If you haven’t noticed, I began this blog near the top of ye olde sandwich chain with the mighty dagwood, and have since been moving slowly along the rungs of beginner sandwichdom. On the winding road towards the restaurant classics, the regional and world specialties, and on to the truly new and incredible, we must start somewhere. I have chosen to begin this journey autobiographically. The homemade, the school lunches, and the very seeds that grow all sandwich dabblers into full blown hardcore sandwich moms/dads/uncles/aunts/non-binary folk etc.
These are important because they are the sandwiches anyone can start with. It’s what we all started with. My idiot children can spread a bit peanut butter on bread, or assemble a cold meat sandwich easily enough. But that is only the very start. My oldest is just beginning to move on to level 3, and I am beginning to fill the pride and excitement. What is level 3? Mixing shit with mayo and calling it salad.
The tradition of combining mayonnaise and protein along with a few token vegetables goes way back to the mid 1800s, the protein usually being chicken or seafood. The first instance I found is from 1847, and refers to a “salad with cold meat or fowl” and features instructions to a homemade mayonnaise. A meat shop in Rhode Island began selling a chicken salad in 1863 which included mayo, grapes and tarragon. Egg Salad seemed to start showing up in cookbooks just before turn of the century. Tuna salad in the early 1900’s. Then came ham salad. Tuna salad got a huge boost mid century as “dieters dish” and If old cookbooks are any indication, that seems to have eventually caused a mayonnaise salad renaissance in the 1950s to 70’s. It was then taken way too far( eg: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hellmanns-recipes-vintage-ads_n_4747119) and was culturally scaled back to the basics in most places by the 1980’s. Those basics being: Tuna, chicken, and egg (sometimes lobster/crab if yer coastal)
The most popular home version (at least in my home) is Tuna. Tuna comes from a can, it was put there by a man in a factory downtown. If I had my little way I likely would not eat tuna every day, but it’s still great from time to time. I live in the country (residential), and I eat me a lot of tuna.
Tuna is just the easiest of all of them. The hardest thing you need to do is open a can. After that, all the salads are pretty similar, but with slight variations of herbs and spices. My childhood version was usually just a small amount of mayo and chopped celery (again, health nut family), but my recipe is now much better. I’ll post all these below, but apart from the usual (mayo, mustard, salt, pepper) the essentials for my tuna salad are dill, lemon, pickles, hot sauce, and either red onion or scallions. Celery is good for crunch, but onion and pickles can easily replace that and add more flavour.
Besides ease of getting started, another great thing you can do with tuna that you can’t really do with the others is the tuna melt. For the uninitiated, a tuna melt, is an open faced sandwich (not technically a true sandwich but we’ll get into that another time) in which you put tuna salad on toast, cover it with cheese and melt it under the broiler. Now there are some wags out there who are vehemently opposed to the concept of fish + cheese. If you are one of these people, please leave your stubborn bubble of convention, have a bagel with cream cheese and lox, or tuna melt, or a goddamned filet o fish, and join the rest of us in delicious reality.
Chicken Salad is my family’s #2. The biggest problem is that we don’t often have left over chicken, and canned chicken is just a non starter. Still, whenever we pick up a grocery store roast chicken, I try to remember this recipe before its all picked away. For this salad, celery is more important than for tuna, but not as much as adding celery seed. You know, the flavor that makes chicken pot pie really great?. Basically, celery seed, celery, red onion, and tarragon is the way i make mine, and it really is the best. I may even pick up a roast chicken tonight, so I can make it.
Now, its hard to find lobster in the subarctic where I live, and I’m not really interested in canned crab. Canned ham seems like a slippery slope down the lesser lunch meat laneway, and the missus is allergic to shrimp. That leaves the #3 spot on the mayo salad list as the mighty egg!
Egg salad is great. Problem is, you have to boil, peel, and chop eggs. We pack a lot of hard boiled eggs for lunches in our family, so there are usually a few kicking around. We’ve even found our way around the annoying need to boil them. After visiting some Danish family this past spring, we noticed that Scandinavians (who also always have hard boiled eggs around) seemed to all have the little countertop egg cookers. So we got one. It “boils” (soft, medium, or hard) up 7 eggs at a time with steam, and goes off when it’s done. No getting the pot boiling, no setting a time, just put em in and walk away until you hear the absolutely awful sound signifying that they’re done. So, there’s the boiling problem gone at least. That just leaves the peeling and chopping.
Peeling is easy enough. You’ve all got your special ways i’m sure. Mine is crack the top, then the bottom, and roll ’em back and fort on the counter. the shell comes off like nothing. As for chopping, I think I’ve been doing this wrong my whole life. I just realized while writing this, that there is an easier way to perform this annoying chore. If you halve the eggs, and remove the yolk, then chop only the whites into uniform pieces. Then mix the yolks with the mayo and add the whites afterwards. It’s a revalation! It works so well! This may have been a given to many of you, but my dumb ass just figured it out so take it easy. It took me 25 years to figure out that I should turn on the shower and let it warm up BEFORE I step in, so sometimes the obvious slips right past me. Hence, until now, I’ve always tried to chop the eggs whole. Ugh.
Anyway, for my egg salad, I like to keep it pretty simple. A bit of paprika and lots of pepper. My only ‘secret’ ingredient is scallions. Sometimes I might throw some dill, or even chopped cilantro in there, but not always. The only absolute with egg salad for me, is that you need lettuce on the sandwich. It’s optional on the chicken and tuna, but the egg needs that bit of green one side of the bread or something is missing.
Now none of these are absolutes. Make your own Mayo salad sandwich however you like. Use peas, apples, walnuts and grapes for all I care. Make yourself a little tuna waldorf if you like. Use avocado instead of mayo (I may try that). Try new stuff. If you like an herb, throw it in there. That’s how I got the tarragon in my chicken.
These sandwiches are again, not at all fancy, unless you really want them to be. They’re a step above your average cold meat sandwich. Diners will serve them with fries soup or salad, which jumps them above bologna. It’s actually prepared and there is an actual recipe. They’re filling and about as un-pretentious as you can get for a restaurant sandwich. Best yet, everyone has their own way of doing it. Sandwiches are at their best when creative licence is not only available but inevitable. .
Recipes: (no exact measurements)
Tuna Salad: 1 can of tuna (drained), 2 globs mayo, a couple squirts of yellow mustard, salt, pepper, lemon juice, 2-5 squirts of hot sauce, 1 or 2 baby dill pickles chopped, chopped red onion (about the same about as the pickles), a good amount of fresh dill (or dill from one of those squeeze tubes)
Chicken Salad: Leftover chicken (chopped into small pieces), 2 globs mayo, a couple squirts of yellow mustard, 1 rib of celery chopped fine, chopped red onion equal to amount of celery, a good amount of celery seed, a good amount of dry tarragon, salt, pepper.
Egg Salad: 4 boiled eggs (separate whites from yolks, chopped whites, mash yolks with mayo), 2 globs of mayo, a good amount of chopped scallions, salt, paprika, a good amount of pepper.
So this was level 3. What’s level 4?
Next week is Grilled Cheese.
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