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Reubens is Copyright © 1998 by Ralph Robert Moore.
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Be it ever so humble, there's nothing like a sandwich.
We like being able to hold our food while we eat it, which may go back to our plateless days as cavemen.
If you think of all the "fun food" we eat, whether it's fried chicken, cheeseburgers, corn on the cob, ribs or pizza, the one thing they all have in common is that you don't use any utensils. You use your hands.
friends before food
As we lay dying on our back on the sidewalk or carpet with big eyes and everything too late now and a different drummer in our chest, life going down the wrong hole; surely in those last few chest-jerking moments as our life blips before us will be one flash where we realize with the pang of letting go that some of our most memorable meals, our happiest intakes, were sandwiches.
Who would have known?
A sandwich has the extraordinary advantage of convenience. Sandwiches allow the common man, too dirt-covered to swirl the frill of a hollandaise around the blackened aluminum interior of a pot, to experience sauces: mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup. I saw a documentary years ago where a Polish emigre, fleeing communism, descending to America and traveling within her bright delights, raved most about the red sauce he got with his hamburger.
One of the best sandwiches in the world is a TOMATO SANDWICH. Take two slices of your favorite bread, lay one down, slather it with mayonnaise, and alongside it thinly slice a big, red, bosomy tomato, still sun-warm, heavy and dry-skinned, its seeded sections falling off sideways. Arrange a layer of wet, red slices atop the white slather, sequin with salt and texturize with black pepper (freshly-ground or shaken), and build another layer, another dusty decoration, until the tomato is gone and the top bread slice, just as slathered, is plopped atop. Push down slightly so juice, mayonnaise and ancient spices press into each other, lift, and eat.
A fancy tomato sandwich is called a BLT, meaning a tomato sandwich with bacon and lettuce added. In RED BOAT, we first meet the hero as he's about to enjoy a perfect shipboard BLT. In FATHER FIGURE, Daryl talks about his elaboration on this triad: bacon, lettuce, onion, avocado and tomato, or in other words a BLOAT. But quite good.
At some point the gods decided to elaborate further, and the CLUB SANDWICH was born. Here we have the simple BLT made heavy with excellent meat. Toasted bread slice, mayonnaise, lettuce, sliced turkey, bacon, double-sided- mayonnaise-coated toast slice (for the middle slice of bread in the dagwood tower), sliced ham, sliced tomato, downwards-slathered mayonaised toast slice, and an orange sprinkle of seasoning salt atop. The sandwich is then always cut in quarters on the diagonal, with a toothpick sometimes speared through the center of each tall, fat quarter, sometimes a toothpick with a red or green cellophane frill at its top if you're feeling festive (and wouldn't you, with a club sandwich on your plate?) In NEARNESS, the little girl Coriander is scandalized and scolding when an ordinary single-decker sandwich has mayonnaise spread alarmingly across its top level of toast. When I was a boy I would sometimes go to Bob Force's Townhouse halfway down Greenwich Avenue, where all the tables were cloth-covered and all the waiters dignified middle-aged Negro men in red jackets, huge hunting murals spanning the walls, white men with odd hats galloping on horses towards the golden disappearance of fox above the cash register alcove, a silver half-dollar tip weighing heavily in the pocket of my long pants, the depicted president doomed to sniff in etched profile my clean, whitely-starched Woolworth's handkerchief until he would be thumb-flipped in a tumbling arc to spin amid the empty plates. My sophisticated meal would be a club washed down with a dark, icy Shirley Temple, the bubble-surrounded black cherry saved for last.
We can't always be as cool as Cole Porter-- there's indigestion, credit card bills and the suspicion of subcutaneous tumors-- but I know that when the world finds me blue, I concentrate on COWBOY SANDWICHES. The main ingredient is eggs, and let's talk for a moment about the 1950's perception of eggs as the ultimate sophistication. Back from Broadway, slipping off ermine or tux jacket, pulling on cords to slide the drapes sideways to reveal the frightening, brightly-lit dominoes of midtown Manhattan, the ultimate late-night dinner was a whipped-up plate of scrambled eggs rich with cream and sprinkled with black pepper. The cowboy sandwich is a variation: an omelet between bread. In a trusted skillet sauté onion and green bell pepper in sizzling butter. Add a few chopped bacon slices, and when everything is limp and translucent, slide in two swirled eggs and half teaspoons each of oregano, thyme and basil. Stir lazily with a wooden spoon so the mixture starts to form pale yellow curds, and while these are still quite moist, escort them with the back of your spoon across the bottom of the skillet so the bottom is covered (you're trying to get most of the egg cooked before you shape it into an omelet, so the bottom won't be browned). If what you have at this point is a layer of almost-cooked egg topped by a watery poolet of uncooked egg, use your spoon to gently pull an edge of the omelet away from the wall of the skillet at various spots and, tilting your skillet slightly, allow the uncooked egg to rivulet onto the bare bottom of skillet you've exposed. Once the omelet appears nearly ready, slip a wide spatula under it and flip it over. If you can't imagine a spatula wide enough to allow you to flip the omelet without egg spraying across your stovetop mid-somersault, use the flat edge of the spatula to cut the omelet in half and flip each half separately. Let the omelet lay upside down to complete the cooking, then slide it onto a slice of bread, folding the rumpled mass in half (and in half again if necessary) so it fits within the square of bread. Flow thick, red ribbons of ketchup across the steaming top of your egg, put a second slice of bread on top, pick the cowboy sandwich up, feeling its heat against your fingertips, and eat. Note to those of you who might balk at the ketchup: I don't use ketchup on hotdogs or mashed potatoes, so the use of ketchup here is not from the 'everything goes better with ketchup' school. If you read my other recipes on this site, you'll see they don't end with, 'and then cover with ketchup'. It's simply that with this recipe, the sweet tartness of the ketchup goes wonderfully well with the egg, the bacon, the butter-sautéed vegetables, the herbs.
Sliced cheese is the best thing since sliced bread, since the two together, heated, are a GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH. Melted cheese between grilled bread is truly an American offering, and one of our grandest contributions to world cuisine. In the classic grilled cheese sandwich, three slices of American cheese are laid between two slices of bread, both sides of the sandwich quickly, hotly moistened in a skillet with melted butter, then the sandwich left on one side until the bread turns between golden and brown, depending on preference, then flipped to get the other side to match. If at that point the cheese isn't fully melted inside, the sandwich can be placed in a microwave and heated on high for 20 to 30 seconds. Great with a big, wet, green pickle. Some people like to slice the sandwich in half on the diagonal, or even in quarters by drawing, with a knife, an 'X' through the sandwich, like 'X marks the spot where I'm going to have a great lunch'; probably not only for convenience in eating as the pleasure one gets in pulling the toasted triangles apart and seeing all that delicious orange cheese start to billow out. A variation on the grilled cheese sandwich is to add a meat to it: usually sliced ham, less often these days bacon (pre-cooked). A variation on that is to add sliced ham and grill the sandwich in the skillet, then peel the two slices of bread apart, add lettuce and tomato, close, and finish in the microwave on high for 30 seconds. Which brings us full circle back to the BLT, with cheese substituted for the mayonnaise, ham for the bacon, and the whole thing heated.
A more distant variation on the BLT, and to my mouth the most delicious sandwich ever created, is the REUBEN. Here we substitute corned beef for the bacon, sauerkraut for the lettuce, thousand island dressing for the mayonnaise, add swiss cheese, and eliminate the tomato. To make thousand island dressing, combine equal parts of mayonnaise and ketchup (put the mayonnaise in a bowl first, swirl it with a spoon until it's very smooth, then add the ketchup). Taste. Add more ketchup or mayonnaise to adjust the flavor to your own preference. Add to that sauce pickle relish, a tablespoon at a time, until all three flavors are in the balance you prefer. Open a can of sauerkraut and drain it well. Place on a slice of rye bread one and a half slices of swiss cheese (imported, aged swiss is best), and half a dozen or more slices of corned beef round (ask specifically for the round). Top with another slice and a half of swiss cheese, and another slice of rye bread. Melt butter in a skillet (I always think this phrase holds such drama whenever I encounter it in a cookbook). As you did for the grilled cheese sandwich, coat both sides of the sandwich with the hot butter first, then allow the sandwich to grill on one side until it looks the way you want it, then flip. When the sandwich is grilled on both sides, place it in the microwave and heat on high for 30 to 45 seconds (the interior should be thoroughly warmed). Transfer the Reuben to a plate, lift the top slice of rye, and heap some sauerkraut across the top of the hot corned beef (you may want to use only three or four tablespoons of sauerkraut the first time, if you're not that familiar with it, until you learn how much you like). On top of that spoon thousand island dressing so there's a coat across all the sauerkraut. Close and eat.