Say It With a Sandwich

Slap anything between two slabs of bread and you can call it a sandwich, but to call it a meal means something more. It can be as slight as a slice of sun-warmed tomato or as opulent as a fillet steak sauced with bordelaise. What's essential is that the improvement attract a diner's attention, as the main difference between a sandwich that is just a sandwich and one that's dinner is pure perception.

Sandwiches have always been the quintessential one-dish meal. Portable, hand-held and totally edible, a sandwich includes all the nutrition of a hearty soup or stew, but unlike these long-simmered entrees, most sandwiches can be assembled in minutes and don't require the stove.

Ironically, it is the sandwich's innate convenience and hand-held size that had relegated it to the realm of lunch or snack time. A generation ago, dinner wasn't dinner if it didn't overhang the plate and got to the table too effortlessly. Now that speed, ease and manageable portions have become principal factors in judging the usability of a recipe, entree sandwiches make infinitely practical sense.

So, it's 6 p.m., and you haven't a clue about what to eat. How about a tortilla stacked with tuna, avocado, melted cheese and salsa? Stuff a pita with chicken and chickpeas, or fill a French bread with mozzarella, olives, basil and slices of tomato. Stack up some black bread with smoked turkey, grilled mushrooms, and slivers of roasted peppers, or serve a chili-rubbed salmon fillet on freshly baked sour dough with tomato-laced tartar sauce and endive, cabbage or romaine.

Although the look and construction of entree sandwiches leans towards the elaborate, the standard sandwich-making rules still apply. The bread should never dominate. In essence, it is little more than a casing for the filling, making the sandwich easy to hold and ingest. Yet the bread can also give a sandwich textural interest.

Chewier breads are used for meat sandwiches, rye for roast beef and pastrami, hard rolls for submarines and steak sandwiches. When three slices of bread are used, as in a club or tea sandwich, they should be thin, and are commonly toasted to prevent sogginess. When sandwiches are served hot and with a sauce, the bread must be sturdy and flexible — rye or rolls are common choices.

Rolls demand more fillings because of their thickness, and a buttery one — like a croissant — should only be served warm with a warm filling. Often, large rolls, like those used for hoagies, must be trimmed of some of its interior to make room for the filling.

Care must be taken to make the filling moist, yet not overly wet. To this effect, pungent sauces and rich condiments can be used. Mustard, horseradish, creamy vinaigrettes, herbed and spiced mayonnaises, and yogurt-based sauces are some lower-calorie alternatives.

Vegetables further provide savory flavor and moisture for sandwiches. Of course, there's the ubiquitous tomato, the mandatory leaf of iceberg and the sloppy crunch of cole slaw, but there's also the peppery bite of watercress, the exotic touch of marinated artichoke or a garlic-laced eggplant purée. Cucumbers marinated in vinaigrette, peppers preserved in oil or an onion salad can add spark to almost any meat sandwich, and a relish of pickled vegetables is great with grilled cheese or broiled meat.

There is an old construction trick that adds flavor to a sandwich, while reducing its cost.

Space is created by loosely folding flat ingredients — like slices of meat or cheese (not used together, of course) — and overlapping them with vegetables such as tomato slices and lettuce leaves, then fluffing in shredded or finely chopped condiments. This creates tiny pockets of air in the sandwich, thus increasing its flavor. It also gives the sandwich greater volume with less ingredients, which cuts the cost.

The following sandwiches are all elaborate enough to serve to guests, but also casual enough for a backyard picnic (and even good as a brown-bag leftover for work the next day).

Fried Salmon Fillet and Rosemary Tartar Sauce

11/3 lbs. of salmon fillets, boned and skinned
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 cup corn meal
1/4 cup flour
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 scallions, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
salt and pepper to taste
oil for frying
4-8 slices sourdough bread
2 cups shredded lettuce
4 slices tomato

Slice the salmon across its grain into four equal pieces.

Mix 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise with the salt, cayenne and garlic powder in a shallow bowl.

Mix the corn meal with the flour on a large plate.

Coat the salmon pieces with the mayonnaise mixture, then into the corn-meal mixture. Set on a rack to rest for 10 minutes.

While the salmon is drying, prepare the sauce, by mixing the remaining mayonnaise with the lemon juice, scallions, rosemary, and salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 3/4-inch of oil in a deep skillet to 375° or until a wooden spoon plunged into the hot fat causes it to bubble. Fry the salmon in the hot oil until golden-brown, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towel.

To Assemble: Place some of the sauce on a slice of bread. Top with shredded lettuce and a slice of tomato. Place fish on top, then some more sauce. Top with another piece of bread, or eat open-faced with a knife and fork.

Makes 4 sandwiches.


Lamb With Marinated Artichoke and Cucumber


6 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
7 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, minced
5 Tbsps. lemon juice
salt and pepper too taste
11/2 lb. boneless leg of lamb
1 jar (6 oz.) marinated artichoke hearts
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced
2 Tbsps. finely chopped mint leaves
6 torpedo rolls, split, top-half hollowed out

In a small heavy saucepan, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil and 6 cloves of the garlic for 1 minute, until garlic begins to sizzle.

Add the rosemary leaves, and cook another minute. Remove from heat.

Add all but 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice, and season to taste with salt and pepper; cool.

Slice lamb into 1/2-inch slices, and trim off as much gristle and fat as possible. Don't worry if the slices fall apart into pieces.

Toss lamb in the oil-and-garlic mixture, and marinate in a glass or ceramic container for at least 1 hour (longer, if possible).

To make the sauce, chop the artichoke hearts coarsely.

Combine in a bowl with the marinade in which the artichoke hearts were packaged, the last clove of garlic, the cucumber, salt and pepper, mint leaves, remaining olive oil, and remaining lemon juice. Mix to blend; set aside.

Preheat a broiler or a grill, and broil the lamb over high heat until browned on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium rare. While the lamb is grilling, warm the rolls on the grill.

Spoon some sauce on to the bottom of a roll. Arrange some of the lamb on top. Spoon on more sauce; cover with top of roll.

Makes 6 servings.


Smoked Mozzarella, Olives and Red-Pepper Grinder


1 cup halved and pitted oil-cured black olives
8-10 oz. smoked mozzarella, cut in large dice
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 roasted red pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
1/4 tsp. crushed red-pepper flakes
1/2 cup red-wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
4 Italian rolls, split

In a mixing bowl, combine the olives, cheese, onion, garlic, and red-pepper and pepper flakes.

Dress with a mixture of the vinegar, olive oil and salt. Toss well with the basil. Cover and refrigerate for as long as possible, at least 20 minutes.

Brush the interior of the rolls with some of the marinade and fill the split rolls with the salad.

Place side by side in a baking dish and bake in a preheated 400° oven for 15 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.


Tuna-Chickpea Salad


2 cans (6 oz. each) tuna, preferably in oil, drained and crumbled
1 cup canned drained and rinsed chickpeas
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. hot-pepper sauce
1 cup yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
4 pitas
1 cup shredded lettuce

In a mixing bowl, toss together the tuna, chickpeas, coriander and cumin with the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, hot-pepper sauce, yogurt, salt and pepper until everything is well blended.

Warm the pitas for 3 to 5 minutes in a 350° oven.

Cut one end off each pita to form a pocket. Fill with the salad; top each with shredded lettuce.

Makes 4 servings.



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