Celeste

Contributor

What’s in a sandwich? Some would argue that as long as its intrinsic qualities speak for themselves (or basically if the taste is good), it doesn’t matter. Do you agree? I certainly do, but as someone who’s had their fair share of (good and bad) sandwiches in life, I’d say texture and, most importantly, structure are just as essential.

What’s your all-time favorite sandwich? Let us know in the comments!

But, what is a sandwich?

“Two or more slices of bread with a filling such as meat or cheese placed between them”; “a partly split long or round roll containing a filling”; “one slice of bread covered with a filling.” It’s easy to name a simple grilled cheese, BLT, or club sandwich, but where do you cross the line? For example, is a burger a sandwich? What about a hot dog? If “a partly split long or round roll containing a filling” is one of the definitions of a sandwich, it seems like hot dogs and burgers are indeed sandwiches too! But, since they always get all the attention, this article is going to focus on the so-called “other” types of sandwiches.

What about an open-faced sandwich, or “one slice of bread covered with a filling”? Open-faced sandwiches (aka open-face or open sandwiches) are simply loaded toasts. It’s best to go for sturdy, crusty sourdough or multigrain bread as it needs to hold your open sandwich together. Start with your spread of choice and then move on to the add-ins. If the first thing you add, after a spread, is a salty or briny protein, try to balance that flavor with something crunchy, fresh, and slightly acidic on top. The further from the bread you go, the less you should add.

What makes a sandwich a good sandwich?

Grub Street, New York Magazine’s Food and Restaurant blog, has recently reported a “A BLT So Delicious It Doesn’t Need Bacon.” BLT stands for Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato. As you can imagine, if the bacon is being left out, there must be something really special about the other 2 ingredients. Even as a lifelong vegetarian, I have to admit that a lettuce-tomato sandwich sounds a bit lifeless, but here are the twists of the NYC cafè Daily Provisions’ creation: ciabatta bread replaces toasted white, baby watercress replaces iceberg lettuce, and peeled and marinated beefsteak tomatoes become the protagonists. To finish it off, a lemon-basil aioli comes in. In this case, omitting the “hero” of the dish turns into an opportunity to tend to the other ingredients and make them more special.

So, what makes a sandwich a good sandwich? Easy: A combination of fresh and well seasoned ingredients and thoughtful planning and execution when it comes to structure! To master the art of sandwich making, your ultimate goals should be to maximize flavor, manage sogginess, maintain structural wholeness, and make it filling enough so that it counts as a real meal. Read on to find out how!

Ingredients to put a great sandwich together

Bread:

As the foundation of it all, your bread should be good enough that you’d want to eat it on its own. You can, but don’t have to, toast it beforehand.

If your sandwich filling is more on the saucy side, you want to use a sturdy, crunchy type of bread (to add texture to something that would otherwise be a little mushy). For a crunchy filling, use softer, lighter bread so that taking a bite off this sandwich doesn’t turn into a pain. Remember that crunchiness is an important sandwich criterion, and your choice of bread might already fulfill it.

If you’re using a roll or bun, it’s common that the top part turns out much thicker than the bottom one, which could cause your sandwich to have a weak foundation and be more prone to sogginess and breaking. A top half that is too thick could also mean that, sooner or later, you might have a mouthful of plain bread. To be on the safe side, make sure the 2 parts are somewhat even when you halve your roll. You can also carve the inside of the top half if it looks too thick, which will not only accommodate more filling but also reduce the amount of plain bread.

Sauces and condiments:

Fatty sandwich spreads (like mayo, butter, tahini, mustard) will not only add flavor to your sandwich but also help prevent sogginess by stopping your bread from soaking the liquid deriving from, say, tomato slices. Don’t be shy and make sure to add it to both slices or halves. Popular and tasty spreads include but are not limited to butter, mayonnaise, mustard, olive oil, hummus, pesto (basil, arugula, sundried tomato, red pepper), tahini, baba ganoush, vegetable spreads, mashed avocado or guacamole, creamy cheeses, peanut butter (or any nut butter), etc.

Vegetables and fruits:

Go for crisp, fresh, organic vegetables as often as possible, and make sure to wash and dry them beforehand. Vegetable slices should be even and thin, and definitely season all the ingredients individually with salt, pepper, and even some olive oil. It makes a huge difference and brings flavor and excitement to every bite!

Don’t be afraid to look beyond the obvious here. A lot of sandwiches welcome fruit, especially more bruschetta-like open sandwiches. Figs, peaches, blueberries, nectarines, and apricots are all fruits that could easily be added to a sandwich, either as the main character or an extra add-in.

Protein:

From fried chicken to ham slices to cheddar cheese to seitan, heat up your protein in a pan (or even in the microwave) before putting your sandwich together. The heat brings up the flavor and creates a contrast with your other— likely cold—ingredients. If you’re going for a cold sandwich, it’s still a good idea to take the chill off leftovers and ingredients that have been kept in the fridge—even if by simply leaving them out to come up to room temperature.

Layers:

This is where all your carefully selected ingredients come into play. An option is to alternate between hot and cold ingredients, and I’d strongly suggest placing cheese under or on top of something warm so that it melts. Avoid placing hot ingredients on top of everything else, as they might wilt your salad and fresh ingredients and even burn the top of your mouth as you take your first bite.

You can also layer bread, spread, cheese, warm protein, vegetables, and other add-ins on top, or place your featured ingredient at the bottom—so if it’s a portobello mushroom sandwich, that would go first. In a pressed sandwich, add cheese at the top and bottom and all add-ins in between, so that the cheese envelopes all the rest when it melts.

A few final words: Your ingredients should complement each other but also be tasted separately, and thinking about structure is crucial: To prevent biting into your sandwich and having a tomato slice fall out, keep sliced items either at the bottom or at the top. Also make sure not to layer 2 slippery ingredients on top of each other (like mayonnaise and ham, or mushroom and mayo), otherwise one of them (or both!) might slide right off as you take your first bite.

Sandwich recipes to try now

Want to practice? Here’s a selection of recipes for sandwiches and sides. Have fun!

Caramelized fig, ham, and arugula sandwich

Caramelized fig, ham, and arugula sandwich

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Salmon bagel burger with pea hummus

Salmon bagel burger with pea hummus

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5-ingredient Philly-style cheesesteak

5-ingredient Philly-style cheesesteak

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3-ingredient brioche ice cream sandwich

3-ingredient brioche ice cream sandwich

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5-ingredient toasted green goddess and tuna salad sandwich

5-ingredient toasted green goddess and tuna salad sandwich

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Ciabatta Caprese with prosciutto and arugula

Ciabatta Caprese with prosciutto and arugula

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Grilled zucchini Caprese sandwich

Grilled zucchini Caprese sandwich

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Grilled blueberry and Camembert sandwich

Grilled blueberry and Camembert sandwich

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Grilled Cheese Sandwich

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Chicken shawarma sandwich with mango dressing

Chicken shawarma sandwich with mango dressing

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Egg salad sandwich with avocado

Egg salad sandwich with avocado

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Pulled pork sandwiches

Pulled pork sandwiches

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Greek inspired wrap

Greek inspired wrap

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Croque monsieur

Croque monsieur

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Italian sandwich with prosciutto di Parma

Italian sandwich with prosciutto di Parma

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Fresh mango mint wrap

Fresh mango mint wrap

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5-ingredient classic BLT (Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich)

5-ingredient classic BLT (Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich)

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5-ingredient kimchi grilled cheese and simple salad

5-ingredient kimchi grilled cheese and simple salad

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Club sandwich

Club sandwich

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To go with your sandwich...

Homemade sweet potato fries

Homemade sweet potato fries

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Light strawberry and asparagus salad

Light strawberry and asparagus salad

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Homemade French fries

Homemade French fries

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American potato salad

American potato salad

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Homemade ginger ale

Homemade ginger ale

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More delicious ideas for you