The Bread Paradox
DC on Rye
Published: Friday, February 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 20:02
Recently, there came a troubling point in my relationship with sandwiches when I began to wonder exactly what counts as a sandwich. Seeking clarity, I looked up definitions of the sandwich in the Oxford English Dictionary, Urban Dictionary and The New York Times and received a range of answers from the sarcastic question, "What isn’t a sandwich?" to an 18th century story about the drunken Earl of Sandwich, who was too inebriated to make a proper meal and instead ate slices of meat between two slices of bread.
While the internet was thoroughly disappointing, I consistently read that a sandwich has to have an ingredient that holds everything together — a boundary between the fillings and the open air.
Usually, some form of bread serves as this boundary; however, bread is a dangerous medium for sandwich-makers to use. In my experience, bread can begin to deteriorate even just 30 minutes after a sandwich has been assembled. As the succulent juices from the main ingredients leak onto the surface of the bread, the crumb becomes wet and the bread loses its elastic and glutinous structure. In other words, the bread quickly turns into a soggy mess, that falls apart and, ultimately, fails in its duty of holding a sandwich together.
If you have time, try this demonstration to see firsthand what I’m talking about. You will need four slices of white or wheat sandwich bread, peanut butter and jelly. Now, make a PB & J sandwich by spreading peanut butter on a slice of bread, jelly on another, and putting the two slices together. Then, make another PB & J, this time including a thin layer of peanut butter on both slices of bread before adding any jelly.
The first sandwich will be catastrophic. The bread will be saturated with jelly, and the contents of your sandwich will ooze out everywhere, making your hands sticky and probably ruining your clothes and your mood. Now, eat the second sandwich. Here, the peanut butter acts as a caulk against the destructive moisture in the jelly, keeping everything perfect and, most importantly, allowing the bread to maintain its consistency. If you want to see a stronger juxtaposition, make the sandwiches in the morning and pack them away for lunch later. This caulking qualities of peanut butter are effective, but there are some sandwiches where peanut butter is entirely inappropriate (a Reuben, for instance). Some people try to toast the bread or replace the bread with pita, but these are imperfect solutions.
I remain hopeful, but my research shows that there is not yet a universal solution to this bread crisis despite sandwich-makers around the world who are working tirelessly to solve this serious problem. We can all help this cause by being especially creative with the way we prepare our bread.
Epicurean and Co. proposes an interesting tactic to combat the ubiquity of soggy bread. In the case of the Ryan Hall sandwich, Epi sandwich-makers use sourdough for more than just holding the inside of the sandwich together. The thick slices of this bread are delightful on their own, but in the Ryan Hall, they have been dipped in egg and grilled alongside the other ingredients: ham, turkey, cheese and a smothering of Russian dressing. Ordinarily, any sandwich with such an assemblage of ingredients is a gooey catastrophe, but here, the egg cooks deep into the pockets and crevices of the bread, protecting the eater from rogue drops of Russian dressing and melted cheese. This is not to mention the simple taste of the egg, which subtly works to counteract the sharp flavors of the sourdough bread.
Since I began eating sandwiches again, nothing has disappointed me like receiving a sandwich with soggy bread. But as long as Epicurean still offers the Ryan Hall, I rest easy knowing there is at least one delicious respite among all the soggy buns.
David Chardack is a freshman in the College. DC ON RYE appears every other Friday in the guide.