There are a wide variety of this immensely versatile dish in this country, in regular use as the lunch of office workers. As a result, for once the commercially supplied examples are generally excellent nowadays- good ingredients, imaginative fillings and superbly fresh.
The sandwich is supposed to have been 'invented' by the Earl of Sandwich, who would not leave the gaming table where he had been gambling heavily and called for his meat to be clapped between two pieces of bread and brought to him there at the table. Scrote can hardly believe he was the first person to eat like this. More likely it was that he was the first aristocrat to give such common behaviour as eating with the fingers the cachet of titled recognition and therefore entry into recorded history.
Sandwiches can be hot or cold, cooked or raw, open or closed, crusty or soft, meat, cheese, eggs, fish, or salad. Here are few examples.
last updated 2nd December 2000
The bacon buttie was another dish that figured often in Scrote's student days of unemployment. The fitch of bacon from which rashers are cut trails away into a triangular end, which consists mainly of fat and not much meat. The stall-holders in our local market cut rashers to order then, and sold the ends off cheaply in the piece. We took them home, cut them into ragged rashers and made huge bacon butties whenever we felt like it. A bacon buttie is just several rashers, or pieces of rashers, fried crisply, clapped in two thick slices of bread or a bap, and eaten hot, immediately. The buttie is warmer and softer if, at the end when the bacon has been cooked, the split bread is used to wipe up the excess fat from the hot pan before being filled with the hot bacon.
The 'BLT' is the more genteel public-house version, but well done it is very good indeed, and probably a lot kinder to old arteries. The bacon is proper, bought rasher bacon, generally cooked to a crisp under a grill rather than fried in fat, and layered in a roll or stick with thin sliced tomato and shredded iceberg lettuce.
The Ploughman's is the ubiquitous English pub lunch, and with a pint of cider, a delight. It usually consists of a thick chunk of crusty bread from a round loaf, a lump of butter, a thick wedge of good cheese in a piece (usually either a traditional mature cheddar or stilton), some pickle or a pickled onion and a small green salad all served on a single plate with a knife only. Like this it is full of crisp, punchy flavours but ploughmans are often spoiled in pubs by flavourless packet cheese, a single foil-wrapped pat of butter and limp bread.
For one, take a cold hardboiled egg and mash it with a fork. Mix in a big dollop of real mayonnaise, and grind over it some black pepper. Meanwhile, split and lightly butter two bridge rolls (a small soft roll). Put a generous helping of egg mayonnaise, cut a wodge of salad cress, sprinkle it over, close the roll and eat it. (the roll has to be soft because otherwise the egg filling squeezes out when you bite on the roll).
Open and drain a tin of tuna. Mash with a big dollop of mayonnaise. Fill soft rolls or sliced bread sandwiches with it. This sandwich is extremely filling.
A similar idea, more delicate but more expensive, is the prawn mayonnaise sandwich. This consists of ordinary (cooked, frozen) prawns in a Marie Rose dressing. (A Marie Rose dressing is a mayonnaise sauce coloured pink with a little tomato puree.) This sandwich is generally made with sliced wholemeal bread, for its contrasting colour.
Scrote thinks chicken tends to be a bit dry, and reckons that the addition of mayonnaise to a sandwich of sliced, cold cooked chicken improves it considerably. On the other hand, left to its own devices the mayonnaise tends to melt into the bread, so it is a good idea to include some lettuce on the other side to hold the mayonnaise back. This sort of sandwich is best made with sliced bread, and pressed down a bit with the hand to stop the top and bottom coming unstuck and drifting away.
Smoked salmon comes in huge thin slices of delicately flavoured raw fish. Poor Scrote thinks smoked salmon is utterly delicious, totally extravagant and best when eaten entirely on its own. For some reason people lay it on little triangles of buttered wholemeal bread, sprinkle lemon juice on it, and serve it as pathetic open sandwiches at the beginning of posh parties. However it is sometimes possible for impoverished Scrotey gourmets to obtain much cheaper salmon pieces, the leftovers from cutting those perfect slices, which are just as good when hidden inside a closed sandwich, and a lot less expensive.
Pitta bread is a flat oval arab bread, now widely available in Britain which has a natural interior cavity. If the oval bread is sliced across, each half can be teased open to make a capacious pocket, which then can be filled with a mixture of chopped lettuce, cucumber and green pepper. This is about the only way Scrote knows of serving a salad so that it can be eaten with the fingers standing up, and it is also ideal for vegetarians.
Cheese on toast is a hot, cooked, open sandwich. For one, take a slice of bread, toast it lightly on both sides, spread thinly sliced or grated cheddar over it (right to the edge) and return it to the grill so the cheese melts and is bubbling hot. Eat it immediately, and repeat the process until you no longer feel hungry. More than anything else, ordinary (commercial) tomato sauce goes extremely well with this sandwich. The proper, authentic version of cheese on toast is the rather more complicated Welsh Rarebit.
Toasted sandwiches are ordinary sandwiches that have been, well, ...toasted. Unfortunately, bread is a fairly good insulator, so it needs a slightly more roundabout approach than just sticking a made sandwich under a grill. You need to cook the filling before you cook the outside. Take two matching slices of bread. Cover one edge to edge with thinly sliced or grated cheese and the other with a single slice of shoulder ham. Put them side by side under a roaring grill (or a quiet one if yours is electric) and toast them till the cheese melts and the ham starts to steam and colour. Clap the two halves together and grill the outside, first one side then the other until toasted brown. Then eat.
Cucumber sandwiches are the very essence of that half-forgotten English ceremony, the gracious afternoon tea on the lawn, a reminder of lost Edwardian summers. They are basically very simple- white bread sliced thin and buttered meagrely, spread with thin slices of cucumber and covered over, and sliced diagonally to produce little delicate sandwiches. Some people also do cucumber and Marmite (a salty spread made from autolysed yeast, also known as Vegemite in Australia). These are best eaten at once, as the salt in the marmite extracts the water in the cucumber, and soaks the bread.
Other genteel sandwiches once more commonly served for afternoon tea include fishpaste sandwiches, thinly sliced tomato, and delicate sandwiches of mild cheese or ham if the tea was intended to be slightly more substantial.
The real traditional Edwardian variation of this type of sandwich is salmon and cucumber and was presumably the result of using up the leftovers after offering the salmon as a cold collation at luncheon. Scrote doesn't approve of farmed salmon, but was once so persuaded by the remarkably low price as to buy a whole salmon and poach it. The result was a slightly enormous quantity of salmon. The juice which oozes out of the cooked salmon is surprisingly gelatinous. After skinning, boning and freezing it in various portions, Scrote ended up eating solid salmon and cucumber sandwiches for weeks at work, to the mild respect of his work colleagues who were presumably ignoring substantial prices for the equivalent commercial product.
The salmon must be the cooked, pink variety- poach a piece of real salmon if you can get it at a reasonable price. If you use tinned salmon, check it out beforehand as some tinned pacific salmon can be quite rough- it needs to be proper pink salmon. The salmon is spread on buttered sliced bread, with thin slices of cucumber on top, and the covering slice laid over.
This is a good sandwich filling for vegetarians. There are a number of cream cheeses, such as Ricotta, which have a very light flavour, almost bland. The addition of the chopped chives adds a faint hint of their relative, the onion. Almost any bread will work, and it combines well with other fillings such as salad.
The French have their own way of making le sandwich- Scrote thinks they just haven't really grasped the idea. Apart from the Bretons, the French don't usually butter their bread, so the standard sandwich is half a baguette sliced lengthways with a layer of either jambon (ham), camembert or saucisson sec. The sandwich is just bread and meat (or cheese)- nothing else, no butter, no salad, no dressing. Surprisingly, providing the bread is fresh and crusty the result is usually very good in a simple sort of way, and very characteristic. Normally the ham is jambon blanc (white ham), the sort of shoulder ham that we know, but if you are lucky you may come across jambon cru, raw smoked sliced ham, which is utterly delicious.
This is the English version of le sandwich. About six to eight inch length of a french stick is slit and buttered and then layered with a filling of either grated or sliced cheese, usually cheddar, or sliced hardboiled egg, or slices of cold, rare, roast beef. Then a mixed salad of any or all of lettuce, cucumber, tomato slices, red or green sweet pepper or cress is added, and there may also be mayonnaise or (in the case of the beef) english mustard. The variations are extensive, and the stick may also be sliced twice to provide a double-decker version. For vegetarians, a salad stick consisting only of salad is also very good.
This is a luxury, an expensive treat, so if you are going to do it, do it well- it is much better to use a small but really good steak like fillet steak than a larger but tougher variety. Cut the steak half its normal thickness, so that you have a two or three ounce steak. Split a crusty roll or a piece of french stick. Chop and soften some onion in a frying pan and reserve. Turn up the heat and cook the steak very quickly and fiercely. The idea is to cook it as briefly as you can get away with as steak gets tougher as it is cooked- the better the steak the less cooking it needs. Push the steak to one side and quickly sear the inside of the roll to heat it and mop any juices. Take out the bread, pile in the onion, add the steak and a dollop of English or Dijon Mustard and close it up. Eat absolutely immediately while it is still hot. This is the ultimate burger. You have eaten the real thing- pathetic commercial burgers will have no power over you henceforth.