Sandwiches are one of the first foods we learn to make. Two pieces of whatever bread was on hand bookending our choice of meat, cheese, or peanut butter. Maybe we wanted to show off our independence, or it might have been as simple as trying to improve what mom was making for the lunch box (anything had to be better than that).
However, just like everything else today, cuisine is moving faster. Our world is expanding and our sandwiches are getting better, more interesting and more craveable than ever. The lines between day parts, restaurant styles and ethnicities continue to blur and sandwiches are moving to the center of the plate. A complete meal at any time of day, they let chefs introduce diners to new flavors, cuisines and experiences in a very familiar way.
A good sandwich, whether it’s an old favorite, a classic or a new mashup, requires care, attention to detail, and layers and layers of flavor. The best sandwiches follow these simple guidelines to create delicious and complex flavors:
Use good bread. Please, use good bread – as fresh as possible. We hope no more sandwiches are insulted with a three-day-old, dry, crumbling Kaiser Roll. The texture, density and flavor of the bread is a key component of a great sandwich. The ratio of bread thickness to sandwich fillings is an art. Too thin can be a mess and too thick can overshadow the carefully layered fillings. Some sandwiches need soft bread for contrasting texture, and some need the balance that a toasted edge offers.
More, better condiments. We’re not talking plain old mustard and mayonnaise – though those are better than nothing at all. There’s nothing worse than a dry sandwich, unless it’s a super soggy one. Condiments are integral to building a better sandwich – they add flavor and texture. Add two kinds of mustard! Try hot sauce and mayo for that sweet, sour, spicy thing. Use preserves and fruit spreads of all kinds. Serve a hot sandwich like Chris Cosentino’s Italian Dip in a bowl with marinara – an Italian take on torta ahogado. Treat it like an entrée and sandwiches get better and better.
When picking condiments, think flavor first, then consider where they should be in the build. For example, a layer of aioli can help prevent moisture from sogging out the bread. Our recipe for the ultimate sausage parmigiana sandwich starts with a great Italian roll transformed into garlic bread that’s spread with roasted long hot pepper aioli. Then, we add layers of sausage, sauce and cheese. Amazing, craveable flavors!
Think beyond lettuce and tomato. Or at least, choose better lettuce and tomato. Peel ripe, summer tomatoes before slicing. Tomato jam. Grape tomato salad. Shaved iceberg lettuce, crisp little gem leaves, or a handful of peppery arugula. Dress the lettuce first to add another layer of flavor. Add unexpected veggies: shaved radishes, bread and butter zucchini, crispy sweet and sour chowchow, fresh herb salads, or fried potatoes. Our recipe for pan con chicharron is the perfect example – a sweet, soft, hollow roll spread with Aji Amarillo mayo, with crispy, salty braised and fried boneless pork ribs and a bright salad of red onion, hot peppers, cilantro and lime juice, layered with slices of fried sweet potato. Toppings add texture and balance out sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami, just like any other set on your menu.
Respect the protein, hot or cold. Use the best ingredients you can find, whether making your own salumi or buying it. If the sandwich meat is cold, slice it super thin to offer the most surface area and ensure it’s tender to the bite. It’s a miserable experience to bite into a sandwich and watch in horror as the entire middle rides out and lands on our lap. Whether hot or cold, layers of thinly sliced whole muscle or cured meats make a huge contribution to a sandwich’s success. If you’re serving sausage, slice it thin or serve it loose (out of the casing). Keep it tender and moist and build the sandwich flavors around the sweet, fatty, umami-packed flavor of the protein.
Layer with thought. Bring it all together in thoughtful layers. Butter or olive oil the bread and toast to create crunch and a moisture barrier. Add fatty condiments to the bread to stop sogging, or to the meat to enhance moisture. Layer meat, veggies, slaws, pickles and cheeses to create friction between the layers – it helps hold it together and enhances each bite. Our recipe for bánh mì with XO country pâté and shaved pork has it all: two types of protein – thin-sliced pork loin and creamy pork pâté – crunchy radish and cabbage slaw, shiitake aioli and fried parsnip chips. Slaw is much better than whole, smooth lettuce leaves for keeping that sandwich from ending up in your lap. Bring it all together like any other new creation. Make it over and over again until you love it!
Each bite of the perfect sandwich should be easy, full of great textures and rich flavor. Experiment with new ingredients and textures, add crunch with chips and pickles, layer in unexpected vegetables, slaws and cheeses – but don’t discount your favorite qualities. Think about how you build other dishes, entrées and salads and then follow your instincts and make the sandwich that makes you happy and keeps you coming back for more. Your customers will love it too. Let’s explore how restaurants around the country are offering their take on better sandwiches…
The Wild Son
Located under the High Line in New York, NY, The Wild Son is a new restaurant from cocktail enthusiasts Robert Ceraso and Jason Mendenhall. Offering sandwiches for breakfast and lunch, a current favorite is the Grandma Anna, made with scrambled egg, house guanciale, broccoli rabe chimichurri and sweet hot pepper aioli on brioche bun.
Located in a Washington, D.C. gas station, Fast Gourmet offers fresh takes on global street food. Their Argentinian Bondiola, made with grilled pork shoulder, chimichurri sauce, lettuce and tomato, is a popular sandwich choice. They also serve a classic Cuban and a Chivito, the national sandwich of Uruguay, made with Black Forest ham, bacon, beef tenderloin, green olives, hard boiled eggs, escabeche, lettuce, tomato, onion and mayo on a soft roll.
Ba Bellies, an Asian gastropub in Atlanta, GA, effortlessly combines Southern and Asian flavors. The dinner menu includes Bacon Fried Rice and a BBQ Pork Shoulder bowl with Cambodian slaw, jasmine rice and bourbon-peach BBQ glaze. The handhelds section on the lunch menu features the “Peachy” Pig sandwich – Heritage Farms pork belly, maple-glazed peach, pickled carrots, cilantro, sambal and mayo on a rice baguette. The restaurant is a collaboration from David and Tina Nguyen of Nam Phuong, a Vietnamese restaurant in Atlanta, and Mike Yang, a veteran of New York City’s Per Se, Craft and L’atelier.
Hail Mary, the Greenpoint, Brooklyn neo-diner from husband-wife duo Sohla and Ham El-Waylly, serves an eclectic blend of cuisines – Sohla is Bengali-American and Ham grew up in Qatar with Egyptian and Bolivian parents. Their quirky menu includes Porky’s Panchito, a Bolivian-style pork hot dog served with corn salsa, frizzled onions and avocado.
Chef Angela Hernandez of Top Knot in Dallas, TX marries Asian and Latin American influences across the menu. At dinner, the Tonkatsu is paired with cabbage, apple and miso mustard. You can also find pork cutlet on the brunch menu as Katsudon, served with egg, rice and kimchi caramel. Another brunch favorite is a pulled pork breakfast sandwich with pimento cheese, fried egg and pickled red onion.
Brider Rotisserie + Kitchen
Brider, a fast casual restaurant located in Denver, CO, cooks rotisserie meats in a Rotisol oven, imported from France. Brider, which means to truss meat, serves Rotisserie Roasted Porchetta as a dinner plate with a choice of sides ranging from fried rice and kimchi to feta cheese, tzatziki and madras curry. The Roasted Porchetta is also available as a sandwich with house kimchi, Cheddar cheese, arugula and herb aioli.
Little Jewel of New Orleans
Part deli, part grocery store, Little Jewel of New Orleans serves Southern Louisiana cusine in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood. Their Boudin Noir and Creole Sausages are made in-house and guests rave about the Cochon de Lait Po’boy topped with pork smoked over pecan wood. Other favorites include the Muffuletta sandwich and traditional Po’boy. While the speakers blast Zydeco music, patrons wander shelves packed with New Orleans staples such as grits, Steen’s cane syrup and crowder peas.
General Tso’Boy, a new Chinese-American sandwich shop in Austin, TX, originally launched in a flea market pop-up in New York. The sandwiches are all served on fresh-baked baguettes dressed with shredded lettuce and mayonnaise. The Char Siu Pulled Pork sandwich is made with shredded pork and Chinese-style barbecue sauce.