Earlier this month, I ate one of the best sandwiches of my life. It was at a restaurant called Bones, in Paris. When I entered, my eyes immediately zoned in on the whole roast suckling pig displayed on the bar. But when I looked at the four-course set menu there was no mention of said pig.
"Ou est le suckling pig?" I asked the waiter in my best Franglaise. He explained it was available on the bar menu, where it was served in a sandwich; and he won my heart by asking if I wanted it as an additional course.
The sandwich was memorable: tender meat with a layer of crunchy skin, pickled cabbage and delicious bread. I loved it so much that I briefly contemplated having a second one, to replace the cheese course. When I complimented the chef, he shrugged and said, "It's simple - good meat, good bread, good cabbage."
But if making a sandwich is as simple as good bread and a good filling, why are we eating so many bad ones, with mushy bread and fillings that are too wet or too dry?
In an ideal world, a sandwich should be freshly made - because if you put a damp filling in bread, the bread will soak up the moisture. With some sandwiches, such as the pan bagnet (made with tinned tuna, vegetables and vinaigrette), you actually want the filling's moisture to soak into the bread; it's made in advance and compressed under weights. But with this type of sandwich, the bread needs to be sturdy enough to absorb moisture without disintegrating.
With most sandwiches, though, you'll need to put a barrier between the filling and bread. You can spread softened butter on both pieces of bread, but even more effective is adding two lettuce leaves, which not only protect the bread from soaking up the wetness of the filling, but also add crunch.
For dryer fillings, such as sliced deli meats or cheese, you'll probably want to add moisture - and this is when mayonnaise and mustard come in handy. If you're using soft sandwich bread, wrap the sandwich tightly in cling-film so the bread doesn't dry out even more. But if you're making the sandwich with a baguette, the cling-film will make the crust soften, so it's better to wrap it in something that lets the crust "breathe".
When making sandwiches to take to work or on a picnic, the perfect solution would be to pack the bread and fillings separately and assemble just before eating. It doesn't require much more work and both the bread and filling will be at their best.
For hot sandwiches such as hamburgers, which are meant to be eaten just after being cooked, use the absorbent qualities of the bread (in this case a bun) to your advantage: it soaks up the meaty juices so they don't go to waste. Put the patty straight onto the bottom bun - don't put a lettuce leaf or other vegetables there or the meat juice will have nowhere to go but on to the plate.
All types of sandwiches should have textural interest: that can come from lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, almost anything with crunch in fact - even potato chips, or crisps (although you need to add them at the very last minute).
You can use whole lettuce or cabbage leaves, or shred them and mix them with a tangy dressing (as with the one used at Bones), which also gives a welcoming acidity to what could be a heavy meat sandwich.
Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.