So where did this portable finger food that’s now known worldwide as the most popular lunch item originate? The sandwich has a relatively recent history, at least as far as food is concerned.
Before the name took hold, meats hung from the rafters in taverns and were cut in thin slices that were placed on slices of bread that were smeared with butter. Yet this 17th century bar food never really seems to have conjured a name.
The sandwich was named after John Montague, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, during the 18th century. The earl was a statesman who loved to play cribbage. He ordered his valet to bring him sliced meat tucked between two slices of bread, which allowed him to eat while he continued to play his game without having to use a fork or getting grease on his bare hands. Soon after, people began to order “the same as sandwich,” and a lunchtime classic was born.
Slowly, sandwiches began to appear at polite socials as late-night meals among aristocrats. During the 19th century, the sandwich was perceived as a food that men ate while gaming and drinking. Its recognition increased dramatically in Spain and England as the emerging industrial society demanded the working class got fast, portable and inexpensive meals.
By the early 20th century, when bread became a staple in people’s diets, the sandwich became a popular, quick meal that was already widespread in the Mediterranean.
There are basically two types of sandwiches: savory, usually comprised of meats and cheeses, or sweet, like the trusty peanut butter and jelly. Sandwiches can be hot or cold. The sandwich’s fame as a lunch food is evidenced by the fact that it can be made quickly and packed to be taken almost anywhere.
Here are some of the most popular sandwiches across the U.S.:
• The Dagwood was named for Dagwood Bumstead, the hungry husband in the “Blondie” comic strip. It usually features heaps of cold cuts and cheeses stuffed into a hearty roll.
• The French dip features thinly sliced roast beef on a long baguette served with hot au jus.
• The hamburger, you know, is a ground beef patty usually served with vegetables and sometimes sauces on a round bun. Cheese, bacon and then all manner of condiments can be added.
• The Monte Cristo is sliced ham and either Gruyere or Emmentaler (or Emmental) cheese between slices of toast that’s battered and fried, then sprinkled with powdered sugar.
• The muffuletta originated in the Italian American community of New Orleans. It’s made with meats and cheese and olive salad and served on a round bun.
• Pastrami on rye is a classic sandwich made famous in kosher Jewish delicatessens of New York City.
• Peanut butter and jelly is a childhood standby that many adults still adore. These can be served with fresh fruit rather than jams or jellies. An elegant version is made using thick slices of French bread, almond or hazelnut butter and high-quality French or English jams topped with thick-sliced fresh fruit such as apples, pears, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries or cranberries.
• The Philly cheesesteak is thin-sliced beef – usually with onions and sometimes bell peppers – and melted cheese served on a long roll.
• The po’ boy is another classic. It’s made with a crusty long roll that’s split and filled with cold cuts, roast beef or fried seafood (especially for the New Orleans version).
• The Reuben is corned beef, sauerkraut and Swiss cheese topped with Russian or Thousand Island dressing served on grilled rye bread.
• The sloppy Joe is ground beef cooked with seasoned tomato sauce and served on a round bun.
• The BLT is named for its ingredients – bacon, lettuce and tomato – that are usually served on toasted bread with mayonnaise.
• The club or clubhouse is a triple-decker sandwich comprised of sliced turkey or chicken, bacon, lettuce and tomato. In restaurants, it’s often quartered diagonally and skewered with toothpicks to hold the goodies together.
• The grilled cheese is made with one or more varieties of cheese that are grilled between two slices of bread.
Here are two of my favorite sandwiches:
Monterey Memory Sandwich
2 slices multigrain or 100 percent whole-wheat bread
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 slices Havarti cheese
¼ pound thinly sliced mortadella (Italian “bologna” made with whole black peppercorns and pistachio nuts)
Spread the bread with the mayonnaise. Place the cheese on each slice of bread. Roll the mortadella and lay it on one side of the bread and top with the sprouts. Place the other slice of cheesed bread on top.
Turkey and Pesto Panini
2 slices sourdough bread
2 tablespoons pesto
¼ pound sliced smoked turkey
½ a roasted red pepper
1 slice Fontina cheese
Spread the pesto on both slices of bread. Place the turkey on one side and the cheese on the other. Lay the roasted red pepper on top of the turkey and top with the cheese bread slice. Grill in a panini maker to desired doneness.