Friday, February 23, 2007

Private Fare

Today I met the sandwich of my dreams, primordial snack stuff, maybe even the genesis of it all. Last summer I made manifest the smorgastorta and it was stupendous. But it was pomp and circumstance, a primped up sandwich cake full of smug satisfaction demanding adulation and trumped up ornamentation. Yet underneath the chiffon cream top and fussy radish rose festoons sat plain the noble and elemental desire to mash together whatever is on hand in the larder and turn out a meal or finer yet, a midnight snack. I don’t mind admitting that the one that called to me first and has eluded me until now is the rather unexpected sardine sandwich.

The sardine sandwich has been an idea or an icon born off the nightly illustrations of Blondie. It represented an adult world, a far away place both charming, whimsical and perhaps even a touch mystical. There are foods that enchant us, possess us with their full bodied allure and for me those tiny tinned fish led the way. Stacked obediently in rows, the somnolescent school afloat in tomato or mustard-y brine intrigued me with its unapologetic realism. Appended to the side of a bullet shaped body, a scrape of silvery skin, the stiff ridge of fin and even the jointed stem of spine could be found. Nothing hidden, no buffer, life and death and in between contained within a palm sized sarcophagus. For a child accustomed to chicken morphing into nuggets and pig snouts turning into hot dogs, these miniaturized ocean water creatures became another world sought for, if not in dreams.

But as I’ve discovered, not all dreams are meant to be shared by others. There can be something lost in translation as one tries to convey meaning and significance to another body, case in point the chicken sandwich. Years ago after going to the SF Farmers Market I’d amble over to a café in the Justin Herman Plaza. It was a fancy place that served over priced build-you-own sandwiches and perfectly roasted chicken. Over months I created a flawless sandwich which consisted of a juicy herbed chicken breast on top of a crusty sourdough roll slathered mercilessly with mayonnaise. To enrich the snack a 1/3” slab of truffle mousse liver pâté was lightly pressed into the bread along with 2 pieces of thick cut bacon, sliced onions capped off with a juicy tomato on top. I’d slink off possessively guarding my prize, moments later free to sink into a private reverie. The mistake I made two times later was to have my friends meet the sandwich. Suffice to say one thought it too rich and the other was relatively unfazed by this gastronomical wonder. I was crushed twice and seriously miffed at least once.

The moral of that story is that there is an important place for solo food experiences. Maybe one doesn’t always need to share, connect with or even accommodate another’s taste or preference. But instead relish in a space where one feasts on food in a wolfish kind of way, primal, free and without utensils or apology.

Variation on a Sardine: I tend to always have a variety of sardines on hand for snacking with crackers. A combination of thinking about the Adriatic Sea where I first had fresh grilled sardines, missing pickled herring on knäckebröd with sweet butter, and wishing for a springtime picnic á la Wind in the Willows with Ratty and Mole, inspired me to gulp down this simple treat. I am working up a Vietnamese bánh-mi version as well.

Idea on a theme Take 1: AM Sardine sandwich
Lightly toasted walnut bread, cooled
Unsalted butter, cold
Thinly sliced onions
Sliced hard boiled egg
Sardines in tomato sauce
Lemon zest
Chopped parsley
A few capers
Lightly toasted walnut bread, cooled

Take 2: PM Sardine sandwich
Lightly toasted pumpernickel, cooled
Unsalted butter, cold
Sliced Jarlsburg cheese
Generous slather of secret sauce or mayo if you must
Thinly sliced onions
Sliced thin sweet and spicy pickles and/or sauerkraut
Sardines in mustard sauce
Lightly toasted pumpernickel, cooled


blatta said...

My Gawd, I thought I was riding a rising tide of sardinia frenzy until you brought in the description of that chicken sandwich. Unbelievable. Friends without soul or savour indeed to not respond to such a conflagration of fats, texture, and o-so-obvious tastiness.

But back on trac, our fresh local sardines, larger than the ones slapped together in the headless orgiastic intimacy of the can, are quite lovely on the BBQ with a bit of olive oil, sea salt, crushed garlic and a drizzle of good basalmic

Callipygia said...

Blatta- Yeah ashamed to say the chicken sandwich was a sort of litmus test for compatability...but I changed all that and have learned to not mix friendship w/ certain sandwiches. And fresh local sardines (sigh) I'll bet in Monterey you have lots. I don't remember seeing them much in SF, I also was on the hunt for fresh ones after having them grilled plucked fresh outta the sea. Ever have grilled smelts or mackeral?

HipWriterMama said...

Sorry Calliygia. While that chicken sandwich sounds good...I'm one of those people that would be unable to truly appreciate all that wonderful richness. More for you to enjoy!

Ivonne said...

Very nice! I must share this with my mother as she is an absolute sardine fiend!

Gattina said...

The only challenge for me (very young that time) was to eat this fish un-gutted. Must be fantastic putting them on grill, think of that fat releasing, crispy, tender...
Callipygia, I just bought a stack of canned sardine after reading your post :) :)

Freya said...

The sandwiches sound delightful, even to a batgirl, although I'd probably have the PM at AM and vice versa...!

Callipygia said...

hipwritermama- No worries I no longer judge others on whether or not they can handle the chicken sandwich- the virtues of maturity.

ivonne- I hope she likes it- I wasn't sure if this was my own private love affair. Sardine eaters unite!

gattina- oh yes the grilled version is much nicer, but the tinned fit so easily in a pocket or purse. Snack-on-the-go.

freya- Hmmm what would a batwich be? I guess I could create sardine sandwiches inspired by "the hours"- 24 varieties in all. no mixing tho ;)

Ellie said...

Would I be horrible if I said that I'd never tried either capers or sardines? My tastebuds can't handle salty things so I've just never ventured down that path after hearing about how salty these two things can be! However, after reading your post I think I'd be willing to give them a try. Well, once ;)

D-man said...

I fondly remember eating sardines on saltines as a kid. I tried them again a few years ago and the experience wasn't nearly as satifying. I'll have to try one of these sandwiches to properly familiarize myself with them again. I have a question though: if it's only a few minutes after midnight, do I have to go with the AM version? Or do I consider it my own personal PM until I go to sleep and go with that one? Please guide me back to the flashy little goodies....

and maybe I pass the "test" as that chicken sammich' sounds muy delicioso!

D-man said...

oh yeah, I forgot to mention: Tag! You're it!

Callipygia said...

ellie: I think this must be because you are all sweetness. True?

d-man: There must be a right answer, AM or PM?...Bananas! Remember one must forge their own sardine path through vast experimentation, I do suggest trying to find some fresh ones though. And I'm thinking about the MEME.

jbird said...

YUM!!!! I can never go back to plain mayo and chicken of the sea did you ever try anchovies and goat cheese with tomato and pepper on a baguette? saw it on the Williams Sonoma BCN cookbook. Maybe a different variation on tiny fish and toast. :-)

sher said...

Oh dear! Now you really have done it! Right now in my pantry there are at least 5 cans of sardines. There are some items that I must keep on hand, and sardines are in that category. I love them straight up, eaten without any embellishment or on crackers with relish. Or in a sandwich. Sigh!

I've always wanted to have them freshly caught and grilled--but haven't! I'm so deprived!

Callipygia said...

j-bird: Ai-ya I have to try this, you are the anchovy queen after all.

Sher: A fellow hardcore sardine lover! This sandwich is close to heaven with cheetos of course.