Bread plus fillings; maybe a toasting. The sandwich seems to be a simple food. But when you look closer at the equation—and when you think about your favorite sandwiches and how good they are next to those not so great—the 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, texture, and how the two meld. If you heed a few simple tips, a great sandwich won’t ever be much more than two bread slices away.
Use Better Bread.
In most sandwiches, bread is the component that takes up the most physical space. For this reason, you should 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 for as long as possible. On top of using good fresh bread, think about how much bread you’ll have compared to the filling. You’ll want to ensure that your filling has components—like lettuce, tomato, or a spread—that will add moisture to counter bread’s dryness. Especially if you’re packing away a sandwich to be eaten later in the day.
Acidity Can Brighten.
An overlooked trick in the sandwich toolbox is harnessing the powers of acidic ingredients. This tool, though, has 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 ooze of the cheese. Calling on acidic foods can lift sandwiches, especially those like banh mi, chicken cutlet, or any sandwich that leans on fatty or meaty components. Pickled vegetables can do a great job here, whether simply red onions or heirloom cauliflower in a fancier giardiniera. A sprinkling of vinegar can go a long way, too.
Aim for Contrasting Textures.
Some sandwiches thrive on pure softness, like pulled pork, but most can benefit from having several distinct textures. Adding textures brings complexity, like the crave-worthy combinations of crisp-soft or melty-toasty. Think about the kind of 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. A common way is to toast bread separate from the fillings, creating a thin crisp sheath around the outside. You can also incorporate fried egg, snappy vegetables like carrots, thick cuts of cheese, crisp lettuce, creamy aioli, and so on. Even small variations between textures can make a huge difference.
Jarred Products Are Your Best Friend.
When it comes to layering a great sandwich, the pantry is a gold mine. How easy is it to twist open a jar of roasted peppers, marinated artichokes, or spicy relish and jazz your sandwich in just a few spoonfuls? A whole host of jarred goods has the potential to add dimension to sandwiches, and with almost no added work. Sundried tomatoes, sauces like sambal, kimchi, even jarred pesto. Keeping a well-stocked pantry, or even a pantry with a handful of helpful items, is foundational to good eating. It’s 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, will make for a better sandwich.