Food book of the week: 101 Sandwiches by Helen Graves

By John Koski


101 Sandwiches by Helen Graves

What can there possibly be to say about the humble sandwich? Take two slices of bread, a filling, arrange in what most of us would recognise as the traditional manner and, er, that’s it. If you think that’s the last word on the subject, this perkily enjoyable book on the theory and practice of sandwich-making will make you reconsider your position.

Yes, at its most basic there is bread and a filling, and the two are married together in a harmonious and satisfying relationship. But there is a minefield of etiquette and choice to negotiate before navigating your way safely to sandwich success. What kind of bread? White, brown, pitta, ciabatta, tortilla, focaccia, baguette, bagel, sourdough – the list is as long as a French stick. Crusts on or off? Cut into squares or triangles? Is a burger a sandwich? How about a hotdog? Do wraps count? What about Scandinavian open sandwiches which, by their very nature, fail in the primary duty of ‘sandwiching’ a filling? These are deep philosophical questions which author Helen Graves tackles unflinchingly (although, disappointingly, she has nothing to say on whether butter, when required, should be salted or unsalted).

On the whole, she takes a fairly liberal view of what can march proudly under the sandwich banner, which is reflected in the worldwide inspiration for her recommendations, including ideas from Mexico, Japan, Egypt, Portugal, China, Holland, Italy, Turkey, America (natch), France and the UK (from refined cucumber sandwiches to the chip butty).    

The recipes vary widely in sophistication and complexity, from classic egg and cress to vada pav, a spicy Indian street food snack involving deep-fried potato balls and various home-made chutneys. With 101 suggestions there are plenty of ideas to tempt you from the ham-and-mustard standby, although you might want to check with your doctor before trying the Elvis, a pan-fried combination of streaky bacon, white bread, peanut butter and banana, or the Luther burger, a bacon cheeseburger sandwiched between a glazed doughnut. Both, unsurprisingly, are from America. For something less disturbing, try the croque monsieur, below, from France.

101 Sandwiches by Helen Graves is published by Dog 'n' Bone Books, price £12.99.

Croque monsieur

The croque monsieur (‘crisp mister’) is a French classic; a toasted ham and cheese sandwich with a typically Gallic twist of decadence in the form of béchamel sauce

Croque monsieur

Makes 2

For the béchamel sauce

  • 425ml milk
  • a few black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Slice of onion
  • 40g butter
  • 20g plan flour
  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste

For the sandwiches

  • 4 slices sturdy white bread
  • butter, at room temperature
  • 4 slices cooked ham
  • Gruyère cheese, grated

  1. To make the béchamel sauce, heat the milk gently in a saucepan with the peppercorns, bay leaves, and onion. When it reaches simmering point, take it off the heat and strain into a bowl. Discard the flavourings.
  2. Melt the butter in a separate saucepan, then mix in the flour, stirring vigorously to make a smooth paste, or roux. Start adding the milk slowly, mixing all the time. When about half of it is in, start adding it in larger quantities. The sauce should be smooth and glossy. Let it cook gently for about five minutes, stirring, then remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Preheat the grill to low.
  3. To make the sandwiches, start by lightly toasting the bread slices. Spread with butter, then add a layer of ham, followed by a healthy layer of grated cheese to two of the slices. Add a second slice of toasted bread to each sandwich and top with a good blanket of the béchamel sauce. Add a little extra cheese on top, if you like.
  4. Place the assembled sandwiches under the grill and grill until they are oozing, melting and generally looking gorgeous. It’s good to do this slowly in order to make sure that the cheese inside is melted too. When it’s going nicely, turn up the grill a bit to get the top all nice and bubbly. Serve immediate with some Dijon mustard.