In Pursuit of the Superior Sandwich

Quality bread, high-end fillings and a special sauce—these are the key components to crafting your own mouthwatering gourmet sandwich.

On one side of the sandwichsphere sit bologna and mayo, tuna salad on rye, turkey and Swiss and peanut butter and jelly—classic brown-bag sandwiches that function as hunger busters and grist for school kids and simple eaters on the go.

On the opposite side, call it “sandwich nirvana,” are chicken Francese with tomatoes and frisée, a smoked salmon and bacon club slathered in black pepper aioli and a Cambodian-inspired num pang housing marinated and grilled portobello mushrooms, sautéed leeks and chili yogurt.

Now ask yourself, which of these sandwiches would you prefer to eat? Or, better yet, which of these creations would you like to make and enjoy with the right wine? These questions are rhetorical; if you’re anything like us, the answers are obvious.

Named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich, an 18th-century English aristocrat who was reputed to have invented the practice of placing edibles and condiments between two slices of bread but who, in actuality, neither invented nor sustained that approach, the sandwich cemented its role in American society during the early 1900s, when bread became a food staple.

The 21st-century sandwich maker has countless derivations and options from which to choose. Today’s sandwiches emphasize freshness and flavor in the bread, quality base ingredients, roughage and, maybe most important of all, a special sauce—a mayonnaise or spread that sends the ordinary into another plane.

The truly superior sandwich needs to do two things that good-ol’ tuna on rye or PB&J can never do: It must transport and transcend.

It must transport you to a taste and textural place that you don’t frequently reach. Once you’re at that place, indulging in the heavenly blend of flavors, feel and temperatures, there’s not another food in the world you’d rather be eating—transcendence.

The following are three sandwiches that transport and transcend, with wine recommendations meant to accentuate the experience.

Grilled Portobello Num Pang with Beet Vinaigrette, Sautéed Leeks and Chili Yogurt

Recipe courtesy Ratha Chaupoly, chef/co-owner, Num Pang Sandwich Shop, New York City

Chaupoly’s num pang isn’t wholly Cambodian in origin, but it is delicious. The earthiness of the marinated mushroom caps combined with the subtle power of the leeks make this a complex yet satisfying sandwich for vegetarians.

1 whole red beet
3¾ teaspoons sugar, divided
¼ cup, plus 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2¼ teaspoons, plus ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, divided
½ teaspoon salt, divided, plus extra to taste
Fresh cilantro leaves to taste, plus fresh cilantro sprigs to taste
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1½ tablespoons soy sauce
1 large portobello mushroom cap, cleaned and halved
2 ounces Greek yogurt Sambal or Sriracha hot sauce, to taste
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 small leek, white stalk only, thinly sliced
1 small baguette, halved lengthwise and toasted
1 pickling cucumber, such as a diva or gherkin,sliced lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices

To prepare the beet vinaigrette
Preheat an oven to 350°F.

Place the beet on a sheet pan and roast in the oven until fork tender, about 50–60 minutes. Remove and let cool.

Once cool, cut the beet into pieces, place in a blender and begin to purée. Add ¼ teaspoon sugar, ¼ cup olive oil and 2¼ teaspoons apple cider vinegar. Pulse the ingredients to mix and season with salt and cilantro leaves, to taste. Add the garlic and soy sauce and continue to pulse the mixture until smooth.

Combine the beet vinaigrette and the portobello mushroom in a large glass bowl and allow the mushroom to marinate for 4 hours in the refrigerator.

To prepare the chili yogurt
In a small bowl, mix together the yogurt, sambal or Sriracha sauce and ¼ teaspoon of sugar until well incorporated.

To pickle the carrot
In a small bowl, mix together the ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, shredded carrot, 2¼ teaspoons sugar and ¼ teaspoon salt. Let mixture sit for at least 30 minutes.

To sauté the leeks
Heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil in a small sauté pan over a medium flame. Add the leeks, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar and cook until the leeks are tender, about 6–8 minutes.

To cook the portobellos
After the portobellos have marinated, preheat an oven to 400°F and set a grill to high. On the preheated grill, sear the mushroom cap on both sides to create grill marks, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer the grilled portobello to the preheated oven and roast until the mushroom is hot and cooked through, about 5–7 minutes.

To assemble the sandwich
Spread a desired amount of chili-infused yogurt sauce on the bottom half of the toasted baguette. Top with the slices of cucumber followed by several cilantro sprigs and the pickled, shredded carrot. Layer on the grilled portobello and leeks, and cover the sandwich with the top half of the baguette. Makes 1 sandwich.

Wine recommendations
Ratha Chaupoly, the former wine director at the now-closed Fleur de Sel in New York, says this earthy yet tangy sandwich goes great with David Bruce Sonoma County Pinot Noir or Penny’s Hill Shiraz from McLaren Vale in Australia.

Smoked Salmon Club with Black Pepper Aioli

Recipe courtesy Jamie Parry, chef/owner of Another Fork in the Road, Milan, New York

Chef/Owner Jamie Parry is a practioner of fullflavored cooking. This sandwich blends the oceanic richness of smoked salmon with salty crispness from high-end bacon, all offset by the creamy depth of homemade mayonnaise.

2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 egg yolks
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon water (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 slices quinoa or multigrain bread, sliced medium-thick, toasted
3 Spanish black radishes (can substitute watermelon radishes if in season), thinly sliced
1 Kirby cucumber, thinly sliced
1 medium heirloom tomato (canned, slow-roasted San Marzano tomatoes may be substituted), sliced
2 slices artisan bacon, such as Nueske’s or Niman Ranch, cooked in advance
3 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced
½ cup arugula

To prepare the aioli
On a cutting board, mash the garlic into a paste. In a small bowl, whisk together the garlic paste, egg yolks, lemon juice and mustard. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil—a few drops at a time—whisking constantly, until all of the oil is incorporated and the mixture is emulsified. It should be the consistency of mayonnaise. If the aioli becomes too thick, slowly whisk in the water until the desired consistency is reached. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble the sandwich
Spread the aioli on both slices of the toasted bread. Cover a slice of bread with the radishes and cucumber in a shingle-like pattern. Layer on the tomato, followed by the bacon and season with freshly cracked black pepper. Place the smoked salmon on top and pile on the arugula. Top the sandwich with the second slice of bread. Makes 1 sandwich.

Wine recommendations
Break out the bubbly with this salty and textural club sandwich. Ayala’s NV Brut Majeur and Nicolas Feuillatte’s NV Brut will both do the trick for about $40 a bottle.

Chicken Francese

Recipe courtesy Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, chefs/owners of Torrisi Italian Specialties and Parm, New York City

Chef/owners Carbone and Torrisi mined a long list of childhood favorites in coming up with this derivation of the classic Little Italy deli sandwich; theirs revolves around a deep-flavored gravy and zesty lemon for kick.

½ cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 (4-ounce) chicken breast
Salt and cracked black pepper, to taste
¼ cup canola oil
3 tablespoons chicken stock
1 tablespoon white wine
1 tablespoon butter
Chopped fresh parsley, to taste
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
(about ½ lemon)
1 (6-inch) seeded Italian hero roll
3 thin slices tomato
½ cup frisée, white leaves only
Sea salt, to taste (optional)

To prepare the chicken
Place the flour and beaten eggs in separate small bowls. Using a meat mallet, pound the chicken until it’s ¼-inch thick. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour, shake off any excess, and then dip the chicken in the egg. Repeat the dredging process.

In a small sauté pan, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Place the chicken in the pan and cook for 2–3 minutes per side until the chicken is golden brown and cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan and let it rest on a paper towel. Season with salt and cracked black pepper.

To prepare the sauce
Drain the remaining oil from the pan and add the chicken stock and white wine. Reduce the stock and wine by half, about 2–3 minutes. Stir in the butter, parsley and lemon juice, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

To assemble the sandwich
Return the chicken to the pan, and spoon the sauce over the chicken. Slice the hero in half lengthwise and lightly dunk both halves of the hero in the sauce, crust side facing up. On the bottom half of the hero, layer on the chicken, followed by the sliced tomato and frisée. Season with cracked black pepper and sea salt. Drizzle the sandwich with any remaining sauce and cover with the top half of the hero. Makes 1 sandwich.

Wine recommendations
Chianti Classico—fairly young, fresh and with cutting acidity—is the wine of choice for this sandwich straight out of New York’s Little Italy neighborhood. Both Fonterutoli (from the Mazzei family) and Castello di Bossi are good choices.

For another superior sandwich, try this creation by Chef John Korzekwinski:

Pork Schnitzel with Dijon-Caper Mayo, Lettuce and Cornichons with Cucumber Salad

Recipe courtesy John Korzekwinski, chef/owner, J. Betski’s, Raleigh, North Carolina

For the Dijon-caper mayonnaise:
¼ cup drained capers
1 cup canola oil, divided
2 large egg yolks
2¼ teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
¼ teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Salt, to taste

For the cucumber salad:
1 small cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise and seeded, then sliced into ½-inch-thick       
Juice from 1 lemon, divided
Salt, to taste
¼ teaspoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon minced shallot
¾ teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
2 teaspoons finely chopped dill
½ teaspoon sugar
White pepper, to taste
¼ cup sour cream

For the pork and sandwich fixings:
1 egg
¼ teaspoon water
¾ cup panko (regular bread crumbs may be substituted)
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 (4 ounce) pork cutlet, pounded with a meat mallet to a ¼-inch thickness
1 cup canola oil, for frying
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup mixed greens
2 cornichons or 1 small dill pickle, sliced
1 (6-inch) sandwich roll, preferably lightweight and white, halved and lightly toasted.

To prepare the Dijon-caper mayo:
Fry the capers in ¼ cup of hot canola oil (at about 300°F) until crisp, approximately 3 minutes. Drain and set aside on a paper towel.

Place the egg yolks and mustard in a food processor and blend on high speed for 1–2 minutes. With the blade still running on high, slowly add a small amount of the remaining ¾ cup of canola oil until the mixture begins to emulsify. Continue to add the oil until the mayonnaise is completely emulsified and has reached the desired thickness. Add the fresh lemon juice along with the drained fried capers and continue to process until the capers are lightly chopped and incorporated throughout the mayo. Season with salt to taste.

To prepare the cucumber salad:
In a medium bowl, toss the sliced cucumber with the juice from half a lemon and season with salt. Allow the cucumber slices to marinate for about 1 hour.

In a glass bowl, combine the vinegar and the juice from the remaining lemon half with the shallot, herbs and sugar. Season with salt and white pepper. Add the sour cream and mix thoroughly.

Drain the sliced cucumbers and add to the sour cream dressing, mixing until the cucumbers are completely coated.

To prepare the schnitzel:
In a medium bowl, prepare an egg wash by whisking the egg with the water. Meanwhile, grind the panko in a food processor until very fine, then place in a separate medium bowl. Place the flour in a third medium bowl.

To dredge the pork, dip the cutlet into the flour first, shaking off any excess, then into the egg wash, and finish by thoroughly coating the pork with the panko crumbs.

In a large sauté pan set over a medium-high flame, add the canola oil to the pan so that the oil almost covers the cutlet (you can also use a deep fryer set on 300°F to fry the cutlets). Add a small amount of butter to the oil and gently fry the cutlet, shaking the pan back and forth in a rhythmic motion so the oil gently flows over the top of the cutlet while cooking. After 3 minutes, flip the cutlets with tongs and continue to cook. The cutlet should be golden brown, with a crisp crust when finished. Remove the cutlet to a plate lined with a paper towel.

To assemble the sandwich:
On the sandwich roll, spread the Dijon-caper dressing on the underside of the top half of the roll. Place the cutlet on the bottom half of the roll and top with lettuce and slices of cornichon or dill pickle. Serve with the cucumber salad on the side. Makes 1 sandwich.

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