Living in Belgium for a couple of years, with institutional meals in the local idiom, I survived by making towering dagwood sandwiches that were the rough analogues of their American counterparts.
Now living on my own for almost a year, the sandwich continues to be my bulwark against both starvation and learning how to cook. But recently I have made a few discoveries that have made my dagwoods more enjoyable, more efficient, less messy, and something I have an urge to share. Here are a few of those discoveries:
- Always toast the bread. My toaster has a "Kellog's Pop Tarts" setting (a little bit of brand-tying there) which cooks it lighter than breakfast toast, but perfect for a sandwich.
- Eggs make everything better. For years, I always cooked (or over-cooked) an egg over easy for my sandwiches. Letting the yoke break and allowing the insides run all over the sandwich is a delight--use a piece of bread to get any that drips on the plate.
- However, lately I haven't hungered for drippy sandwiches. So I whisk the egg before cooking it into a yellow patty. Mini-omelet. Of course, having run out of bread on a few occasions, I've had no qualms about using a couple more eggs and turning the whole sandwich into an omelet.
- Onions are both delicious and ridiculously good for you. But raw, they're too crispy, and grilled, they're too slippery. But if you take the whole slice, dice it up, and whisk it with the egg before cooking, you have the perfect way to get onion into a sandwich.
- Cherry (or "grape") tomatoes are often less expensive per ounce, have great flavor, and do a great job of remaining anchored to a layer of mayonnaise. They're not as hard to slice as you think--in fact, there is less water spillage than with larger tomatoes.
- Getting the meat and cheese just right has always been tricky for me, but I discovered a little trick. I lay a couple slices of meat on a folded paper towel, and lay a bigger-than-1" cube of cheese on the meat. I microwave the assembly for 1 minute. The paper towel absorbs the juices from the meat, causing the edges to dry up and curl into a little shallow bowl. The cheese block melts evenly into the "bowl", allowing you to use lots of cheese, and, again, have it stay inside of the sandwich as you eat.
- A note on cheese. When I had more expendable income I was getting everything from Trader Joes. But be warned: in my experience, organic cheese molds extremely quickly. Now I get regular "poisoned" cheese from Safeway, in big cheap blocks; I cut them into smaller blocks and seal each one in a zip-lock baggie, which I suck the air out of before closing. Some people might think that's gross. Hey, I'll bet my cheese has less schmutz on it than your cheese, even after a couple of weeks in the fridge.
- Living on a tighter budget has also driven me back to iceberg lettuce. But a single head can make many sandwiches, and there is no excuse for throwing away a bulb that doesn't have any green left on it. Rather than haphazardly tear off lettuce, I pinch off the leaves individually at the stalk. With a new head of lettuce, a single leaf is plenty for two sandwiches (I cram it all into one). Just today, I finished off a head using 3-4 little bitty leaves, each with plenty of green. The stalk was the only thing I chucked.