Sandwich – to insert something tightly between two other things of differing character or quality, including space and time or a filling such as meat and cheese between two slices of bread, a term in reference to the Earl of Sandwich, who was not even really from Sandwich – the town in England and not the city in Illinois – but who was thought to have requested such a creation late one night in 1762 so as to eat with only one hand in order to avoid interrupting his card game.
Stacked, stuffed, grilled, wrapped, rolled, open-faced, dipped, fried, and baked, the sandwich is a truly flexible food. From its humble, well really somewhat controversial beginnings, the sandwich has evolved into so much more than meat between bread, or then again, has it? With culinary roots in just about every cuisine the sandwich has been left up to interpretation on a global scale. The burrito is a sandwich made with a tortilla, just different bread wrapped around the filling instead of bookending it. There is the pita of Middle Eastern cuisine, bread with a uniquely advantageous design enabling you to stuff the filling into a pocket. Even the hamburger, an evolution of a German recipe for “Hamburg Style Steak” brought to the US by immigrants in the early 19th century, is considered a sandwich containing meat that was ground before it was shaped and cooked, the bread becoming two shapely buns to enclose the patty.
The simple sandwich has actually put some locations on the map - think Philly Cheese Steaks, Oyster Po’ Boys, and Muffulettas. Dyan Solomon, sandwich chef extraordinare of Olive et Gourmando in Montreal, says when asked about her ultimate sandwich experience “I think Jamaican Jerk.” The jerk sandwiches were served on coconut bread (talk about using local ingredients) and tasted of the islands. “I brought home mounds of jerk sauce and even got the recipe for the coconut bread, but no matter what I tried I just couldn’t duplicate the taste here,” Chef Dyan comments with an almost defeatist tone. “Technically, there wasn’t anything different except maybe the air, the water, and the smiling lady with the colorful head scarf who was making and serving them. The ultimate sandwiches are those that personify the places where you eat them.” Apparently you can take the recipe out of the city but never duplicate the taste of the sandwich.
Today, recognized for its versatility and relentless popularity, the sandwich is experiencing some upscale treatment as locally sourced, quality ingredients are being laid to rest on fresh home-baked bread. The gourmet sandwich is like composing and creating a dish in a high-end restaurant. Individually you are taking the best of an ingredient that can successfully stand on its own and pairing it with a complement of other ingredients at their finest. You need to determine what flavors, tastes, and textures will work together to achieve balance. Most often one or two of the ingredients needs some form of pre-preparation cooking process, like duck confit or slow roasting for pulled pork, before it is sandwiched. “For a long time, sandwiches were being ignored by good cooks because there was not enough prestige in working with sandwiches,” remarks Chef Dyan. Chef Dyan and partner, Eric Girard, also a chef, spent time behind the stoves at Montreal’s most renowned restaurant Toque! before forging into gourmet sandwiches. “We determined that what we eat at home is actually what we liked to make, so we took something simple and added a gourmet feel to it. There didn’t seem to be enough love put into what we eat everyday, not like you would find in the European Bistros wherethey put so much passion into the simple meals they create and the results are amazing.”
“I want someone to eat a sandwich and go, wow! Is this for real?” And they usually do. With Hot panini style sandwiches like the Cubain made with ham, braised pork, homemade mayonnaise (containing chipotle peppers, pickles, lime and coriander) and gruyere cheese or the Smoked Trout sandwich (cold) where, upon their famous homemade grilled bread, is hot smoked trout with capers, sundried tomatoes, spinach, and herb creamed cheese. The bread is actually made on the BBQ every morning at 4:00am for the day’s offerings. Using a unique recipe, raw dough that has fermented for 24 hours is spread flat, rubbed with olive oil, and grilled on the BBQ resulting in something that closely resembles naan bread.
Could the most important component of a sandwich be the bread? “You can take an amazing slice of cheese or meat, like Serrano ham, and if you put it between two slices of Wonder you end up with a gummy, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth experience. The whole taste is just dulled no matter how good the meat and cheese is you haven’t enhanced the tastes and the flavors,” Chef Dyan professes. “But if you take an amazing baguette, with texture and crispness, and you put a standard piece of ham in it with a bit of mayo and mustard, you will still have a good sandwich – it’s the bread.”
The sandwiches at Olive et Gourmando (O+G) are inspired by a variety of ethnic cuisines. “Once you identify the culture you want to represent, you have given yourself a place to start, a direction in which to take the sandwich based on the influences of that cuisine.” “Because I’m Jewish, I try to create one or two sandwiches that are inspired by my background – the Smoked Trout is a take on the bagel and lox – and we also seem to be inspired a lot by Italian ingredients.” Like any upscale restaurant, seasonal ingredients play a big part in determining what to include in everything from the sandwiches, to the soups, and salads. “When things come around, we wouldn’t dream of not having them in everything. To the extent that it is reasonable, of course,” she adds. “You’ll see it in everything from the baked goods to the sandwiches, soups, and salads. During asparagus season we have an asparagus panini and when it is blueberry season we make a wonderful salad of quinoa that has blueberries and dried fruits in it.” The key to including an ingredient Chef Dyan explains is that it must be portable, as most of the sandwiches at O+G are ordered to go. “A cherry tomato might look great on a plate but if you put it in a sandwich it will just burst all over when bitten into.”
If you are looking for inspiration to make a gourmet sandwich, start with the Smoked Trout recipe from O+G below. Chef Dyan also admits that pairing ingredients and bread takes a bit of culinary knowledge - this is where chefs have an edge since instinctively they know what works together. If you are working with ingredients that have dominant flavors use a neutral bread like a baguette or ciabatta, or try using a flavored bread, one with black olives and herbs or sundried tomatoes and pair it with a more sedate filling of say goat’s cheese and tomato so the flavors balance rather than compete. Once you have a base, you can build from there, adding an ingredient or two to the filling and when you stick in something that doesn’t work, you’ll be the first to know.
There is clearly much time, effort, thought, and care that goes into composing these sandwiches. Unfortunately, with its portable, almost fast food reputation, there is a perceived value that some customers find hard to overcome. Take one bite, however, of a gourmet creation and you can instantly detect quality ingredients at work and as you relish delightfully in the taste you realize, a sandwich will not be just a sandwich anymore.
Olive et Gourmando’s Smoked Trout Sandwich
You can buy the grilled bread, along with several other delicious loaves (the sourdough and chocolate are amazing) at O+G, but if you do not have the grilled bread available, try using pumpernickel, a bagel, or a baguette.
Smoked trout (hot smoked only. Ask your fishmonger if the trout has been smoked using a hot smoking technique). Remove skin and flake the fish into a bowl. Add capers, slivered sundried tomatoes (those packed in olive oil), diced red onion, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and lots of fresh cracked pepper (but do not add salt since the ingredients themselves are salty enough). Take some good quality cream cheese and add some chopped dill, chopped chives, and fresh cracked pepper. Spread the cream cheese on your bread of choice, then the fish filling, and top with fresh leaves of baby spinach.
You will always find 3 hot panini and 3 cold sandwich offerings on the O+G menu and of the 6 one or two are changed up to reflect the seasons. The soup, salad, and focaccia change daily, and the plate of the day changes about once a month.
Olive et Gourmando
351 St-Paul West
Old Montreal, QC
Sandwiches are not just for lunch anymore. Try these great breakfast/brunch ideas:
French toast sandwiches