Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Sandwich, (Nearly) Perfected

This is part of the monthly #LetsLunch series, a Twitter-based festival of food based on a different them every month. This month's theme is eggs! For more great posts in the series, check out the hashtag #LetsLunch on Twitter, or Karen Morley's list here or Lucy Mercer's Pinterest compilation here.

Sandwiches are deeply personal things, and one’s taste in sandwiches reveals much about a person’s personality and character.  Thus, opinions about what constitutes an ideal sandwich will be as varied as humanity itself, and any debate on the subject is bound to grow long and heated: For one, what qualities make a perfect sandwich? For that matter, how exactly should the term be defined – do open-faced sandwiches count? Do wraps? And if wraps count, why not burritos, pasties, and other edible material enclosed in bready stuff?
My taste in sandwiches, which my husband, Glenn, shares, tends to run to the big, brash, and exuberant, which is puzzling since neither of us are big, brash, or exuberant by any stretch of the imagination. Being mature adults, we’ll eat crust-less tea sandwiches to be polite and boring gas-station industrial-turkey-on-industrial-sliced-bread things when we’re on the road and nothing else is available. But our favorites are hot, on substantial, crusty bread, and loaded generously with boldly flavored fillings: crusty, gooey Cubans, juicy hot French dips with lots of horseradish on the side, spicy, meat-and-vegetable filled Mexican tortas.
Because we have rather strong opinions about what the platonic ideal of a sandwich can be (these can vary slightly according to our mood), we can always think of ways to make a good sandwich even better.
“This is really good,” Glenn said at a local Cuban place one day, tucking into a garlicky roast-pork sandwich on a crusty pressed Cuban roll, “but it needs to be spicier.”
Of course, authentic Cuban food is not hot and spicy, and never has been – but he had a point worth considering.
At another Cuban place, we discovered another excellent sandwich, the prosaically named pan con bistec (“bread with steak”).  It was, as its name promised, a steak sandwich on that crusty Cuban bread crisped in a sandwich press – but what made it special was its additional toppings: tangy grilled onions and a generous strewing of crispy shoestring potatoes. The combination of contrasting flavors and textures was spectacular.
“You know what would make this even better?” Glenn said. “A fried egg on top!”
 “You think fried eggs make everything better,” I said.
“Well, they do!”
And after further reflection, I realized this wasn’t a half-bad idea.
Since it’s always constructive to act on good ideas, I devised a sandwich that incorporates everything we love –the crispy, pressed bread of a good Cuban, the flavorful grilled meat and spice of a Mexican torta, and those lovely, crunchy shoestring potatoes to add a refined look and textural interest. And, of course, the whole thing is topped with a fried egg. Because fried eggs really do make a lot of good things even better.
Like all my favorite sandwiches, it’s a shamelessly  messy thing to eat,   more suitable to being devoured in big sloppy bites with beer and friends than nibbled at over a business lunch. It’s built to make a statement: “Here I am in all my shameless glory, wouldn’t the world suck without my presence?” It’s big, brash, and exuberant, and unafraid of making a grand impression -- or thoroughly annoying the timid and squeamish.
Totally unlike quiet, boring, cautious old me. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I was so happy when I put this sandwich together: It’s not an exact reflection of my character – far from it: It’s a reflection of the person I’d love to be.


Serves 2

2 long French rolls or 6-inch lengths of Cuban bread, split
2 small steaks, such as breakfast steaks
2 eggs
Hot sauce (such as habanero or Tabasco) (optional)
½ cup shoestring potatoes (the snack variety found in the chip section)
For the marinade:
Juice of 1 lime
1 large clove of garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon red chile flakes (or more to taste)
For the sautéed onions:
¾ medium onion, sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, cut into slivers

1. Combine the marinade ingredients in a shallow, non-reactive pan and add the steaks in a single layer. Allow to marinate for about 30 minutes.

2. Remove the steaks from the marinade and pat dry when you’re ready to cook them. Reserve the remaining marinade.

3. Spoon off a couple of tablespoons of the oil from the marinade and heat in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the steaks and cook until lightly browned and both sides and cooked through.

4. Remove the steaks and set aside, covered. Add the onions and jalapenos to the pan and sauté until the onions are tender. Add a few spoonsful of the remaining marinade along with the steaks, and cook about two minutes more, until the steaks are heated through and the marinade is slightly reduced. Remove the pan from the heat.

5. Assemble the sandwiches:  Spread about a teaspoon of hot sauce on the inside surfaces of each roll or bread length, then divide the steak and the onion mixture evenly between the two sandwiches. (You may need to slice the steaks to get them to fit into the rolls.)

6. Cook the sandwiches in a sandwich press until warmed through and crisp on the outside.

7. When the sandwiches are nearly done, heat  1 tablespoon canola oil in a nonstick pan and fry the eggs to your taste.

8. Gently open the pressed sandwiches and top each with a fried egg and half the shoestring potatoes. Close the sandwiches and enjoy immediately with lots of napkins.


  1. Oh, yes now this is my kind of sandwich. You've get everything needed in there. Seriously my mouth is watering right now. Have a great weekend!

  2. Spicie Foodie -- If you dig spicy things, you'll love this! Thanks for coming by!

  3. Let's face it a sandwich is all proportion and balance. And, yes a sense of style and purpose. This sandwich has all those things, that's what makes it (you said first) perfect. GREG

  4. I like your take on the sandwich: "...big, brash, and exuberant...shamelessly messy" . Yes! No fussy little tea sandwiches, no way! This looks like a keeper and I can't wait to make it.

  5. Greg -- Wow, I never considered whether my sandwich has a purpose or not! But of course I'm delighted that you like it!

    Nancie-- Thanks for coming by! Always a pleasure to hear from a kindred spirit (sandwich-wise, at least).

  6. That is one gorgeous sandwich. I wasn't a sandwich girl until I met my husband. Now I just love them. Sunday night dinner is usually a sandwich and soup. I cannot wait to make this for hubby. He's going to love it !!!

  7. Wow! Shades of Primanti Bros. in there! I love a sandwich that goes right on over the top, deliciously.

  8. Asmita -- Your husband is right - a good sandwich makes a great Sunday night dinner!

    Joe -- Over-the-top is definitely the way to go where sandwiches are concerned!