We have discussed heat already as one of the primary ways to improve any sandwich, but there is an art to applying heat correctly. First, there are some ingredients that can be exposed to high heat and others that should barely be heated at all to avoid wilting. A raw onion provides acid and a crunchy texture, but a cooked onion lends sweetness and smoke. Fresh, leafy greens often taste good in a sandwich but must be added after heating to avoid ruining their crispness.
Technique is also crucial for heating sandwiches. The best grilled cheese has its bread cooked on both sides. Certain meats can also benefit considerably from being fried directly and then added to a grilled sandwich, as opposed to receiving their warmth through the bread when cooked. Entire styles of sandwich such as the panini, the grilled cheese, and the melt are completely defined by the application of heat. The whole texture and flavor of a sandwich is transformed when it is heated, often from a simple stack of ingredients into a singular meal with a defined identity.
The whole exceeding the sum of its parts.
A sandwich is a structure, a collection of ingredients brought together for the purpose of creating an enjoyable and convenient meal. It is very important when creating a successful sandwich that the combined product is more pleasant than the separate ingredients. You can add Kobe Beef, Lobster Tail, and Caviar to a sandwich, but without properly balanced flavors, these luxurious proteins are wasted. This may result in a catastrophic sandwich failure, where the hungry diner is almost motivated to disassemble the sandwich and eat the parts separately.
On the other hand - the BLT (bacon, lettuce, and tomato) is an example of a recipe that outperforms the individual simplicity of its ingredients. The crispy bacon with salty and fatty notes, the juicy and acidic tomato, and the tender lettuce combine to make this iconic invention. This sandwich type is wildly popular, makes careful use of pairing flavors, and has a varied and pleasant texture. Alone, any of these ingredients might taste good, but together they form a sandwich that is downright delicious.
Sandwiches typically provide a number of specific purposes: convenience, flavor, and scalability. It will always be easier to eat a sandwich with your hands than sitting down for a traditional meal, complete with knife and fork. This is probably why so many successful fast food restaurant franchises have built their success around a sandwich-based menu. When considering flavor, sandwiches provide a simple platform where you include slices of different foods in a single dish. This allows for unusual and specific flavors to be created, and then re-created or innovated upon. Scalability is the secret to why sandwiches are so incredibly popular because it is just so easy to produce a lot of sandwiches using basic foods from your local grocery store.
Let’s circle back to the original goal of any sandwich – a tasty and convenient meal. If a sandwich is less flavorful than its core ingredients, or if it is transformed into something so inconvenient it simply isn’t worth your time to eat, it has failed as a sandwich. There is an unfortunate trend emerging in over-complicated recipes, often designed for video, to be visually appealing. As a food enthusiast, I would never tell someone that they shouldn’t try something they think they might like, my only goal is to caution you to remember a sense of purpose when planning your sandwiches.