Wednesday 19 September 2018

How to make the perfect St Stephen's Day sandwich

Barry Stephens, the owner of 147 Deli, and his amazing sandwich. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Barry Stephens, the owner of 147 Deli, and his amazing sandwich. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Is there a more beautiful sight on this Earth then a heaving St Stephen's Day fridge?

Filled with cold leftovers, jars of indeterminate sauces and endless possibilities. Nothing is out of bounds - everything is up for grabs.

Today you will piece together the most important meal of the holidays - the St Stephen's Day sandwich - a Frankenstein stack of bread and trimmings that takes an inordinate amount of time to assemble.

There are a lot of components to factor in when constructing this epic sandwich. What's the correct ratio of turkey to ham? How much stuffing is too much stuffing? Gravy or cranberry sauce? Butter or mayonnaise? Is cheese a welcome addition? Should we incorporate salad or would the mere suggestion cause John Montagu, fourth Earl of Sandwich, to turn in his grave?

Alright, so making your perfect Stephen's Day sandwich isn't going to change the course of history, but chances are you'll spend the majority of this slow and sleepy day musing over it.

Let's start at the beginning - the bread. Traditionalists tend to favour soft white sliced pan - squidgy, bad for you, and delicious.

Kirsty Blake Knox with her Christmas dinner. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Kirsty Blake Knox with her Christmas dinner. Photo: Steve Humphreys

The only downside with sliced pan is the flimsiness - if your condiments are of a high viscosity, your sandwich is snookered. There are preventative measure you can take - butter creates a protective barrier and toasting will fortify it further. Or you can opt for alternatives; rye bread and sourdough, for example, are much sturdier.

Chef Paul James, of Juniors in Dublin, says whatever bread you choose, freshness is key. "I think white bread is best," he says. "It's Christmas - if you can't indulge now, when can you?

"The most important thing is that it needs to be as fresh as possible."

Paul makes a seasonal Christmas Cracker sandwich at Juniors. It's got the usual suspects; turkey, ham, a thin layer of herb and onion stuffing, cranberry relish, mayonnaise and a substantial amount of butter. To ensure the meat doesn't become too crumbly, slice it wafer-thin - think Paulie and his finely sliced garlic in 'Goodfellas'.

"St Stephen's Day sandwiches have a lot of sentimental value for people," he says. "So I think it's better to keep things straight-forward. You don't need to complicate things."

Not everyone agrees. Barry Stephens, of 147 Deli, thinks you should make the most of the abundance of ingredients in your fridge.

Controversially, he recommends incorporating the most divisive of Christmas foodstuff - the Brussels sprouts.

"We have a secret ingredient. We fry the sprouts in bacon fat, and cover them in bacon dust [ground-up bacon] - that converts every Brussels sprout hater," he said.

Bacon - is there anything it can't do?

According to Barry, the sprouts add a variety of texture to the sandwich - which can easily become too stodgy.

He favours a 2:1 ratio of ham to turkey, and says the quality of condiments can make or break the sandwich.

"Spread mayonnaise on one slice and cranberry on the other, to distribute the flavours evenly."

In the 90's series 'Friends', Ross Geller speaks of the importance of the moist maker - a layer of gravy- soaked bread placed in the sandwich - but Barry says it's better to put gravy in a ramekin and dunk.

Meanwhile, chef Gary Hanlon thinks a decent St Stephen's Day sandwich should be served with a gooey molten cheese.

"Add your turkey, ham, stuffing, brie, and grill until golden and delicious."

The main thing, he says, is to get creative.

Don't fret if things go wrong - you can always go back for seconds.

Putting together your not-for-sharing DIY triple-decker feast

Makes one very large triple- decker sandwich. This is not designed to be shared.

Ingredients

  • 2 slices of Brennan's white sliced pan
  • 1 slice of Brennan's wholegrain sliced pan
  • Kerrygold butter - softened
  • Full-fat Hellmann's mayonnaise
  • Cranberry sauce
  • Left-over gravy gently warmed through
  • Homemade bread stuffing
  • 1 big slice of clove-studded honey and mustard glazed ham sliced about half a centimetre thick, and some leftover sticky bits squirrelled away from Christmas Day
  • 80:20 white to brown turkey meat sliced
  • Very finely shredded iceberg lettuce
  • Electric carving knife
  • 4 toothpicks
  • 1 packet of Tayto cheese and onion for garnish

Method

Toast the slice of wholegrain bread until crunchy but not burnt. This is important for the crunch factor, not unlike a crisp sandwich.

Butter the two slices of white bread lightly, evenly and to the edge. Put mayo on top of one slice and cranberry on top of the other. Christmas is not the time to be stingy.

Put some lettuce on top of the mayo slice and top with turkey and a sprinkle of fine salt. Not a job for the crunchy kind.

Gently compact the stuffing in your hand and put it on top of the cranberry slice, then top that with the ham.

Drizzle the meat on both sides with the warm gravy. Put your toasted slice of wholegrain bread on top of the turkey.

Confidently, bring the two sides together. Press gently and secure each quarter with toothpicks.

Cut into four triangles with the electric carving knife so that it all stays perfectly together.

The looks are important and decent presentation is required at this stage. Garnish with the crisps.

Irish Independent

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