Thursday, October 20, 2011

A Mighty Sandwich

The sandwich is a hell of a culinary vehicle, one that should not be underestimated; though quite often, it is. Invented by the Earl of Sandwich in the mid-eighteenth century, supposedly out of the necessity to eat without having to stop gambling, it is as potentially delicious as it is convenient. Its iterations are limited only by the chef's imagination, and I have enjoyed some doozies; take Waterbar's Softshell Crab "BLT," for instance, put together with pancetta, heirloom tomatoes, crisp Bibb lettuce, and spicy aioli on thick-cut brioche. The thing is so deviously yummy, crispy and crisp and juicy and fresh; and when you're chewing a bite with everything in it, the flavor profile is totally awesome.
But sometimes a sandwich isn't intended to be a culinary work of art. Sometimes you make a sandwich simply because you have some fresh bread and some good meat and the two just go together. Such were the circumstances within which I found myself the other day.
I had a fresh baguette and a flawlessly cooked New York Strip. Even if I had nothing but these two ingredients, I would be in good shape, but I had worked an event the night before where we'd made a thick, creamy, blue cheese dressing, and I'd brought it home knowing I could put it to good use. It was the perfect spread for the sandwich. I slathered a thick layer on both pieces of bread, then toasted them in the oven at 350, finishing on broil for a minute or 2 to get some nice golden color.
And what's a steak sandwich without onions, right? I sliced one into rings and caramelized them nice and slow with some oil and a touch of butter... oh, and some of the fat I trimmed off the steak, cut up into juicy, little morsels and nestled in among the onions, releasing flavor all over the pan. You can't imitate that real beef flavor; there's nothing like it, and it is the tits. I got the pan nice and brown, then deglazed every last bit of goodness with some red wine, letting it all reduce to French Onion Soup-style richness. I was ready to build.
The steak was sliced thin, heated up gently, and sat like ribbons atop a bed of bubbly, pungent Gorgonzola, just barely tinted blue, that melted down the sides of the baguette and ran together with the pink juices of the steak to create gentle, aromatic pools on the white plate.
I piled the onions high atop the other piece of gorgonzola bread and sprinkled them with a handful of fresh rosemary leaves from the garden. Then, taking care to keep the ingredients on their respective buns, pressed the two halves together gently, slowly applying pressure and watching for the moment when the fillings just began to poke out the sides. I let the whole thing sit for a moment so that everybody at the party could get to know one another.
Then I took that thing down. The tangy gorgonzola spread brought a punch; the onions were sweet, smooth, and rich; the steak was juicy, succulent, and flavorful. Each part depended on the others for balance and they complemented one another exquisitely. Every bite I took brought me to pause and appreciate the perfection and exceptional deliciousness that I was holding.
And thus, the beauty of a sandwich: a pretty, little package that can be packed with so much show-stopping flavor that you almost can't believe it. Let us always try to make our sandwiches the very best sandwiches they can be.

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