What is an open-faced sandwich?
Look, I don’t want to open up a debate here on what is or isn’t a sandwich. It’s been done. On this Blog, we regard sandwich classification as no different than plant and animal classification. Sandwiches are an order, much like mammals are an order. There are many different families, genuses, and species within the classified realm of sandwiches. No one is out there arguing that dolphins aren’t actually mammals because on the surface they seem very different from mice. No one is actively trying to start fights on twitter to discount the legitimacy of the place occupied by the platypus and the echidna in the mammalian order.
….actually there probably are people on Twitter doing that. Twitter is a terrible place. (follow me @jonostrandwich!)
Look at it this way: A platypus is like a wrap. There are very clearly certain characteristics that make you think it should be a sandwich, but then bam! it’s got the bill of duck, lays eggs, and rolls up its ingredients in a flatbread.
If a wrap is like a platypus, then the open faced sandwich is like a whale. Mammals have fur, the same way sandwiches have two pieces of bread. Not all the time.
An open faced sandwich is a sandwich that you could easily throw another piece of bread on, but it is so aesthetically pleasing that you end up leaving it off. Whales could breathe air all the time, but then what’s the point of being in the water?
The point is, ‘sandwich’ may be a verb, but ‘a sandwich” is a portable foodstuff on or placed in (not baked in) a bread (or bread like) substance. There are other factors, but like i said, i’m not here to talk about what is or isn’t a sandwich today. I’m here to talk about open faced sandwiches.
(side note before I begin: Anyone who feels the urge to present to me the pedantic troll follow-up “yeah but is cereal a soup?” can politely fuck right off. Honestly, get some original material, and go read up the history of soup over here http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodsoups.html. And the history of breakfast cereal over here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breakfast_cereal You may also rest assured I will cover soup at some point on this blog)
Open faced sandwiches are basically the models of the sandwich world. They’re showy by nature. Everything they have is on display, so you’ve got to use the high quality stuff. Not only that, but the placement of all the ingredients has to work well visually and for the sake of taste.
A sexy sandwich found on Reddit
The prime example of open faced in my opinion is the Scandinavian Smørrebrød. The most basic version of which is some black bread with some butter and pickled fish. A lot of folk over here will use any thin rye, but as a fella with Danish in-laws it’s my duty to inform you that you need to use black bread (rugbrød) to make it extra legit. This kind of bread is usually found in most grocery stores in the snooty expensive rye section. It’s worth it, just go get some. It seems expensive for a small amount, but it lasts forever and is very filling.
You of course don’t need to include the pickled fish if that’s not your bag. Pork is also a traditional favorite, as well as sometimes light deli meats. It’s always good to add some pickled onion and dill on there as well and maybe some hard boiled egg. In my experience, the Danish table always has 3 (minimum)types of bread in a basket, a bowl of eggs, a jar of herring, a giant Havarti (preferably with caraway seeds), and a bottle of aquavit. Getting very drunk at lunch is very Scandinavian apparently. Skol!
The best I’ve ever had was at a stall in a lunch market in downtown Copenhagen. The second best was a homemade version with Danish grocery store rugbrød, and a jar of curried herring at my airbnb. People always say dumb shit like this, but I have to echo that the herring over there is just somehow way better. I’ve had the same brands imported while eating with my in-law inn Canada, but over there it’s just softer and fresher or something. That first bite somehow felt like less of a leap over there also. I dunno, It’s just really good.
I made this one with Yukon available ingredients. Simple but nice looking. Herring, red onion, and dill on rugbrød. I should head down the road to Tum Tums meats and get some Yukon raised pork and try it again. Go follow the old instagram and I’ll keep you posted ( @sandwichdad.ca )
Next up for the open faced is the Chlebíčky.
I was turned on to this sandwich by a Czech friend of mine up here (hello Patrik).
Obložené chlebíčky are beautiful sandwiches, seemingly custom made for my taste. Made on Veka, which as far as i understand is a wider Czech version of a baguette, these usually start with an interesting spread. I made mine with mayo and cream cheese respectively, but I also had no real idea what I was doing. Patrik informed me that when he first came to Canada, he made some for friends with spreads of horseradish and walnuts, crab and lemon, and garlic, cottage cheese and radish.
Apparently, his new Canadian friends were a bit weirded out by these new flavour combos, but in fairness this part of Canada is strange and remote. I’m certainly looking forward to expanding my chlebíčky spread horizons, or even checking out the real thing if we’re ever able to travel again. It makes me sad that I only used Mayo and cream cheese, but Patrik still said these looked pretty legit, so I feel OK with it.
After the spread, there are many things you dress it with. Potato salad, eggs, meats, pickled stuff, etc. The thing is, it’s open faced. You have to make it look nice. This is a sandwich on the town, not a sandwich in sweat pants on the couch. It takes a minute to get put together.
I’ll admit, when getting mine ready, I tried a few different designs to make it look good. It took a while, but it was worth it. I settled on one design for both, and made them symmetrical. I used Mayo and cream cheese, as i said, as well as Hungarian salami, pickle slices, olives, tomatoes, red onion and hard boiled eggs. Na zdraví!
I also decided on featuring an easy Dutch classic, the Uitsmijter.
I haven’t done much on breakfast sandwiches just yet, but rest assured, a thorough deep dive is coming. Besides, these aren’t quite breakfast sandwiches, they are late-night after drinking sandwiches. Uitdsmijter means to throw out, and it’s what you eat after you’re thrown out of the bars. This is basic stuff, but it’s still pretty. If the Smorbrod is what you look like when you leave the house, Uitsmijter is what you look like when you get back home. Bread, butter, ham, cheese and eggs. If you use two eggs and have the yolks staring back at you , it’s almost like looking into the abyss and having it look back. Then you eat the abyss to fill the void inside you, and go to bed.
Ok, so Open faced Sandwiches are beautiful and delicious. Got it
Hold on there Poindexter.
These are European open faced sandwiches.
Meet the North American exception that proves the rule.
The Hot Brown.
Now I know the traditional southern hot brown has a mornay sauce and bacon and tomato and some fancier stuff like that. You can even dress it up and make it fit in with the Europeans. The hot brown i know is a bit different. It really just chicken or turkey on white bread with gravy over top. Or in this case, Swiss Chalet sauce.
When i used to bartend, this was a fairly popular winter lunch order. When ordered with a poutine, it was known locally as “the brown frown”.
If smørrebrød and chlebíčky are formal wear and uitmijter is sweatpants, then the brown frown is a high-vis vest over a filthy mackinaw jacket.
So what have we learned?
although there are many regional variations on the open faced, all are equally welcome in the benevolent order of sandwiches. You can make a bologna and cheese on store brand white bread and make it look nice enough to be a legit open faced regional specialty I would be proud to stand behind by retweeting and shouting its legitimacy from my admittedly very low hill.
Not everything is a sandwich, agreed. But my DMs are open to debate toe to toe with any of you non-believers regarding open-faced. I’m really nice when I debate, too. I promise. I’ll probably even concede to you many of your arguments (just ask the missus). But in the end, I know you’ll come around and we’ll be fast friends.
Look…. this pandemic has been hard on all of us, and I just finished 6 months of being trapped inside my house with my children. I will talk to anyone about anything. I just wrote thorough piece on a norther boreal forest plant that I like over at longwalkcollective.org. There are months and month of drafts of sandwich posts and opinions piling up over here that I’m just dying to get out there into the world. So please, try me.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s lunch time.