The Prose and Condiments of the American Sandwich
Sandwiches are in right now, and sandwich buzz abounds. One might say that my research simply has me more tuned in to all happenings on sliced bread than the average person, but I think it’s something more. We’re in the midst of a sandwich Renaissance, and my timing is just that good. Still, I would direct anyone who doubts this resurgence in sandwich mania to daytime television, where our nation’s eminent talk show hosts are ringing in the new year of the sandwich with unequaled fervor and elegance.
On Tuesday, March 24th, The Martha Stewart Show aired an all-sandwich episode as part of Martha’s “Pack Your Own Lunch Week.” “The Sandwich Show” kicked off with Martha demonstrating how to make her own favorite sandwich, a ham and cheese baguette–“the very best boiled ham,” Jarlsberg cheese (“not Swiss cheese, but Jarlsberg”), and unsalted butter. A relatively plain sandwich, but oh-so-elegant in that unmistakably Martha Stewart way. The show went on to feature three prominent New York City sandwich crafters, who showcased everything from a Muffaletta, to a bagel sandwich, to a ground beef Banh Mi called a “Sloppy Bao.”
“Pack Your Own Lunch Week” was part of an ongoing trend of consumers going back to basics, finding simple everyday ways to cut costs in these difficult financial times. The sandwiches featured on The Martha Stewart Show were meant to inspire viewers at home to create their own homemade lunches. However, Martha’s chosen sandwiches seemed to require a fairly high level of preparation and a wide range of necessary equipment (sandwich presses, food processors, a good serrated Wusthof knife). Also, the necessity for really fine French boiled ham seems to undermine the ultimate goal of cutting costs, but the sandwiches did look pretty great.
That same week, on Friday the 27th, Ellen DeGeneres hosted celebrity chef and Food Network personality Bobby Flay on her daytime talk show. Lacking the elegance of Martha’s boiled ham and Jarlsberg, this show featured Bobby Flay running onstage to Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” to perform shameless plugs for Hellmann’s Mayonnaise.
Also drawing on the trend of eating in and cutting costs, Flay announced that he has teamed up with Hellmann’s to teach Americans how to build a better sandwich, in this case a grilled eggplant sandwich with diced tomatoes and basil mayo. At buildtheperfectsandwich.com, Flay appears in numerous short videos about preparing nutritious and satisfying sandwiches held together with various applications of Hellmann’s jarred mayo. The site includes a collection of sandwich recipes and the Sandwich Recommender, a sandwich personality test which can tell you what your ideal sandwich is. My test results typically point to anything with eggplant, tomatoes, or mushrooms on it.
Deli owner Richard Hellmann developed the formula we know and love as Hellmann’s jarred mayonnaise in 1903, though he did not market it until 1912. The Hellmann’s name and know-how were later acquired by Best Foods, Inc. of California. Now owned by CPC International, the mayo is sold under “Hellmann’s” east of the Rocky Mountains, but is known under the “Best Foods” label west of the landmark mountain range. According to the third edition of John F. Mariani’s Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (1999), Hellmann’s and Best Foods account for approximately 43 percent of all the jarred mayo sold in the U.S. For further information on all things mayonnaise, I recommend the website for the Association for Dressings and Sauces, including their “Treatise on Mayonnaise.” Click here.
To achieve sandwich perfection with Bobby Flay, click here.
And as always, stay tuned for all things sandwiches. Until then, enjoy some television magic from Ellen DeGeneres and Bobby Flay.