After surveying a selection of Australia’s chefs, cooks and writers on their sandwich of choice, it was ham, cheese and tomato that almost derailed this collection. Seemingly the go-to for so many.
Clearly it’s not just the big-ticket fillers that make a sandwich great: more the special sauces, homemade or shop bought, pickles and your bread selection. The much-maligned white sliced loaf, for instance, is alive and well defended.
This is far from an exhaustive list, with sandwiches being so versatile. We didn’t even get to the proper way to build a bacon butty, or the rights and wrongs of a potato chip sanger, or my nan’s banana sandwich or whether a lasandwich is the ultimate bread-based abomination or kind of genius.
‘I’m a green sauce girl’
Nornie Bero, chef-owner of Mabu Mabu, Melbourne
The sandwich: Triple meats with saltbush and warrigal chimichurri, and pickled karkalla
“I’m a triple meat girl when it comes to a sandwich,” says Nornie Bero. “I think that stems from when you go shopping and you buy different types of slices – mortadella, silverside, prosciutto – and then you don’t know which one to eat, so have them all, and don’t eat dinner.”
Bero is from the stack-it-high school of sandwich construction, adding artichokes, chilli, onions and pickled karkalla (the sea succulent sometimes also known as pigface).
She’ll sometimes toast the roll so it’s “a little bit crispy on the outside”. Then there’s the serious business of chimichurri. “I’m a green sauce girl,” she says. “I really like the saltbush chimichurri, It’s one of my go-to things.” Bero uses garlic, red wine vinegar, chillies, parsley, oregano and coriander, but puts a uniquely Australian spin on this South American staple in the form of warrigal greens, saltbush and sea parsley, the latter two of which add a natural saltiness. “It’s one of our signature things,” says Bero.
‘A vessel for leftovers’
Alanna Sapwell, chef, Brisbane
The sandwich: Muffin with scrambled eggs, cabbage, sobresada paste and green chilli
“A sandwich is perfect comfort,” says Alanna Sapwell, former head chef at Brisbane’s short-lived but much lauded Arc Dining. She describes sandwiches as “a vessel”, perfect for leftovers and clearing out the fridge. “Your Sunday roast the next day – I think that’s just a pretty classic example, whether it be like a chicken and gravy roll the next day or lamb with harissa and some pickles and mustard.”
Please, no is-it-a-muffin-or-a-sandwich debate – if McDonald’s class a muffin a breakfast sanger then we’ll take their sales as proof. “The other day,” Sapwell says, “I did a muffin, scrambled eggs, cooked off some cabbage and had a sobrassada paste, and a bit of the green chilli on the eggs. It was delicious. I think depending on what you have in your fridge, it’s so versatile. Some lettuce, you can fry up cabbage. Everyone feels comfortable and able to adapt to whatever is in their fridge.”
Mike Bennie, writer and drinks merchant, Sydney
The sandwich: Dark black rye bread, cottage cheese, ripe tomato, dill and cracked pepper
“My mother’s side of the family is Jewish, eastern European,” says Mike Bennie, Sydney based drinks writer and co-owner of P&V Merchants in Newtown and Paddington. “I grew up under the grandmotherly love of my oma, who came out with the Jewish diaspora in the late 1960s, fleeing from communist Czechoslovakia.” One of Bennie’s fondest memories, he says, was his oma’s breakfast: an open sandwich of bitter “caraway-influenced” dark black rye bread, with cottage cheese, ripe tomato, dill and cracked pepper.
“Cottage cheese is so ubiquitous for me. It’s always in my fridge. It was definitely a breakfast sandwich but that can often be a lunch for me.” Upping the ante, Bennie says a good drink match would be slivovitz, a plum brandy-like distillate, or becherovka – “sort of like a Czech Fernet: medicinal, amaro-like in its way”.
‘You don’t even need the caviar’
Analiese Gregory, writer and chef, Tasmania
The sandwich: Egg-salad with homemade (or not) aioli
The caviar service at Gimlet in Melbourne was the original inspiration for Analiese Gregory’s elevated egg mayo. “I made a caviar service of my own in quarantine because a friend happened to have a tin of caviar that they gave me,” she says.
Looking at the leftovers on her benchtop – egg, creme fraiche and chives – she mixed them together “and basically put it on the sandwich. You don’t even need the caviar.”
Gregory uses semi-hardboiled eggs, cut “pretty fine”, the above accoutrements, finely chopped shallot, lemon juice and “anything else you have around”. Of course what Gregory has lying around is homemade seaweed jam, which she mixes with the egg, and bacon from pigs she’s raised. She favours a “thick layer of egg salad and then just lie a little bit of super crispy bacon”. As to whether Gregory makes her mayo, she says “I make aioli and just have it in the fridge, but also sometimes I just use kewpie for convenience”.
‘Basic bitch sandwich’
Melissa Leong, writer and MasterChef host, Melbourne
The sandwich: Ham, cheese and tomato on super refined white bread with mayonnaise
“I tend to prefer other complex carbohydrates over bread, so I generally prefer to eat that by way of dumplings, noodles, cake or spaghetti,” says Melissa Leong. “But I woke up the other morning craving a plain old ham, cheese and tomato on super refined white bread with mayonnaise.”
Leong says she was always “the kid with the weird lunches: dumplings from yum cha on Sunday, on the Monday”. Her mum, a Singaporean, made “fancy sandwiches” that would go above and beyond. “A crazy-seeded roll with really fancy ham, and she’d make the mayo. As a result, I craved the simplest of things, just a plain ham, cheese and tomato sandwich on the cheapest, nastiest refined white bread. Slap a bit of mayo and some butter on there for good measure and happy days.
“I can’t believe I’ve fully confessed to you my childhood basic bitch sandwich.”
‘Summer in a sandwich’
Joel Valvasori, chef-owner of Lulu La Delizia, Perth
The sandwich: Mortadella, prosciutto, asiago cheese and fresh tomato
Valvasori’s sandwich comes with both a caveat and a diatribe. “It isn’t a conti roll,” he says, referring to Perth’s quintessential deli counter sandwich, the continental roll.
“We’ve jumped the shark in WA: people making conti rolls that aren’t conti rolls. They don’t even start with the right bread. I’m going to make a conti roll and it’s going to be in a baguette and … just fuck off.”
Pulling him back to the question at hand: “We don’t make a conti roll per se,” he says, “but we get good crusty bread, a heap of mortadella or prosciutto sliced at the deli. We get asiago cheese, good fresh tomato and lots of salt and pepper. It’s not a conti roll, but it’s an Italian sandwich. It’s summer in a sandwich.” It’s also, we realise, ham cheese and tomato.
‘Really pungent garlic paste’
Ibrahim Kasif, chef/owner of Stanbuli, Sydney
The sandwich: Salad and egg with toum
Ibrahim Kasif says he likes “to go to some trouble making a sandwich” – poaching and shredding a chook – but when he doesn’t have that luxury, his go-to is a not-so-plain salad sandwich.
“Butter some sliced bread, equal thickness of cucumber, tomato, lettuce, cheese, onion, anything, beetroot on hand, even boiling an egg and putting in there. It’s pretty awesome.”
Kasif says he’s more aware of health these days, saying “you don’t want to be consuming heavy things every moment when you’re not being as mobile or active”. He packs flavour into his salad sanger. “We’re big on the Middle Eastern garlic emulsion called toum,” he says. “It’s a really pungent garlic paste and that acts as a binder instead of mayonnaise.” Kasif makes it at Stanbuli and says it’s just “garlic, salt, a bit of lemon juice and oil, which whips up into this fluffy white garlic emulsion”.
‘Whip this up’
Jake Kellie, chef/owner of soon-to-open Arkhé, Adelaide
The sandwich: Croque madame
“It really takes inspiration from French cafe Hey Jupiter here in Adelaide,” says Jake Kellie, the former head chef at Singapore’s Burnt Ends. “I’d always go there with my partner and we’d share a croque madame or a croque monsieur. She’s pregnant at the moment and so she asked me to whip this up the other day.”
Kellie uses comte and gruyere cheese, bread from Port Adelaide bakers SoiBoii and ham from his local butcher. “We’ve started making a mustard using stout from Mismatch Brewery Co from the Adelaide Hills. It’s destined for the restaurant but we’ve got about 10 litres on the go so I used a bit of that.”
Jake Kellie’s croque madame
For the bechamel
28g unsalted butter
2 tbsp flour
1 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
½ tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
¼ cup comte cheese, grated
100g stout seeded mustard
For the sandwich
8 thick slices of sourdough bread
8 to 12 slices of good quality honey smoked ham
336g Gruyere cheese, grated
140g unsalted butter
Begin by making the bechamel sauce: in a small saucepan, melt 28g of the butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour, stirring constantly for around two to three minutes until you smell the flour and butter cooking. Do not allow it to brown. Add the milk and bay leaf, and continue cooking for around 10 to 12 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the mixture thickens to a soup-like consistency. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the comte and mustard. Transfer to a bowl to cool.
Arrange four slices of the bread on a flat surface. Top each with two to three slices of ham. Mix together half of the gruyere and the bechamel. Taste for seasoning. Spread a little of the sauce on top of the ham and complete each sandwich with another slice of bread.
Heat a large cast iron skillet and, when hot, add half of the remaining butter. Add two of the sandwiches and brown on one side for around two minutes. Turn on the other side and brown for two more minutes. Transfer to a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining butter and sandwiches. Spread the remaining bechamel on top of the sandwiches and top with the other half of the gruyere cheese.
Wipe any crumbs from the cast iron skillet and spray with nonstick spray. Crack four eggs into the skillet, leaving a little room between each. (Alternatively, fry two at a time.)
While the eggs are frying, place the sandwiches under the grill and grill until the top becomes golden brown, one to two minutes. Season the eggs with salt and top each sandwich with a fried egg. Serve immediately.