Thursday, 28 August 2008

Bread, sweet bread

Like George Costanza in the sitcom 'Seinfeld', I too like a good sandwich. It's an abomination the stuff you get in supermarkets, delis and 'sandwich' joints around London. Seriously. The city is pining for a good sandwich. Why is there such a paucity of good sandwiches? I blame the bread. And too much mayo, plus over/under-seasoned fillings. Truly awful. Don't go out for a sandwich in London. New Yorkers are still kings of the sandwich. Actually, so are Scandinavians ;-)

In fact, constructing sandwiches was how I got into food and cooking in general. I won't go into detail, in order to spare my otherwise wonderful and adored Mother any blushes, but the sandwiches being shipped off in my satchel on weekday mornings were, well, rather Anglo-Saxon in their quality. Mama J is not a morning person at the best of times, so it must've been a complete bore making sandwiches for her demanding daughter, and sadly her otherwise excellent culinary skills were lacking in the sandwich department. Tant pis, in hindsight I suspect this was a cunning ploy to get me interested in food, as I had an incentive to make my own school lunch. Establishing that the bread was crucial, I then investigated our bread options. Not three-day old fibrous mountain bread, which sucked the moisture out of your mouth, but good, fresh wholemeal bread, or a German-style Landbrot with a hint of rye. Norway, thankfully, has a great culture of bakeries, and German-style Konditoreis which sell freshly baked bread on a daily basis. And not bread that's been treated with all sorts of preservatives and is full of sugar, salt and e-numbers, but real, wholesome, fresh bread.

Of course, allowing me to wrest control of sandwich-making was a pandora's box, as I subsequently demanded to join in the grocery shopping, and insisted on the type of bread, fillings and various crunchy salad/veggie options we purchased. As a result, Mama J claims our weekly grocery bill went stratospheric, but at least we all started eating much better lunches!

Recently I penned a short feature on bread-making which you can read all about if you click on the link above. It was an introduction to breadmaking, with a 'quick' bread recipe for Irish soda bread. This is bread made with baking soda, and not yeast, thus rendering it an easy and quick bread recipe for sandwich fans...The perfect partner for Irish soda bread? Torn between good cheese and smoked salmon, I'd have to go for the latter. Here's what I would do for an extra-fancy, brain-boosting (all that fish!) sandwich
  • Couple of slices of freshly baked soda bread, buttered!
  • 100g smoked salmon
  • couple of pickled, sweet beetroots
  • zingy horseradish mixed with a dollop of fromage frais or quark
  • finely chopped onion
  • a few leaves, such as parsley, chervil or dill
  • capers (optional...make sure they're not too vinegary or salty, in fact perhaps best to leave them out)
As this is meant to be Scandinavian in spirit, start by making an open-top sandwich. None of this squishing the filling between thick slices of bread.

Mix your horseradish with the fromage frais/quark and spread this on the soda bread, then place your chopped onion on top, followed by the salmon slices, and then add a few pieces of pickled beetroot. If you want to garnish it with greenery this is the opportune moment. Otherwise, scoff away and rejoice in art of a good sandwich.

P.S. Admittedly the bagel is also a good foil for smoked salmon, and the best place in London for this is the brilliant Brick Lane Beigel Bakery. Don't try making your own bagels, I once did and it only ended in tears... 

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