A hero among sandwiches ... the pork belly sandwich from Earl Canteen. Photo: Eddie Jim
When did sandwiches get to be $10 plus? Or perhaps the real question should be — when did sandwiches divide themselves up into social classes?
Laugh if you will, but I have strong and fond memories of a very humble tomato and cheese white-bread sandwich with a smear of very commercial mayonnaise, made to order, and for which I paid about $3 at a corner store/milk bar down the road from an old Bris-Vegas workplace years ago. A proud and honest working-class sandwich. And what about the staunch salad roll: wholemeal or white, grated cheese and carrot, beetroot and lettuce, tomato, perhaps some ham or chicken. Does anyone still make one? Did we lose something intrinsically Australian when we discovered baguettes and focaccias, panini and wraps and turned sandwiches into status symbols?
Could there be starker evidence of the sandwich social divide than the situation in our work canteen, operated by George Gregan’s catering company, GG Espresso? One cold cabinet with five buck “Grab and Go” packs: ham, cheese and tomato; chicken, lettuce and mayonnaise; egg and lettuce. And then, looking down their haughty noses at their bread-and-butter brethren, the sandwiches on Sonoma bread in a separate swish cabinet: smoked turkey, lemon-pepper chicken, pastrami on light rye. All around the $8 mark. The “organic wholemeal healthy salad” wrap at $10.
But really, with all due respect to Mr Gregan, his sandwiches are not in the upper echelons of sandwich society. The nobility of sandwiches are found elsewhere; at places such as Earl Canteen in Bourke Street, Melbourne, where the big seller is crisp skin free-range pork belly with apple, cabbage & fennel coleslaw and wilted silverbeet (“we make sandwiches, just not as you know it”), and Neil Perry’s Spice Temple (“the guangxi pork sandwich at Spice Temple is simply incredible,” chef Dan Hong tells me on Twitter. No comment needs to be made about the recurring ingredient here…)
So highbrow have sandwiches become that they’ve made it on to restaurant menus across the land. Matt Wilkinson has made a special feature of them at Pope Joan in Melbourne’s East Brunswick. Think “the Cuban” (pulled pork, pickles n cheese), “the Cornish” (Milawa chook, stuffing, jalapeno) and a vitello tonnato number (tuna, veal, peppers and capers). “World-title-winning”, says regular correspondent @onetui of Wilkinson’s sandwich work.
And Twitter comes alive when you mention the word. Among the enthusiastic responses:
“Greek lamb with salad at Big Bite on Pitt - biggest, yummiest sandwich ever! It's enough for two meals. Go Con & Maria!” (@VanityFare1)
Still, I’ll cope. I’ll find a little milk-bar somewhere with a little old lady making working-class cheese and tomato sandwiches on white bread. And it won’t cost me $10.
My Chicken Sandwiches
For a slightly posh picnic addition these chicken sandwiches are brilliant, herby delights.
4 skinless, preferably organic, chicken breasts
2 large onions
2 sticks celery
2 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 ½ teaspoons white peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoons allspice berries
160ml good mayonnaise (S&M or Best’s – more if necessary)
½ cup chervil, lightly chopped
½ cup parsley, chopped
½ cup chives, chopped
a few leaves of basil, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 loaf of white bread or white sourdough
To poach the chicken: Put the chicken and aromatics in a large saucepan with enough water to cover. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently for 7 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave for about 25 minutes in the hot stock to complete the cooking. (I've stolen this brilliant poaching technique from a recipe for Upside-Down Chicken and Eggplant Pilaf in Greg and Lucy Malouf's Saha, Hardie Grant, 2005)
To make the sandwiches: Remove the chicken from poaching liquid and lightly chop. Combine with mayonnaise, chopped herbs and salt and pepper.
Remove crusts from bread by using bread knife to saw off each of six sides. Slice and butter fairly thinly. Spread chicken mixture on slices to form sandwiches.
Slice sandwiches in desired shapes (triangles, fingers, squares or something fat, satisfying and rustic) and serve sprinkled with finely chopped chives.
Follow Stephanie Wood on Twitter: @StephanieAWood1
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