I have this very strange dream of cooking all the American sandwiches. Why? Because sandwiches are delicious, not horribly complicated, and they’re a great way to learn about the history and geography of the United States. Old and new, East and West, North and South, red states and blue. It’s a project I’ve set out to do several times and then been too broke or busy to follow through with it, but in this time of bubbles and divisiveness it seems like a noble cause. After all, who can hate a sandwich? They’re both yummy and apolitical. Maybe sandwiches are just the thing we need to heal the rifts in our country and bring us together again – at a picnic table, in the sunshine, passing the napkins, talking about the things we all agree on. If any.
Big T is tablespoon, small t is teaspoon, c is cup.
The Club Sandwich
I picked an easy one to start with. I hesitated because I’m apparently the only person in America who doesn’t really enjoy bacon to the point of orgasm, but I had some in the fridge to use up (it was a gift from the Bacon Fairy) so it made sense.
So what is a Club Sandwich, anyway? It’s kind of like pornography; hard to define, but you know it when you see it. It’s got some kind of lunch meat – usually poultry-based – with bacon, lettuce, and tomato on toast. Mayo is a prerequisite. Aside, have you ever noticed how in the East it’s Hellman’s mayo, in the West it’s called Best Foods? I guess we in the West are too delicate to eat mayo that apparently came from the Gates of Hell – our Food must be the Best, y’all. No matter what you call it, it’s a superior mayo and so that is the kind one must have on hand in order to make a high quality club sandwich.
Step one: Procure Hellman’s or Best Foods Mayonnaise. NO, don’t make your own mayonnaise, silly, what are we, French or something?
Conventional wisdom states that the club (or clubhouse) sandwich most likely hails from the Empire State, New York. By club, I am envisioning one of those wood-paneled gentlemen’s clubs where men wearing bowler hats chat about how terrible suffragettes are and the merits of unusually large bicycles whilst twirling handlebar mustaches. No one’s really quite sure which club originally invented the sandwich – there are references to the club sandwich being served in two different gentlemen’s clubs during the late 1800’s, one in Saratoga Springs, one in New York City. No matter who invented them, by the turn of the century the club sandwich was a Definite Thing. At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904 they were served alongside hamburgers, hot dogs, iced tea, ice cream cones, and cotton candy, and quickly became recognized worldwide as distinctively, delectably American cuisine.
A really neato history of the club sandwich can be found here on my new fave website, Sandwich Tribunal.
Step two: The ingredients.
In addition to that tasty mayo you’ll need sliced turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and bread. I made my own bread just because making a club sandwich is so easy otherwise it felt like I was cheating.
Step Two-and-a-half: Make bread. If you so desire.
The Internet informs me that this recipe is very similar to something called “Julia Child’s Sandwich Bread” and I don’t know if it’s truly Julia’s, since I’ve used it for years and never knew Julia Child had anything to do with it.
Possibly Julia Child’s Sandwich Bread
2 cups warm water (not too warm)
1 packet yeast (about 2 teaspoons if you’re not using packets)
1 T sugar
1 t salt (you can use a little more, I don’t like salty bread)
Somewhere in the neighborhood of 4-5 cups of flour (bread dough is weird like that)
2 T butter (if you want a more bready-tasting bread)
1 T oil (if you like a more French bread taste)
Mix yeast, water, and sugar in a bowl and allow to proof (that means sit there till the yeast gets foamy) for about five minutes. Add salt and butter or oil at that point and give a good stir to get everything well acquainted. Add about 2 cups of flour and mix till combined. (I have a Kitchen Aid stand mixer and I highly recommend it if you’re at all serious about making bread any more often than once a year or so. But you can use a sturdy eggbeater, or even a spoon if you’re a masochist)
Add in one more cup of flour, mix again. The dough should be looking a little more “doughy”. Then carefully add in the next cup of flour (we are about at 4 cups here, right? I kinda lost count) This is where you have to use your gut instinct – too much flour is a disaster, worse than not enough, so err on the side of less, even if the dough is a bit sticky and you have to oil your hands to touch it. IMVHO the number one mistake with bread is people putting too much flour into it. Use the barest minimum. You may need to add more in the neighborhood of 4 ½ cups or 5 but at the end of it you should have a slightly sticky dough to work with. Put it in a warmish place and let rise till doubled – many books say this takes 2 hours or so but my bread has always doubled much more quickly than that.
With lightly greased hands, split this dough into two parts. Form each part into a loaf and into a greased loaf pan (if you want loaf shaped bread) or onto a greased cookie sheet (if you want a freeform French or Italian bread shape.) I usually wipe a little extra oil or butter onto the top of the loaf to help it expand as it rises and I also like to cut a vertical line gently across the top crust, using the tip of a sharp knife, to enable it to expand even more. Let the loaves rise again till doubled, however long that takes. You can tell it’s ready when you poke it and you leave a lasting imprint. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes and then take out of the oven and out of the loaf pans if using them.
Trick for better sandwich bread – once the bread is just cool enough to touch, carefully, using a sharp serrated bread knife that won’t moosh your loaf, cut off both end crusts. People who are probably way smarter than me will tell you not to do this but I find it allows the inside of the bread to cool without getting as doughy and soggy as homemade bread can sometimes. Then eat the end crusts with butter and reward yourself for your patience.
Or you can totally use just regular storebought bread. That works too.
Step Three: Make a BLT, just for practice.
Consider this our warmup sandwich. We’ll pause briefly before we get to constructing the Club to discuss another famed American sandwich, the BLT. A BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato, in case you live in a cave and have never spoken with a human before, welcome, friend!) is probably not a truly American sandwich since evidence indicates it was for sure made in Victorian England and possibly in some form or the other all the way back to Roman times. But still, it’s pretty darn American at this point (I call cultural appropriation) and the directions are practically identical to those of the Club, plus there is always some weisenheimer who doesn’t like turkey despite it being like the most benign cold cut ever. But most people like BLTs. So.
How to cook bacon in the oven and revolutionize your existence
If you like bacon but hate cooking it, have I got a trick for you. Lay your bacon flat in a large pan, like the kind you make a sheet cake or a lasagna in. You can line this pan with tin foil for easier cleanup but I usually don’t bother and end up scrubbing the pan for an hour afterwards, wondering why I didn’t.
Put bacon into your preheated 350 degree oven and wait. Some will tell you 400 degrees; in my experience, this is a recipe not for regular bacon, but for burnt bacon. After about 10 minutes, turn over the bacon (careful, it spits) and return it to the oven till it finishes baking. The end result will be nice, flat, evenly cooked pieces of bacon and you will never return to the old pan on the burner method. And if you prefer to cook bacon in the microwave you’re crazy and I hope you have a lot of 409 on hand to clean it up afterwards.
Get good ones! It makes a difference! If they don’t have good ones, get Romas; they’re usually ok even in the dead of winter. Use a serrated knife to slice them without squishing.
Iceberg. There is no substitute. Trust me, it is fine to cut your iceberg into thin, easy to chew shreds with a metal knife. Yes, it will go brown eventually but in the long run, we’re all dead and the lettuce will be long eaten by the time it turns even the slightest of unappetizing shades.
Do not put a whole freaking leaf of lettuce on your sandwich unless your teeth are razor sharp. It will end in tears.
We have already discussed Hellman’s/Best Foods. Accept no substitute.
Assemble your BLT:
Toast your bread and generously smear mayo across it. Generously. Use like 17 times more than you think you need. Put some lettuce shreds on one side and some tomato slices on the other. Bacon in the middle. Slap them together and slice into triangular halves (I don’t know why, but something about the triangular halves makes the sandwich taste better.)
Step 4: Ok we’re actually going to make a Club now. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy sandwich.
Some put ham on a Club sandwich, but that seems to me like a pork overdose. I think the turkey and bacon are very complimentary of one another, whereas ham feels like it came from another planet- a delicious planet perhaps, but not the Club Sandwich Planet. I like deli turkey, just the plain stuff, not smoked. Easy to come by.
I think not. That feels like blasphemy to me. Your call, though.
Club sandwich assembly:
Do everything exactly like you did for your practice BLT. Only put some turkey on that bad boy. And instead of cutting the sammie in triangular halfs, get crazy and cut it in triangular fourths.
On the concept of a triple-decker sandwich:
When you order a club sandwich in whatever picturesque eatery you happen to order club sandwiches at, they come in this monstrous form, with 3 pieces of bread stuck together by cellophaned toothpicks. Personally, I think it is a gimmick from Big Breadness and the Global Cellophane Toothpick Concern to sell more bread and also some befrilled toothpicks to the club sandwich connoisseurs of America. Don’t fall for it. I don’t think it helps the sandwich at all and in fact turns it into a dry, hard-to-manage mouthstretcher that cannot be eaten with even a shred of dignity. There is nothing wrong with putting a club on 2 pieces of bread. It is allowed, I have decreed it thusly. The key to the club is the turkey-bacon-mayo-tomato-lettuce-and-toast flavor melange and not a three-dimensional structure precariously held together by sticks of wood. Wood does not belong in sandwiches unless you are a beaver.
Oh yeah, I forgot about the toast.
It’s gotta be toast. Holds everything together better and doesn’t get soggy. If you make bread using the Possibly Julia Child recipe, it slices really well for homemade bread and you can toast it in a regular toaster. Otherwise, you can toast homemade bread in an oven.
But wait, there’s more!
The California Club Sandwich
At the risk of getting cultural whiplash, we’ll catch the Red Eye to the other end of the nation and meet another incarnation, one that I personally prefer. The California Club. I couldn’t find an origin story for the California Club, so I’m going to assume it was created by the personal chef of Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks at their legendary estate “Pickfair” in 1922 and has been a California institution ever since. Or, maybe it came from an avocado grower’s cookbook in the late 70’s. Either way.
Step One: Do everything exactly like you did for the standard Club Sandwich.
It’s pretty much the same sandwich.
Instead of white bread, use whole grain. I don’t have a good whole grain bread recipe, unfortunately. I’m the only one in the family who likes whole grain bread, and thus I never bothered to master it since never, ever doing things just for one’s self is the cardinal rule of mom-ing. Share yours in the comments if you have a good one!
Instead of toast, California Clubs are often served on untoasted bread. Your call.
Instead of lettuce, use alfalfa sprouts.
In my experience with avocado, it doesn’t matter how many I buy, one is always bad. If I buy 5, the 4 are good but one, usually the last one, is bad. If I buy 2, one is bad. And if I buy just one, invariably it’s brown mush when I cut it open. So buy at least two to protect yourself from this mysterious phenomenon. I got 3 sandwiches per avocado. YMMV.
You want your avocados to be fairly ripe when you make your sandwich so get a softer one that is more brown than green. I like Haas better but of course they cost more, too.
To eviscerate an avocado, cut it in half and scoop each half out with a spoon. It should be soft enough to allow this violation or else it is probably too hard to make a good sandwich. It doesn’t have to be pretty, since you’ll be cutting it up anyway. Then once you’ve set the delicious innards free from its leathery exterior, slice it thinly. You do not need to worry about coating your avocado with lemon juice or anything. Just wait to cut it up til right before you’re ready to eat it. Avocado is not a make-ahead food, lemon or no.
California Club Sandwich assembly:
When you add your turkey layer, also add an avocado layer. And instead of the lettuce layer, use alfalfa sprouts. Everything else stays the same. California Clubs don’t seem to come cut into triangles, and are generally served whole or halved down the center.
On sauces and cheeses:
For whatever reason, people switch it up more on the California Club vs. the standard. I suspect it’s because the flavor of the avocado masks the mayo taste so you may need a little more oomph in the sauce department. Ranch dressing, sriracha or Japanese mayo, swiss or cheddar on top – follow your bliss. I kinda like a little Thousand Island in lieu of the mayo.
You’re still hungry, aren’t you? Good. I have lots more sandwiches left to make! Stay tuned.
Photo by Ben Sutherland