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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Advancements in Thanksgiving Sandwich Engineering

We had a fantastic Thanksgiving, and a post on that will be forthcoming, but for now I turn my attention to a subject gripping minds across the nation this time of year: the proper engineering of a Thanksgiving  Sandwich. It's an understandable thing to fixate on: our fridges are swollen with stacked containers of leftovers, and this venerable sandwich represents the easiest means of doing someone new with them— and, done correctly, it's undeniably delicious.

How to construct such a sandwich, however, is a matter of some controversy- specifically, a tradeoff between indulgence and structure.  To quote Deadspin's Albert Burneko, one of the Internet's funniest and most irreverent food writers, "There's some disagreement here. Some people like to pile a portion of each of the various delicious Thanksgiving victuals between two pieces of bread, in what invariably turns into a saggy, dissolving, unmanageable wreck, renouncing any rightful claim to the "sandwich" title within moments of its birth. Other folks prefer to stick to the holiday's saner-seeming sandwich fillings like sliced turkey and cranberry relish and salad, think there's something weird and redundant and brazenly gluttonous about putting stuffing (which is essentially pre-chewed bread) between two slices of bread, and are vampires." 

However, I was inclined to wonder whether this dichotomy was surmountable. Can a sandwich be constructed which both meets the indulgent, gluttonous standards of Thanksgiving and holds together as a sandwich, so,etching that you can pick up and eat without it falling apart? Tongue planted firmly in my cheek ( the better to taste the cranberry sauce), I set out to make sandwich history. Below is my formula. 

1. Toast.

If you want to slop soggy, buttery food onto bread and have it hang together, the obvious first step is to reinforce your bread. A nice toasting firms if up and improves its absorption capabilities nicely. Also, using larger slices is better- adding ingredients horizontally instead of vertically gives you a more manageable product. 

2. Foundations. 

A sandwich is more than a pile between bread- it's a formed whole, with everything serving a larger purpose. If you want a Thanksgiving sandwich that holds together, you're going to need something to keep the ingredients in place. Fortunately, the standard thanksgiving menu contains several efficient and delicious adhesives. We were fortunate to have Bernie's delicious puréed parsnips on hand, which worked especially well for this purpose, but creamy mashed potatoes should work well for you- if they're too dry or chunky, add some gravy and mix up with a fork (also, heat them up please.) Spread a layer of moderate thickness along one piece of bread, which will go on the bottom. For your top slice, apply some cooked cranberry sauce, applying pressure with the knife to get any remaining whole berries to pop and stick to the bread. 

3.  Major Fillings

Presuming you have it (and if you don't, what kind of thanksgiving are you playing at?), the next logical ingredient is stuffing: not only is it indisputably the greatest of all thanksgiving foods, but it provides a soft but textured surface to hold the turkey in place. The bird goes on next- find yourself larger prices and arrange for best possible coverage. 

4. Greenery 

So far, we've dwelled exclusively on the rich, indulgent elements of the thanksgiving meal, as is proper for a sandwich like this. However, if you've got a good vegetable dish on hand you'll want it, both to get something in the sandwich that isn't awful for you and to provide welcome contrast in flavor and texture. Here I chose to go with a terrific kale dish with pine nuts and golden raisins that Janie brought. Whatever you choose, arrange it carefully: in moderate quantities, and away from the edges. 

5. Top and Eat

Invert the cranberried slice on top of the sandwich, press down, and consume. You should have a thoroughly pleasant balance of flavors and textures: smooth, rich starch, soft, savory stuffing, tender,meaty turkey, toothsome, deep vegetables, and snappy, chunky cranberry sauce. And all of this with no fork necessary. If you're at all like me, you'll soon be wishing you had more leftovers to use. 

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