For many of us, a sandwich – consisting of a too-moist filling between slices of soggy, spongy bread – is what we eat for lunch when we don’t have time for a “proper” meal.
Not all cultures disdain sandwiches, of course: in Scandinavian countries, people make an art of open-faced sandwiches, which can be beautiful as well as delicious. Vietnamese sandwiches, of which there are many permutations, are so good I’d be happy to make a meal out of them on a regular basis, if only they were easier to find in Hong Kong.
Rarely do top chefs allow their fine-dining restaurants to be turned into “sandwicheries” (if there is such a word). But that’s exactly what American chef Nancy Silverton did with her then husband, Mark Peel, at their (now closed) restaurant, Campanile, in Los Angeles.
Silverton reminisces about a food trip to Tuscany, Italy, where she ate so much that she never wanted to eat again. Her palate was revived after visiting a crostini bar in Florence.
“Those open-faced sandwiches turned out to be the highlight of my trip,” she writes. “I couldn’t stop thinking of them. Simply constructed, with fresh ingredients, their flavour combinations were bold and unforgettable. It’s not as if I had never seen a sandwich before, but as an adult, I had never been so eager about eating one [...]
“With no crostini bar in my neighborhood and no future junket to Italy on my calender, how could I relive that Florentine experience? I could open a sandwich bar, but I already had one restaurant – Campanile, in Los Angeles – and I didn’t want another. And so the only solution was to convert the bar at Campanile into my own Sandwich Night [...] Finally, the sandwich had a starring role in a fine-dining restaurant. It was comforting to know that so many others shared my enthusiasm. It wasn’t long before customers were asking me for recipes so they could satisfy their cravings for my sandwiches more than one night a week.”
Obviously, these aren’t the sandwiches of your childhood; they’re a lot more complicated than that. Silverton writes, “Although many of the sandwiches in this book have all the components of a complete meal – a protein, a starch, and at least one vegetable – they lack the stuffiness of a sit-down dinner [...] Don’t look at them as complicated sandwiches, but as satisfying entrees on bread.”
Her sandwiches come in tempting flavour combinations, such as gorgonzola, radicchio, honey and walnuts; roasted red pepper with goat cheese and basil; fried piquillo peppers with burrata cheese and crisp garlic; brandade, roasted tomatoes and chickpeas; sautéed chicken livers with braised celery and bacon breadcrumbs; and ham with creamed spinach and stewed leeks.