Yes! The first post on the “Adventures in Cold Cooking” page! Part of the reason for starting this theme was to help solve a daily dilemma of mine: what should I take for lunch?
These days the problem is easy to solve, what with fast-food chains and quick-service lunch joints conveniently popping up near office parks. Lunch is especially easy for my co-workers and me to find, as there is a cafe in our building itself and a shopping mall with a fully stocked food court just across the street. Within a mile of my office are the following sandwich opportunities:
– Bobby’s Burger Palace
– B. Good Burgers
– Charley’s Subs
– Rebecca’s Cafe (a sort of corporate cafeteria in my building)
– Burger King
…as well as Chinese, Japanese and Thai restaurants, numerous pizza joints, the Cheesecake Factory, and Uno’s: all with a take-out option.
Portable, bread-wrapped food seems to be a staple for corporate America’s lunch time. But there are obvious health consequences. These options are backed with lots of added fat and sodium, and are usually accompanied by a deep-fried side dish. Lately, my solution to this problem has come in the form of the open-face sandwich. I came upon them as I was remembering a trip I took to Montreal a few years back with the college marching band. After eight hours on a bus, we wandered into the chill, dimly lit stone streets of the city searching for dinner, and very grateful that one of our friends spoke French. We stumbled into a local pub, and ordered the cheapest items we could find. They emerged from the kitchen bubbling and toasted, Swiss cheese gently hugging the sides of the thick French bread, carved turkey and juicy ripe tomatoes. Warm, cheesy, and best enjoyed with friends.
Open sandwiches actually have quite an interesting history. In 15th Century England, people ate something called “trenches” (or “tranches” for the French). It was essentially an old hard piece of bread that was used as a plate on which to serve other things, like cheese and meat or stew etc. The plate was therefore disposable/edible and prevented old bread from being wasted. Eventually it evolved and is more currently a staple in Scandinavian countries, where it usually comprises of buttered rye bread topped with a combination of smoked salmon, caviar, eggs, cold steak, cucumbers and tomatoes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_sandwich Delicious! No creamy cheeses or sweet sauces needed here! The fresh, simple local ingredients make this a true delicacy, and it is this tradition upon which I would like to build.
In spite of their greatness, open-faced sandwiches don’t seem to be headed into the American canon of sandwich culture, or legal reasons as well as cultural ones. A 2006 court case defined the “sandwich” (as if such a thing could be done) as “two thin pieces of bread, usually buttered, with a thin layer (as of meat, cheese, or savory mixture) spread between them” (http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/textual_originalism_and_the_great_sandwich_debate_posner_reviews_scalia/).
Excuse me? Most of the sandwiches I’ve had in my life do not fit that description. Which brings to me the actual purpose of this post: to extol the wonders of the open-face sandwich, and give you all 5 reasons to make it part of your lunch routine!
1. Less Bread: I have never been one to denounce carbs. It is the rightful base of the food pyramid, and some varieties have high fiber that promotes heart health. Even so, excessive carbs can still cause you to gain weight, so it’s important to consume bread, which is usually lower in whole grains and complex carbohydrates, in moderation. Bread also absorbs more of those delicious, but fattening, sandwich spreads that we love so much, like mayonnaise and cream cheese. Using only one slice for a sandwich allows you to the same range of toppings with more appropriate nutrient ratio.
2. Not Portable: Some of you may be wondering, “How is lack of portability a good thing?” Let me explain. Fast-food is not named so just because of the quick cook time: it also primarily consists of foods that are particularly easy to eat quickly, or while you’re driving (never a good idea), or while you’re running to that afternoon meeting you aren’t ready for. It’s packaged in a very ergonomic way so that you can eat with one hand and hold your smartphone with the other. Sandwiches are exemplary at this: The bread shields the filling, leaving you free to scarf down your lunch and get back to work in no time.
Open-faced sandwiches, I confess, are a bit messy. There is no guardrail as such for the ingredients, and it’s not the type of lunch you can walk around with or casually reach for while you’re typing reports at your desk. It takes time and care (and tastes even better if you sit outside). The open-faced sandwich encourages you to take a real lunch break. It tells you to look away from the computer and close your email for just 15 minutes, allowing your mind to recharge and your body to relax.
Photo Credit: http://www.delorescuster.com/about/
3. Better Ingredients: You know those gorgeous photos that delis hang on their walls, of sandwiches stacked high with piles of cold cuts, cheese, and an entire entree salad? Would anyone be able to even fit that in their mouth? No! Therefore the average sandwich eater is greatly limited by the dimensions of their oral cavity. It’s simple economics: You only have a limited space to fill with deliciousness, so you’re more likely to cram it full of cheese and sauce and use less vegetables, since they are bulky and take up space (and usually fall out of the sandwich anyway). Channel your 15th Century French-peasant spirit, and view your single bread slice as a plate: you can add whatever you want! The removal of the top bread slice gives your more room to add veggies or fruits, and less need to use “compact ingredients” like peanut butter (yum), cold cuts, cheese, and sauces.
4. They’re Pretty: No, seriously. I mean it! I do not believe it is the intention of sandwich artists everywhere to conceal from consumers the true appearance of their food. Not at all. What I mean is that when you have to look at what you’re eating, you literally see it differently. The open-faced sandwich, on the other hand, is a canvas. Since you have to look at it while you eat it, you will likely spend more time artfully arranging your ingredients, adding less gloopy sauces and using more fresh colorful veggies. Eating “pretty food” makes us more mindful of what we eat. We take more time to prepare it, and therefore take more time to enjoy it. After all, when you work so hard to create such a beautiful work of culinary art, it would be quite sinful to just stuff it down your throat.
5. Mindful Eating: The aesthetics and lack of portability of these sandwiches make them a mindful food. Mindful eating can mean eating healthier things, yes, but it also means taking time to enjoy our food rather than treating it as a side-item, something that’s a means to an end and doesn’t deserve attention. People who enjoy their food more also tend to weigh less because they eat slower and and more aware of the flavors and textures of their meal. As a result, slow-eaters tend to consume less food and feel satisfied more quickly that fast-eaters. This is another reason why going out to eat frequently is so unhealthy. It’s not just about the nutrition. Since you yourself did not take the time to prepare it, you are likely to not care as much about where the ingredients come from or how it looks, and so you are less likely to eat it with attention or feel satisfied after.
Now that we all have some background information we can continue to appreciate the immense variety of the open-faced sandwich as the recipes come along.
Happy Lunch time!
PS: Never had a food been so taken for granted by the gourmands of the world as the sandwich. If you are interested in sandwich history and culture, here are a few links that I enjoyed while writing this post.
Court Case: What is a sandwich?
CNN: The Best Sandwich in the Universe
Unbreaded: Is a Burrito a Sandwich?