Britain is a nation of sandwich lovers. Ask any Brit and they will have a favourite. Our most-loved fillings showcase simplicity at its best; using fresh, local ingredients, unified by lashings of naughty butter or creamy mayonnaise and lovingly tucked up in soft bread. The supermarket isles are full of them and each lunchtime involved a battle to bag your favourite before they are all plucked off the shelves. Here is a run down of the most classic British combos I could think of, plus a selection of fancy-shmansy (but you’ll have to admit it, pretty tasty) foreign oeuvres of the sandwich world.
It doesn’t get more simple than the humble cucumber sandwich; now an almost shunned creation, reserved for high-society afternoon teas or your child’s ‘teddybear picnic’. However, given a little love and effort, this sandwich can be so much more than bread and cucumber. Take the softest, freshest slice or white of brown bread you can find, spread lightly with butter, layer over 2-3mm slices of refreshing cucumber, give it a crack of salt and spoon over a little dill yoghurt sauce or mint chutney (harking back to colonial days in India) and voila – this isn’t just a sandwich for your Granny!
The Bread: soft sliced white or brown bread
To Butter or Not To Butter: butter
Egg Mayo and Cress
The secret behind a great egg sandwich is how you cook the eggs; overdo them and you’ll have a dry yolk and rubbery whites, not cooked long enough and you’ll never achieve a smooth and light mayonnaise blend. This sandwich should be as light as a cloud, yet rich, and seasoning is crucial. Traditionally, cress is used to supply peppery notes to this otherwise slightly sweet filling. I like to replace the cress with watercress which has a more robust flavour. Try swapping out the bread for a buttery, flaky croissant.
The Bread: soft white or brown bread
To Butter or Not To Butter: a thin spreading
Another mayonnaise-rich filling; this time with seafood. The juicy, pink prawns should have a lovely bite, enveloped in a velvety marie-rose sauce and uplifted by a squeeze of zesty lemon and a pinch of hot cayenne pepper. The prawns alone are a beautiful filling, but you could also take notes from a classic 90s dish; prawn cocktail. Add in some sliced ripe avocado, fresh tomatoes (seeds removed to avoid excessive moisture) and crisp Iceberg lettuce. Another idea is to combine two classic mayonnaise fillings and pile on some of the egg-mayo mix from the previous sandwich.
The Bread: crispy white baguette
To Butter or Not To Butter: no butter
Juicy fish, crunchy golden breadcrumbs, fresh tomato slices and soft bread make for a texturally exciting sandwich. No fish finger buttie is complete without tangy tartare sauce, packed with gherkins, capers and finely diced shallots. Also try in a warmed flour tortilla wrap.
The Bread: white country loaf or white seeded roll
To Butter or Not To Butter: butter
Tuna and Sweetcorn
Add some interest and moisture to a dull tin of tuna with a squeeze of mayo and some sweet, bright yellow corn. I like to toast the bread to give a nice crunch, rather than a soggy bite. Try adding in chopped gherkins for a pickled kick, or take out the sweetcorn, tone down the mayo and top with a little cheese then toast into an oozing tuna melt.
The Bread: wholemeal bloomer
To Butter or Not To Butter:no butter
During Britain’s colonial days in India, we embraced their cuisine and developed a love of vibrant spices and sweet chutneys. As the name suggests, Coronation chicken is a dish that was created for the banquet of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Cold chicken (often that left over from a Sunday roast) is folded into a creamy-sweet curry sauce with fruity apricot jam, raisins, flaked almonds and sometimes fresh parsley. It is utterly addictive, but extremely rich (which often leads to over-indulging until feeling rather sick!) Embrace another Eastern influence and stuff this filling into a toasted pita bread.
The Bread: crisp brown loaf or wholemeal baguette
To Butter or Not To Butter: definitely no butter needed
Chicken and Stuffing
Another way to use up leftovers from a roast; this time both the chicken (or turkey) and the stuffing. The stuffing is packed with a wonderful mix of herbs and seasoning. Bread with bread; sure it’s a heavy partnership, but it’s proper comfort food. Moisten with mayo and add in some cranberry sauce for an uplifting fruitiness. A Christmas-time favourite.
The Bread: soft white or brown roll
To Butter or Not To Butter: no butter
Late weekend breakfasts wouldn’t be the same without a greasy, buttery, delicious bacon sandwich. Be sure to use smoked streaky bacon, full of fatty flavour. Forget about being heath conscious – this sandwich requires a thick spreading of butter, a good squirt of tomato Ketchup or brown sauce and a fair few rashers of bacon per person. Many people like to toast their bread but I disagree. Keep the bread fresh and soft to allow all that gorgeous bacon fat to soak in. Turn it into a BLT by adding crisp Iceberg lettuce, sliced tomato and mayonnaise.
The Bread: crisp white country loaf
To Butter or Not To Butter: butter liberally
Another humble sandwich, needing no more than a great slice of ham. The ham can make it or break it, so stay away from the packets of ‘wafer-thin-is-this-even-real-meat-ham’ and head to the deli counter. A thick, blushing slice of Wiltshire ham is my meat of choice. You can fashion a ham sandwich several ways: retro ham, lettuce, tomato and salad cream; paired with piquant English mustard; or topped with chunky coleslaw or spread with your favourite chutney.
The Bread: white country loaf or seeded brown loaf
To Butter or Not To Butter: butter lightly
Pubs across Britain keep hard-working Brits well-fed with a hearty Ploughman’s platter. A traditional Ploughman’s lunch consists of local cheeses such as Stilton, Cheddar, Wensleydale and Leicester, alongside pickles, chutneys, slices of apple and grapes and a simple salad. Translated into a sandwich, it is essentially cheese and pickle, personalised with any or all of the above. Add salt and vinegar crisps to the mix; gourmet it is not, but it adds a delicious crunch.
The Bread: brown seeded loaf or white country loaf
To Butter or Not To Butter: butter away!
Cheese and Tomato
This next sandwich is my personal favourite; my mum thinks this is down to her cheese and tomato pregnancy cravings. A medium cheddar is my cheese of choice – it is creamy, buttery and slightly sweet which balances well with the fresh tomato. Mature Cheddar also works well, but I find it to be a little too ‘grown up’ for my childhood memories of this sandwich. Be sure to use a good quality large tomato – cherry tomatoes and too sweet, not providing adequate lightness. Take notes from the Italians and try a classic Caprese with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes and fresh basil leaves on ciabatta bread.
The Bread: soft white roll
To Butter or Not To Butter: to butter
Ooze, melty, stringy cheese goodness, ‘smooshed’ between crisp, toasted and slightly charred bread. Need I say more? I like to butter both sides of the bread for a delicious, golden crust. Feel free to add in some pickle and a steaming bowl of tomato soup is compulsory for dipping.
The Bread: white sliced or white country loaf
To Butter or Not To Butter: butter inside and out!
Foreigners are often puzzled by our love of this stodgy, carb-packed concoction. Chips between bread, are we mad? Well, if it tastes good, who cares. Hot, freshly deep-dried chips that are crisp on the outside and fluffy in the middle, plenty of butter and soft white bread. It’s the ultimate rainy day pitch-side snack when watching the game.
The Bread: soft white roll or sliced bread
To Butter or Not To Butter:butter
Beef and Horseradish
Yet another Sunday roast leftovers inspired sarnie and a pub grub favourite. Horseradish adds a potent kick to the mayonnaise. Triple up on the beef for a hearty lunchtime bite. Try adding in some sauerkraut for a nice crunch and sweet-tangy flavour to counter the horseradish.
The Bread: crispy wholemeal loaf or baguette or rye bread
To Butter or Not To Butter:you decide
A childhood favourite of mine. This probably wasn’t the most nutritious sandwich, but I certainly loved days when I would open up my lunchbox to find a pretty stack of white bread squares stained red at the edges from the sweet strawberry jam. None of the fancy stuff here – only cheap white bread will do. Get creative and head across the Atlantic for an American-inspired treat of peanut butter and jelly (or jam to you and me), or go one step further and try the now infamous ‘Elvis’ – a strangely delightful fusion of sweet and savoury, with peanut butter, strawberry jam, sliced banana and maple grilled bacon! I also love adding stinky camembert cheese and a grating of Parmesan for grown-up play of sweet-and-savoury.
The Bread: cheap soft sliced white
To Butter or Not To Butter: you decide
Inspirations from Abroad:
The Vietnamese took inspiration from the French during colonial times, taking their fluffy, crisp baguettes and filling them to the brim with fresh Asian flavours. The baguettes are halved, buttered, spread liberally with pork liver pate, mayonnaise and chilli sauce, then stuffed with ribbons of carrot, cucumber, radish, fresh coriander and roast pork or chicken. The meats are sometimes marinated with lemongrass and other herbs for an extra burst of South-East Asia.
French Croque Monsieur
The Croque Monsier is essentially a cheese and ham toastie. However, the French elevate this simple pairing to an almost gourmet dish, adding creamy béchamel sauce and topping the whole thing with more cheese which crisps up under the grill. They are certainly not a nation known for their low-fat cuisine; butter, cheese and more butter are the holy trinity of French cuisine!
Succulent and fatty boneless pork belly, rolled with a sage stuffing and roasted until beautifully moist, with an incredible crackling, then sliced thinly and stuffed into a ciabatta roll. The Italian’s answer to our bacon sarnie and an amazing street food loved by all.
Italian Pizza Bianca with Mortadella
Another meat takes centre stage in this second Italian sandwich. Mortadella is a large heat-cured pork sausage from Bologna, speckled with cubes of tasty fat and sometimes spiced with black peppercorns, pistachios and myrtle berries. It’s a lovely moist meat and works extremely well sandwiches into freshly baked, salty pizza bianca.
Spanish Jamon Iberico
I have always credited Spain with having the best hams in the world. I love a thick slice of juicy English ham, but nothing can compare to the incredible, intense flavour of a Serrano or Iberico ham. Deep red in colour, marbled with fat and waxy in texture; nothing need be added to these meats to make an incredible sandwich. Drizzle some crispy white bread with good quality olive oil and top with a few torn pieces of jamon Iberico – sensational.
A popular Greek street food; a kebab of sorts. Pork, chicken or lamb roasted on a vertical spit, sliced off into a thick flatbread and rolled up with thick-cut chips, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, garlicky tzatziki sauce, mustard, ketchup and mayo. It’s the full works; sure to keep you going for the rest of the day.
New York Bagel and Lox
Scandinavian influence soaked up by a multicultural epicentre. Lox is a type of smoked salmon cured in a sugar-salt rub or brine. This is traditionally served in a bagel with lashings of cream cheese and often topped with thinly sliced red onion, capers for seasoning and sliced tomato for freshness.
American Philly Cheese Steak
Sautéed slices of beef, stuffed into a baguette with onions and green peppers and blanketed in melted American cheese. For a lighter and more gourmet version, use thinly-sliced rare-cooked steak, replace the fluorescent American cheese with cooling cream cheese and top with peppery rocket.
Not actually from Cuba, Florida is credited with the invention of the hot Cuban sandwich. This is another variation of the ham and cheese sandwich, made with ham, roasted pork, swiss cheese, dill pickles and yellow mustard, in Cuban bread that buttered on the outside and pressed on a hot grill until golden on the outside and oozing in the middle. It’s a messy eat that will have juices running from your chin and arms.
Japanese Red Bean Bun
Red bean paste, or adzuki bean paste is used in many Japanese sweets. Is is prepared by boiling the beans until soft, then passing the mixture through a sieve to remove the skins and result in a smooth paste that is sweetened with sugar or honey. Red bean buns are a popular sweet treat in Japan and are extremely addictive once you develop a taste for the sweetened, velvety beans.