Yes, it's a game about big men. This year, the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, to be specific.
But that doesn't mean the guests at your Super Bowl party need to eat like offensive linemen because, well, they aren't. Footlong subs are tempting, but often end up being too much on a table of nachos, gooey dips and chips, chili, wings, pizza and other typical football party food. Instead, consider sandwiches on small buns. You can prepare a variety, and the big eaters can have seconds. Or thirds. No one goes home hungry.
I am not talking tea sandwiches. You know, those crustless watercress or cucumber numbers that go so swimmingly with afternoon tea. I am thinking of brawn in small packages, sort of like Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker, who at 5 feet 9 is one of the NFL's most wee players.
A three-bite meatball sub is plenty hefty for the big game, as are mini sausage and pepper rolls, grilled flank steak and sauteed onion bites and pint-sized Cubans. For the vegetarians, smoked baby portobello sliders are meaty alternatives. You might just find that tray empty first.
Besides the fillings, there is a wide variety of small rolls to consider, among them soft water rolls, hard Chicago rolls, sweet Hawaiian bread, ciabatta rolls, squares of focaccia, cocktail rye or pumpernickel, and mini bagels. Make sure the bread you select can handle the filling. For instance, a meatball sub needs a substantial roll to hold the weight of the meat and drippy sauce. A drier sandwich, like a Cuban, works well on a lighter roll.
Timing is also a consideration for a Super Bowl party, not just how long the food takes to prepare but when to set out the provisions. The game starts at 6:30 p.m. which means halftime won't come before 8 p.m. and after that some of your just-here-for-the-food guests might be heading home. Make sure there's food to eat by 7 p.m. and people can fit in their visits to the groaning table during commercials or during the game if they are part of the growing legion of people who prefer the much-hyped ads.
Here are 10 palm-sized sandwiches perfect for a Super Bowl party menu:
Sausage and Peppers Rolls
No self-respecting Giants fan would have a football party without the New Jersey State Sandwich. (The Giants play in New Jersey. Why? Fuhgettaboutit. Just eat.) Rather than load up a six-inch hoagie roll, use a small, hard Chicago roll. Cut fresh Italian sausage in 1-inch slices with sharp knife. Saute to cook through and set aside. Saute thinly sliced onions and green pepper in olive oil until very soft. Add some canned diced tomatoes and simmer to let liquid reduce. Add the sausage pieces to heat through. Pile on rolls and serve immediately.
Baked Cod Sandwiches
You can't get much more Boston — the Patriots' home stadium is about 20 miles away in Foxborough — than Parker House rolls, which got their start in Beantown. Split and toast lightly and serve with small pieces of cod that have been breaded and baked (or lightly fried if you'd like). A smear of tarter sauce completes the deal. The cold crunch of iceberg lettuce would be a nice foil if the sandwiches will be eaten quickly.
New Orleans Saints fans still sad that their team didn't make it to the big game can take solace with a muffuletta sandwich. Use a sturdy roll and fill it with layers of thinly sliced mozzarella, provolone, salami and ham then top with an olive salad mixture. Buy one or make a version with chopped olive-cured black olives, green olives and dried oregano and basil. Make it a bit spicy with red pepper flakes if you'd like. If the olive salad seems dry, drizzle with olive oil.
Crab Cake Sandwiches
Baltimore Ravens fans will also have to be consoled with something good to eat this year. Saute small crab cakes, either homemade or store-bought, and cradle between layers of soft rolls. Make a spicy spread by mixing mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lemon juice and a few dashes of hot sauce.
Grilled Flank Steak on Ciabatta
Season and grill flank steak and slice thinly. Pile on ciabatta rolls spread with horseradish sauce and garnish with caramelized onions. Caramelizing the onions will take at least 30 minutes, maybe more, over low heat. Do this ahead and reheat. This is our nod to the San Francisco 49ers, who came so close.
Baked Ham and Cheese Party Sandwiches
This is an old Junior League favorite (see recipe) and can be made with sheets of Parker House Rolls or individual soft rolls. Either way, you bake these babies and then cut them apart to serve. Buttery and cheesy and gone. Sort of like the Green Bay Packers.
Barbecue Chicken and Slaw
There's not an occasion that the rotisserie chicken can't come to the rescue. To make pulled chicken, shred the meat, dark and light if you'd like, and heat with barbecue sauce of your choice. Spoon onto sturdy rolls and top with coleslaw. These need to be eaten soon after being made or the dressing from the coleslaw with compromise the bread. In other words, you'll have a mess on your hands . . . and your lap.
Smoked Baby Portobello Sliders
Meaty baby portobello mushrooms are dusted with barbecue rub spices (see recipe) before being grilled. The grilling works outside or on a stove grill pan. Top with herb-y sauteed onions and tangy Gouda cheese. All on a soft dinner roll.
Party-sized Cubans are traditionally made on Cuban bread and then cut into 2 inch slices. Those can sometimes be messy as the filling slips out. Make individual Cubans on water rolls. It's slices of roast pork, salami, ham and Swiss cheese with a schmear of mustard and a dill pickle slice. These will keep for quite a while on the buffet table.
Party-sized Meatball Sandwiches
A hard roll, a few heated frozen meatballs, a spoonful of red sauce and a slice of provolone cheese. Put them under the broiler to melt cheese, and bada-bing, you've got a party. Should be eaten soon after they come out of the oven.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8586.