is the convenience and the speed with which they can be created and eaten. It takes very little skill to create a butty worthy of consumption but perhaps a little more to craft a memorable one. The £85 sandwich on sale at Selfridges, for example, probably contains a bit more than the ubiquitous ham and cheese as it was, until recently the most expensive sandwich in the world, an honour that now belongs to a £100 creation available at Cliveden House, Berkshire and containing Iberico Ham, white truffles and quails’ eggs.
My budget doesn’t quite stretch to that, at least not yet (and even if it did I am uncertain as to whether I could part with £100 for bread and filling) but I still enjoy creating and eating the humble sandwich especially with some unusual ingredients which arrived in the form of Serrano ham and Manchego cheese, a gift from my parents brought back from their recent trip to Majorca. Freshly baked wholemeal bread, homemade mayonnaise, a generous wedge of the cheese, a slightly decadent number of slices of the ham, some thinly sliced Spanish tomato (I have no idea how they managed to get that back on the plane without it exploding into a red mush in a suitcase) and a handful of baby spinach. OK, it might just have been a ham and cheese sandwich but that didn’t stop it from being damned tasty.