Sandwiches are the ultimate creative food outlet.
Put enough protein and vegetables and schmears between two pieces of bread, and a sammie can be suitable for any meal, a way to get ingredients to party in a way they never organically would.
Sandwiches can also be pedestrian (though sometimes, as with a classic PB and J, that's satisfying, too). But they don't have to be. We asked an expert how to take your sandwich game up a level.
Matt Bonano, owner of the sandwich and cheese shop Brooklyn South in St. Petersburg, considers almost every filling squeezed between a bread product a sandwich. Burger? Yes. Quesadilla? Sure. Crepes? Why not?
For Bonano, building a sandwich is all about having fun, being creative and mixing flavors to make something better than the sum of its parts.
"If there's any place there are no rules, it's in the sandwich world," he said.
One of his big tips for home cooks putting together their own sammies is to rely heavily on leftovers. Next time you cook salmon, double the amount of servings and repurpose it the next day between two slices of bread. (He likes to dredge his fillets in an egg wash and pan-fry them.) Meatloaf, roast chicken and large cuts of beef can be used the same way.
And if you do opt for standard sliced meat from a deli counter, try asking for a thicker portion, then grilling just until it gets some gentle grill marks.
"You'd be amazed how much more flavor you can add this way," Bonano said.
He loves to play around with sandwich recipes at his shop on Central Avenue (which just expanded from tiny to slightly-less-tiny, going from two tables to seating for 23 people), coming up with new combinations constantly. He rattles off some of his recent favorites, which range from whipped ricotta cheese with roasted fruits and honey to peanut butter and fig jam to a corned beef-Gruyere-sauerkraut rollup. His personal go-tos? Tuna salad, made with lemon juice and olive oil instead of mayonnaise and topped with crunchy veggies like fennel, celery and capers; and anything with pulled pork.
Other sandwich-making tips from Bonano: For the best results, toast your bread before applying sandwich fillings; keep the dry components of a sandwich toward the top, and make sure wet items like tomatoes and lettuce are in the middle so they don't turn either piece of bread soggy; use romaine or oak leaf lettuces, which have a nice crunch, instead of iceberg, which he refers to as "sawdust." Don't be afraid to change the composition — think fried sandwiches, open faced, pressed. Make something up. Play with your food.
"Trying to make a meal and put it between two pieces of bread — that's what I love to do," Bonano said.
Now it's your turn to build your own sandwich. Follow the pairings below for some suggestions.
Start with ... Roast beef
Add ... pumpernickel bread; red onion, tomato, lettuce; cheddar cheese; horseradish sauce.
Start with ... Turkey
Add ... sourdough bread; sprouts; provolone cheese; whole-grain mustard.
Start with ... Chicken
Add ... ciabatta bread; tomato, mozzarella cheese; balsamic vinegar; basil
Start with ... Ham
Add ... rye bread; lettuce and pickle; Swiss cheese; chipotle mayonnaise
Start with ... Tuna (canned, in water, mixed with olive oil)
Add ... whole wheat roll; arugula, cucumber, sliced olives; mayonnaise, fresh dill
Start with ... Salmon (blackened)
Add ... brioche bun; avocado, red onion, tomato; mayonnaise, lemon zest
Start with ... Cod (breaded and fried)
Add ... sourdough bread; bibb lettuce, pickles; American cheese (optional); tartar sauce
Start with ... Shrimp (deveined and sliced in half)
Add ... baguette; celery, grated sweet onion, capers; mayonnaise, hot pepper sauce
Start with ... Peanut butter
Add ... whole wheat bread; sliced banana; honey, slivered almonds, raisins
Start with ... Beets (cooked and sliced thin)
Add ... ciabatta bread; red onion, spinach; feta cheese; hummus;
Start with ... Roasted veggies (try squash, red pepper, mushrooms)
Add ... baguette; sprouts, watercress; goat cheese; pesto
Start with ... Black bean burger (store-bought or homemade)
Add ... hamburger bun; shredded carrots; cheddar cheese; ranch dressing