I was thinking about comfort food this week. I was thinking about the food and dishes I would write about while I was making a sandwich for my lunch. A sandwich! I had never thought of a sandwich as comfort food before. But I noticed how carefully I was selecting and preparing my ingredients, greedily slicing into a freshly bought loaf, and anticipating the delicious finished product. I had long ago elevated my homemade sandwiches from the status of ‘humble’ to a veritable epicurean feast! And a sandwich was no less comforting for that. In fact, I realised, even more so.
A comfort dish must:
• Be enjoyable, if not soothing, to prepare;
• Include a secret /personal ingredient;
• Produce mouth-watering anticipation of a delicious result;
• Be enjoyable and satisfying to eat;
• Satisfy nostalgic recollections;
• Make you happy.
My list above, I think, summarises our need to enjoy recreating food that soothes and grounds us in the past and present. Could a sandwich meet all my criteria for a comfort food dish? I hope I prove so.
Unlike the 4th Earl of Sandwich, I’ve never been a slap-a-slab-of-beef between two slices of bread, type of sandwich girl. My sandwiches must have ingredients and preferably some that will provide the therapeutic rhythm of chopping or slicing. The first sandwiches I ever made were as a teenager when tea-time was a help yourself affair from what was laid out on the kitchen table. I concocted a sandwich comprising as many salad ingredients as I could balance and hold together with a dollop of salad cream between two slices of Mother’s Pride. So my first rule is that a sandwich MUST have a filling comprising at least two ingredients. I remember my amazement about 10 years ago when my then partner offered me a late night snack of a cheese or ham sandwich – that turned out to be a slice of one or the other squashed (including handprint) between two slices of white bread. Dull and unappetising – not even a slice of tomato!!
I start thinking about my filling ingredients at least half an hour before I set about sandwich construction, based on what I know I already have in the fridge or cupboard. I need a staple main ingredient: ham, turkey, tuna, chicken, grated cheese. And to make it more than the unappealing offerings above, I need flavours and aromas that will start to get my taste-buds dancing as I chop and slice: spring or red onions, slithers of cucumber, ripe tomatoes that smell as if pulled straight off the plant, earthy beetroot, homemade pickles or leftover coleslaw. I choose what I know will go together with my main ingredient. And my secret ingredient? Well forget about butter and spread mayonnaise (full not low-fat if avoiding dairy and gluten) as thickly and generously as you like it on one side of each slice of bread: it provides a base for the chopped ingredients and holds them in place on either side of your main ingredient when the two halves are put together. When you cut the finished sandwich in half, you should be able to the see and savour the beautifully coloured layers of deliciousness right through the middle.
On the subject of bread, like so many people today, I am wheat intolerant and find it hard to find a fresh handmade loaf, even using other grains, that don’t contain some wheat. And I haven’t yet found a gluten free alternative that satisfies my taste buds and appetite. Consequently, the eating of even rye, sourdough or corn bread is strictly limited to a special occasion: I buy one loaf and freeze portions of two slices in non-PVC wrap, and defrost as required. A sandwich is event food for me these days, and therefore all the more nostalgic for it.
The comfort food dishes I was going to write about were in my mind when I created the criteria in the list above: Shepherd’s pie made with freshly minced shepherd – sorry, lamb; fish pie with haddock in a cheese sauce with peas added; roast lamb or chicken dinner with all the trimmings; creamy risotto with asparagus and/or mushrooms; pasta with a pork and fennel sauce. All the above have been modified, to replace cow dairy with goat/sheep produce and wheat pasta with vegetable or pulse alternatives. These are my go to dishes to cook for myself and for other people, when the ingredients and the process are as important to creating a warm glow as the end result.
Take another look at my criteria, think about your dishes and let me know about them.
21 April 2019