I ate an exciting sandwich today, really: blackened tilapia (I know, whitefish...but it was blackened) on a pretzel roll with some funky Cajun mayo, lettuce, onion, and tomato. It was excellent in theory, but it left me wanting something more cohesive. You can't just put a bunch of stuff that tastes good together on some bread and call it a sandwich. It's an art.
The problems I had with the sandwich I ate today are these:
- The lettuce made the fish go all slippy-slidey on the bun, which just isn't fair. If you're feeding me fish on bread with bonus stuff, I want it all in one bite.
- The fish was too big for the bread. This is the whole reason they invented the fish po-boy: filling should span the breadth of the bread, not spill out all over the sides. Also annoying is when peanut butter and other spreads don't make it to the corners of your sandwich. I didn't ask for bread; I want a sandwich. With stuff. On the bread. All of the bread.
- Picture a medium white onion. Peel it. Cut a generous quarter-inch cross-section from the center of the onion. Slap it on the fish. Eat it. Yeah, see, I didn't want to either. If you're going to put raw onion on a sandwich, go easy. No one wants to cry his way through lunch.
- The biggest problem I had with it is that it wasn't really a cohesive unit. There was no reason that fish had to go on pretzel bread, no reason it should have, even. You match your fillings and breads so that pairings complement each other. The fish has a nice little crisp on the outside? Great, give it a little crunch from some nice French bread. You want the lettuce to actually add something to the sandwich? Super. Make it serve a function other than a tilapia blankie. Grilled sandwiches do a nice job with unity. Some extra heat and smushing makes all the ingredients get to know each other a little better. Cheese makes 'em stick. Tomato is your little juicy oasis in the land of crisptastic bread.
Side notes about sandwiches:
- Ruth Reichl (former editor-in-chief of Gourmet, former New York Times food critic) is a strong proponent of putting slimy things (e.g. mayo) on the meat, not the bread. She thinks that if you're going to throw in the fat content, you might as well be able to enjoy its texture instead of having it all absorbed into the bread.
- Alton Brown follows the rule that squishable spreads go on squishable breads. You don't put roasted pork on fluffy sliced bread, and you don't put peanut butter and jelly on ciabatta. You just don't do it.
- Toasting is always a good idea.