Sandwiches are an enigma. They are simultaneously simple and complex. Entire Reddit threads, Instagram accounts, blogs, magazines and restaurants have been dedicated to the humble sandwich - there is even a “sandwich alignment chart” that divides sandwich enthusiasts into structure and ingredient purists or rebels.
The most wonderful thing about sandwiches is their versatility. Slap a slice of cheese between two slices of bread and you’re the Earl of Sandwich. Equally, you could pile a sandwich high with any ingredient in the kitchen cupboard of until it’s a towering monstrosity you can’t actually eat with your hands. Both of these, and every iteration in between, qualifies as a sandwich.
Having said that, there are some rules to be followed if you’re after a great one. Although these are not hard and fast rules, they are the rules that Max Halley, of the eponymous Max’s Sandwich Shop in north London, swears by for a sandwich that won’t let you down.
The Sandwich Mantra
“The sandwich mantra is ‘hot, cold, sweet, sour, crunchy, soft’,” Halley tells The Independent. “This is the secret of deliciousness. At my sandwich shop, we have never had a sandwich on the menu that doesn’t adhere to this number one rule.”
But what does this actually mean? In order to create a truly great sandwich, you should try to include one of the six texture or flavour profiles in the mantra. This is to create contrasts within the sandwich, which Halley says “gives our brains everything we’re looking for to perceive something as delicious”.
“At home, you’re not going to be able to necessarily make a sandwich with all those elements,” he concedes. “But think about them when you’re making your sandwich. Look at the stuff you’re putting in, if you have lots of soft ingredients, see if you can add something crunchy, and so on - and I am not just talking about lettuce.”
However, crunchiness doesn’t always have to come from a filling. It can come from the crust of the bread, which brings us to the second rule of sandwich-making.
Choose the right bread
“No f***ing sourdough,” says Halley.
“I don’t care what anyone says, it is not an appropriate bread for a sandwich,” he explains. “It lacks absorbency so you can’t condiment it enough; the air holes are massive; it’s too chewy; there’s not enough crust to keep a sandwich’s structural integrity; and if you toast it, it’s too brittle and cuts the roof of your mouth.”
So, no sourdough then. Instead, Halley recommends focaccia, mini ciabatta or crusty rolls for optimum structural integrity. That’s because these breads have a large surface area of crust, which also provides crunch.
In terms of softer breads such as white bread or brioche, toasting it first is the best way to go. Otherwise they may run the risk of getting soggy from condiments or tearing when you try to spread butter on them. If you need to butter a slice of bread to create water-resistant later between the bread and the filling, it’s likely too soft to have any structural integrity.
“There’s no such thing as a bad sandwich filling, only inappropriate bread,” advises Halley.
Mayonnaise is King
Condiments are a must have in any great sandwich. For Halley, mayonnaise reigns supreme in this area.
“Another rule of sandwich-making is having a liberal attitude to mayonnaise,” he says. “There should always be mayonnaise in a sandwich. It doesn’t make them mayonnaise-y, it adds succulence and moisture to a sandwich.”
Mixing other condiments such as mustard and ketchup or even vinegar into mayonnaise allows you to get a more even layer of sauce in your sandwich. If you hate mayonnaise or are vegan, you can use vegan mayonnaise, mascarpone or even yogurt as a substitute.
Spreading mayonnaise instead of butter on the outside of a sandwich you intend to toast or grill is also an excellent tip from Halley. As mayonnaise comprises egg and oil, and spreads more evenly, it will brown your toasted sandwich much better than butter.
Fat needs acidity
Last, but certainly not least, is to pair any fatty filling with something acidic. The importance of acidity in food has been highlighted by Samin Nosrat, author of ‘Salt Fat Acid Heat’.
In an episode of her Netflix travel show of the same name, she said: “Acid brightens food and creates contrast. Most importantly, acid does the absolutely necessary job of balancing flavours, which makes it indispensable to cooking delicious food.”
Adding things like pickles, sauerkraut, vinegar and other similar ingredients to a sandwich is always an excellent idea, and cuts through the oily mouthfeel you might get with richer ingredients.
Use up leftovers where possible
At the end of the day, you can really put anything you like in a sandwich. What’s important is that you do your level best to use what you already have and be inventive with it. How can you turn leftovers into last night’s dinner into a sandwich today? Is there a way to fit Sunday’s roast into Monday’s WFH sandwich?
Halley emphasises the sandwich’s vital role in using up leftovers and reducing food waste. Just about anything can go into a sandwich and people should be more conscious about how they can use tonight’s dinner to make tomorrow’s meals.
“It’s part of why we’re so wasteful with food as a culture. I understand that people don’t necessarily want to reheat the same meal from yesterday, so why not think about how to turn that curry into a sandwich?
“I would like to have the idea of cooking a delicious dinner tonight with the idea for a sandwich tomorrow. Why not fling rice in a sandwich? If you put two really soft things like curry and rice into a crusty bread, maybe toast it and melt some cheese on it, it’s absolutely delicious.”
Rice in a sandwich? That’s something this writer is going to have to try.