5 Simple Steps to Building a Better Sandwich
Bread plus fillings; maybe a toasting. The sandwich seems a simple food. But look closer at the equation—and think about your favorite sandwiches and how good they are next to those not so great—and their complexity comes into focus. When making a sandwich, there are so many opportunities to make it better—whether it's a hoagie, sub, Reuben, burger, or breakfast sandwich—in terms of flavor and texture, and how those two meld. Heed a few simple tips, and a great sandwich won't ever be more than two bread slices away.
Use better bread.
In most sandwiches, bread is the component that takes up the most physical space, so start with good bread. Investing in a $5 loaf (or baking one yourself) and slicing it right before you make the sandwich gives you a huge flavor and freshness boost relative to pre-sliced bread or a low-quality loaf. Keeping that bread kept out of the fridge and sealed will prolong the life of its flavor and bite. On top of good fresh bread, think about your bread-to-filling ratio. Ensure your filling components—like lettuce, tomato, or a spread—adds moisture to counter bread's dryness, especially if you're packing away a sandwich to eat later in the day.
Acidity can brighten.
An overlooked trick in the sandwich toolbox is harnessing the powers of acidic ingredients, and they've been right in front of your eyes the whole time. Think about pickles on a cheeseburger; how their zing can lighten the heft of the meat and lend a nice counterpoint to the oozy cheese. Acidic foods lift sandwiches, especially those like banh mi, chicken cutlet, or any that leans on fatty or meaty components. Pickled vegetables do a great job here, whether simple red onions or heirloom cauliflower in a fancier giardiniera. A sprinkling of vinegar goes a long way, too.
Aim for contrasting textures.
Some sandwiches thrive on pure softness, like pulled pork, but most benefit from several distinct textures. Adding textures brings complexity, like the crave-worthy combinations of crisp-soft or melty-toasty. Think about the crunch that onion rings add to a sandwich, or the subtle pop of seeds.
There are all kinds of ways you can build contrasting textures. One is to toast bread separate from the fillings, creating a thin crisp sheath around the outside. Or incorporate fried egg, snappy vegetables (like carrots), thick cuts of cheese, crisp lettuce, or creamy aioli. Even small variations between textures make a huge difference.
Jarred products are your best friend.
When it comes to layering a great sandwich, the pantry is a gold mine. Twist open a jar of roasted peppers, marinated artichokes, or spicy relish to jazz your sandwich in just a few spoonfuls. Jarred goods add dimension to sandwiches, and with almost no added work: sundried tomatoes, sauces (like sambal), kimchi, and even jarred pesto. Keeping a well-stocked pantry, or even a pantry with a handful of helpful items, is foundational to good eating, and even more important to good eating in a pinch.
Get creative with toppings.
Speaking of sambal, one of the best things you can do when making sandwiches is to experiment with creative toppings. Sambal, for instance, is great on an egg sandwich. Jalapeno pepper jelly lends a coolness, sweetness, and spice to a brisket sandwich. A smear of ricotta or mascarpone dusted with black pepper can go a long way, and so can a high-quality olive oil, chile oil, or oil infused with garlic and herbs. Even herbs alone! Though not highly creative, a quick tearing of basil or oregano can provide that kind of accent that, together with a few other thoughtful moves, takes a sandwich from blah to rah!