Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Bread wars

Proving that someone has too much time one their hands, the BBC looks at the great British loaf of bread.

The noble loaf
One of the things I'm very particular about is sandwiches.  Sandwiches should be the sort of food I don't need to think about at all.  Ideally, they shouldn't even need to be made, but rather appear piled on a plate on the left-hand side of my desk where I can grab one without looking; secure in the knowledge that they'll be there.  Because of this, sandwiches need to be simple: Some ham, slice of Cheddar, splodge of English mustard, and cut into airplane wedges like gastronomical V-bombers.  If I'm feeling really ambitious I'll fire up the grill and make toasties.  And here's an idea: If I'm still hungry, I'll eat another sandwich.

That's all I want and that's why modern sandwiches annoy me so much when I go out to eat.  Instead of a bit of meat, a pile of bacon, or a dollop of egg salad, I'm confronted with an entire three-course dinner complete with green salad stuffed between two slices of "artisan" bread two inches thick and consisting largely of saw dust and bird seed.  I suspect that "artisan" is a euphemism for "bloody awful" and expect to be on the toilet the rest of the evening.  This monstrosity, which only remains stable due to a pair of toothpicks so large that Count Dracula would give them a wide berth, takes two hands, complete concentration, and several napkins to eat.  It defeats the whole purpose of the sandwich.  How does it help anyone if the sandwich just makes things messier?  If  I have to go through all that, I'd rather have the sandwich contents on a plate where they can be attacked with a knife and fork and the bread replaced with some chips.

The only exception I make to this rule is Reuben sandwiches.  I think it was Blaise Pascal who proved that there is no way to construct a decent Reuben without it collapsing into a handful of hot grease and sauerkraut after the first bite.  But if there are Reubens, there's going to be beer, so I hardly have grounds for complaint there.

And then there are the sandwiches that morph into bizarre shapes as if they'd been exposed to atomic radiation in some 1950s horror film.  What maniac came up with wraps?  Granted, they are lighter than most sandwiches (and in this artisian world that's saying something), but I dislike sandwiches that unravel.  Sandwiches shouldn't unravel.  And I especially dislike the McDonalds versions that are basically a tortilla with a chopped-up Big Mac ladled in.  Taking the paper off one of those is like disarming a bomb. Worse, a bomb filled with "special sauce", which doesn't bear thinking about.

Submarine sandwiches, grinders, and other variations stuck on French bread are more or less stable if you have a degree in civil engineering as well as cookery, but their tastiness is offset by their acting as if they're challenging me.  "Look at me," it says. "I'm a foot long and crammed with cold cuts, lettuce, onions, peppers, and three kinds of cheese and I clock in at two and a half pounds.  I don't think you can eat me and if you do, you'll live to regret it."  And it would be right.

I won't go into kebabs or "gyros" as they're called in the States.  I'll confess that I've eaten a lot of pita bread, but only as a side or because they go into a rucksack without getting easily squashed.  But as to filling them up with salad, yoghurt, and whatever creature died to supply the meat (please do NOT write to tell; I'd rather remain ignorant), I'm not qualified to judge as I've never eaten one unless it's after the pubs have shut and I have eight pints inside of me.  Perhaps that's just as well.

That's why I happen to like the sort of Chorleywood-style bread you get down the supermarket.  It's a bread that shows proper deference in the sandwich making process and never gives me an argument.  It's consistent, slices thin, toasts nicely, and has the decency to just lie there waiting for the Marmite.  True, it won't hold together very well when making a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich, but I've found that the easiest solution is to forgo the lettuce and tomato and make up the deficit with more bacon.  It's what the Earl of Sandwich intended when he had the brilliant brainstorm and invented a snack he could eat while playing cards and who are we to judge his wisdom?

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll find the cheese and piccalilli.


Sergej said...

Tortilla bread is where it's at. Stacks compactly in the refrigerator, and either rolls up nicely with cold cuts or slices of cheese, or folds into a pocket for drippy things like tuna salad, with, optionally, a corner left free for dripping from. Torn into quarters, and with a little origami, good for scooping up hummus.

eon said...

I eat wheat bread almost exclusively. Not the deli kind, just the generic stuff that sells for $1/20 oz. loaf at the grocery store. Everything you need, nothing you don't, and it actually tastes good.

As for what goes on it, bologna and/or salami, or ham, or a burger, plus cheese. Other than the burger (which gets done medium in a skillet), if the filling's not cold, it gets nuked in the microwave before being put on the bread. Mustard, horseradish, or even hot sauce does for garnish.

Toast is reserved for a pat of margarine, then being put under a soft-boiled egg.

If I have to spend more than three minutes making it (not including the burger's skillet time), it's not a sandwich.



Neil A Russell said...

All hail the glory of the Reuben.
If a religion could be built around a sandwich I'd be referred to as a radical Reubenist.
The Reuben sandwich at a delicatessen called Shapiro's was on my list of reasons in favor of moving back to Indianapolis.

Unfortunately the word isn't out everywhere. There's a sandwich shop in Savannah that will make you a "Reuben" that is black pumpernickel and turkey.

Those infidels.