As a site that features a weekly sandwich from around the world, it was only a matter of time until the question surfaced: What defines a sandwich? Does a taco count? What about a burrito? To find the answer to this pressing question, we turned to the authors of the newly released cookbook The New York Sandwich Book. Full of recipes from iconic New York institutions and mouthwatering photos, the cookbook is a great resource for anyone who has a deep love for sandwiches.
How do you define a sandwich?
Jean Tang: For the purposes of the book, we narrowed this down to include anything that had the word “sandwich” in the name (such as an open-faced sandwich), anything commonly referred to as a “sandwich,” and other concoctions nestled in a bread-like shell. We explicitly excluded tacos, hamburgers, and hot dogs. I’m a former attorney trained to be anal, and Sara went along very gamely with my hair splitting. I think we did a good job.
But the point of the book is to expand one’s definition of a sandwich to go beyond the “usual” things, like tuna melts and Reubens. Those are in the book, but one of our tuna sandwiches is by Jean-Georges and it’s a cross between tuna steak and French toast. We also have prosciutto on banana bread by the chef at the Four Seasons restaurant. So out there!
Sara Reistad-Long: Exactly. Along those lines, it was interesting to learn that almost every culture has developed something that really does work well under those more narrow parameters. In Mexico, for example, you've got tortas — hollowed out rolls stuffed with a lot of the same delectable shredded meats, cheeses, and fillings you'd see in tacos or burritos.
What makes a good sandwich?
JT: Moisture is key. You’ve got to have something that binds everything together — be it a condiment, a crumbly or melted cheese, or the forgiving softness of an egg.
SRL: Also, imagination. Something that we've loved about this project is the fact that as soon as people hear about the book, they'll bring up a sandwich they had or made that they found extraordinary. Often, it's got unexpected combinations of ingredients. ("I really love cheese and pickles, so I combined them," that sort of thing. Incidentally, we do have a grilled cheese and pickle sandwich in the book from Saxelby Cheesemongers. It's delicious.)
Which do you think are the most iconic New York sandwiches that you featured?
JT: Since it’s a global and modern book for a global and modern city, I’d say our classic bahn mi by Michael Hyunh, our upper-crust New York cheesesteak by Bill Oliva, the moist chicken souvlaki by Michael Psilakis, Mario’s Mozzarella in Corozza, and the Lamington by Shaun Hergatt. There you have Vietnamese, Greek, Italian, and Aussie… with something from N.Y. thrown in for good measure!
SRL: From the "what defines New York" perspective, working on the book was such an adventure — every single entry reflects so many influences, in terms of both cultural background and how a cooking style has evolved in this eclectic environment. When you're taking about something as simple and, yes, elegant as a sandwich, those points of inspiration really shine through... That's also a very long-winded way of saying that for me, every moment it's a different answer. On my brain right now? The Brown Sugar Whoopee Cookie with Maple Cream Cheese Icing from Magnolia Bakery and Pearl Oyster Bar's Lobster Roll.
What are some of your favorite tricks/substitutions for making a sandwich healthier?
JT: This question is all Sara. She is the health blogger, and super trim and fit.
SRL: (Ha!) But this brings up a good point: Because they're portion controlled and substitutions are easy to slip in and out, sandwiches make a great blueprint for healthy eating. Little changes make a big difference, too. Subbing out mayo in favor of low or non-fat Greek yogurt can save you about 165 calories (and close to 20 grams of fat). Cutting out just one piece of cheese brings your meal down by around 100 calories. Also not to be ignored are all the opportunities to add fresh, antioxidant-rich produce. A lot of classic combinations even bring out each other's potency. Studies show that a few slices of avocado, for example, will help the body absorb the cancer-fighting carotenoids in tomatoes.