Why are seasonal sandwiches so rubbish? Last year, on a whim, I did a mad dash around Holborn collecting all the Christmas sandwiches from the major high street chains for a seasonal sandwich show down and it was just so depressing, I didn’t bother to repeat the experience this year. It got me thinking though, what exactly is it that’s so bad about most of them?
The main problem is the fact that they are generally stuffed with as many different elements of the Christmas dinner as possible. Why? The overall effect is a sandwich with a horrible generic taste that is unique to the time of year but not very pleasant. This is a sharp contrast to the sandwich made from your ACTUAL leftover Christmas dinner which is always truly bloody lovely, the reason being that it is made from nice ingredients that have been recently and properly cooked, which brings me nicely to my next point…
The ingredients in pre-prepped Christmas sandwiches are generally a bit gross. Who really eats turkey that often? More to the point though, who eats cheaply produced turkey that smells like farts and squeaks against your teeth? Who eats bacon that has been infused with a fake smoke flavour instead of actually smoked? Who eats sickly lurid red cranberry sauce that looks like it should be used to get really ingrained dirt off builders’ hands? PEOPLE WHO EAT CHRISTMAS SANDWICHES.
So anyway I thought I should have a bash at making a seasonal sandwich that actually tastes nice. It’s on sour dough, because there’s a lot of filling, and it needs to have some good sturdy scaffolding around the outside. Next, a layer of shredded sprouts, which I fried a little to get some colour on them, followed by a layer of proper, treacle cured, smoked bacon. I would have preferred streaky but smoked back I had so smoked back I used. The bacon is chopped before going into the sandwich, so it doesn’t come out in one long annoying strip when you try to eat it. Some good sharp cheddar next (I used Keen’s) followed by a layer of caramelised onions, which, despite being a bit 2001, bring much needed sweetness to the sandwich. A slick of wholegrain mustard and then, on the side, a pot of gravy (more of a stock really), made with partridge carcasses.
So it’s essentially a sort of festive toasted cheese sandwich French dip. Further proof that the toasted cheese is a sandwich which fits seamlessly into pretty much any situation.
Christmas Toasted Cheese Sandwich with Partridge Gravy
(this served 2. I know, I’ve changed)
2 slices sourdough bread
Several thick slices good quality cheddar cheese
1 onion, cut in half and sliced
A handful sprouts, finely sliced
3 slices back or 4 slices streaky smoked bacon (again, good quality)
Butter, for frying
For the gravy (you could of course use other bones or stock)
4 partridge carcasses
1 onion, halved
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
2 sticks celery, roughly chopped
A handful parsley stalks
A few peppercorns
To make the gravy, roast the carcasses and vegetables in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. Add to a stock pot with the other ingredients and cover with water. Simmer for a couple of hours. Skim off any scum from the surface. Strain and reduce a little further if desired.
For the sandwich, first caramelise in the onions very slowly, in butter. Stir them often but keep on the lowest heat. They will take about an hour. A splash of booze wouldn’t go amiss here come to think of it. Don’t forget to season them. In a frying pan, fry the sliced sprouts in a little oil over a fairly high heat, stirring all the time, until beginning to colour. When ready to assemble the sandwich, grill the bacon until the fat is crisp. On one piece of bread, add a layer of onions. Roughy chop the bacon and add it on top. Follow with a layer of the cheese, and then the sprouts. Cover the other piece of bread with mustard and put it on top.
In a heavy based frying pan or skillet, melt a generous amount of butter and add the sandwich. You don’t want the heat too high or it will burn but it should be sizzling. Take a heavy object (I used a Le Creuset pan and plonk it on top to weigh it down). After a couple of minutes (keep an eye on it), flip it over to toast the other side.