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Egg sandwiches - better than you think

"The beauty of course lies in the simplicity, which means that it’s incredibly easy to balls up."

Helen Graves

I've been browsing the net for an hour or so now, and have been on a bit of a journey - well I guess that always happens. But today I started out with one idea, and ended up with two or three others. Well no - variations on a different theme.

The initial idea was chicken sandwiches - inspired from a recent Nigel Slater post, so I started my 'research' on that topic and was more or less ready to begin, when I landed on a Peter Rowland catering article and recipe about chicken sandwiches which made me realise that I had been there before. So that idea was dropped.

I now embarked on the egg sandwich - which I thought would be all about the above representation of the classic egg sandwich from the Australian Women's Weekly (where else?) which you might eat at posh afternoon teas. They called their version Creamy egg and watercress sandwiches and you could do a lot worse than follow their recipe. However, as I progressed through the net I came across at least four variations.

But let's begin with that classic and Felicity Cloake who will take you through the options. As a child she wasn't tempted and confesses that she did not taste one until in her mid twenties, but now she is a huge fan. (as are many others I might say.)

"I now believe egg mayonnaise to be one of the great sandwich fillings of all time. Creamily comforting, but substantial enough to satisfy, soft and rich without being cloying, with an old-fashioned subtlety of flavour, it’s a simple, but nevertheless profound pleasure." Felicity Cloake

The crucial ingredients are hard-boiled eggs - with just a bit of give in the yolk, and mayonnaise - home-made of course - and did I mention that the eggs should of course be free-range - preferably, one of the recipe writers said, with the breed of the chicken stipulated. Yes, well. Free-range Ok - easy. I guess free-range and organic is even better. Anyway, as with all simple things the better the quality of the ingredients the better the quality of the finished product. Except, that the bread most often recommended is white sliced. Good quality white sliced, but none of that sourdough or ciabatta, or brioche buns, and not even wholemeal. No, just ordinary old white sliced bread. Preferably with the crusts sliced off. Watercress and or mustard and cress are also often added. There seems to be a bit of a fight over whether you need chives or other herbs as well. According to Felicity Cloake though, the golden rule is that you should:

"just make sure you make enough, because, somehow, there’s always room for just one more sandwich." Felicity Cloake

Which is absolutely true. I'm pretty sure that, even though we might profess not to be keen on egg sandwiches - if you made some and put them on the table - they would disappear. Great for picnics too.

Claridge's - one of London's poshest hotels has a few rules for making this kind of sandwich which you can check out - things like the proportion of filling to bread, how to slice the bread, etc.

I did find a couple of slight variations, but mostly people did not mess around too much with these. Anna Jones, offers Caper, herb and mustard sandwich and BBC Good Food gives us Coronation egg mayo sandwiches

The variation closest to the classic comes from the other side of the world - from Japan - where it is called the Tamago sado. Really the only difference here is that the bread should be the Japanese style of bread which is sweeter and softer, and the mayonnaise is the Kewpy mayonnaise that you can find in your local supermarket, and which is also sweeter. I don't think there is usually anything else in this. Here is a recipe for this version Japanese egg salad sandwiches from Kirbie's Cravings.

Japan was never a British colony, but India was, and the next variation of the classic egg sandwich is the curried egg sandwich. I don't know whether this is common in India but it certainly is in Britain. And being curried, there are more variations as there is more licence to add spices and chutneys and suchlike to the mix. Below is a fairly genteel version from The Australian Women's Weekly - Curried egg sandwiches and the rather more flamboyant Curried egg salad sandwich with lentils and raisins from River Cottage which several bloggers have given a big thumbs up to.

Well the British do have a tendency to put curry powder into a number of their 'classic' dishes, so I guess this is not so outrageous.

Sticking with India though there is also something which is a hybrid too but sort of round the other way. This is called an omelette sandwich. And I only came across this one because Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in his Love Your Leftovers book suggested that if you have leftover omelette you:

"Sandwich a hefty slab of omelette (warm or cold) between slices of buttered bread, with or without cheese or ham, and, in all cases, seared with ketchup or brown sauce."

So I looked for variations and came up against the story of the Indian Railway omelette sandwich as told by Arati Menon on the Food 52 website. His or her Indian railway omelette sandwich is the 'authentic' Indian version, although you would have to think there was some British colonial influence there, if only in the bread. Similar to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's version except that the omelette in question is highly spiced and contains more vegetable than egg. So I searched some more and came across another version - also supposedly Indian, but which was a very different technique, which to be honest I didn't quite get. Here you seem to slightly cook your omelette - very plain - just eggs - put the slices of bread on top so that some of the egg goes on top of the bread, flip all of it , and somehow wrap it so that you end up with something like these two - Bread omelette from Today and a Omelette sandwich from British Lion eggs. Weird - ever so slightly like a savoury and fairly plain French Toast, although the British Lion recipe added cheese and ham to the mix.

Back to Britain and on to fried eggs, and the fried egg sandwich about which Tony Naylor has written a pretty amusing article in his How to Eat series.

Now this is more of a working class thing. You are not likely to get this served at Claridge's. Fundamentally it's just a fried egg put between two slices of buttered bread. Before I come to the do's and don'ts of the exercise though what about this - considering the above photograph from the same article:

"The only people who want golden yolk seeping on to plates are food stylists on fried egg sandwich shoots." Tony Naylor

I wonder if there was a fight about the photograph, but then the writer probably doesn't get much say there.

"There is a self-serving narrative implicit in food journalism (there are pages to fill, magazines to sell … or at least there used to be), that food is in a constant process of refinement and improvement, in pursuit of a forever-delayed perfection. We can never accept what we have, much less suggest subtracting ingredients from dishes. Simplicity does not sell. Every food must, by endless add-ons and ever-greater complexity, be elevated to its “next-level”, “deluxe” or “ultimate” manifestation."

Which is indeed food for thought, but doesn't quite take into account the ongoing nostalgia for comfort food and traditional dishes in tandem with the desire to experiment.

He has lots to say about how much you should cook the egg, and what kind of bread you should use, and it's all perceptive and amusing at the same time. Here is some of what he has to say:

"the comfort-food essence of a fried egg sandwich – nursery food for the never-nannied classes – lies in how it yields so easily as you bite into it. It should offer a lack of resistance in subtly differentiated layers so easy to penetrate you could gum your way through it without your teeth in. ...

Instead, you need that yolk barely set, still fudgy, residually runny at its very centre, but only to the extent that any leakage can be quickly gobbled down or absorbed by the surrounding bread. That state is a matter of seconds cooking on the flip ...

HTE (How To Eat) is unconvinced. It prefers to retain the thick yolk in its intact state. It should be waiting for you at the centre of the sandwich, anticipation building as you eat towards the pronounced alteration in the nature of the sandwich that it delivers." Tony Naylor

This Fried egg sandwich is from Tom Oldroyd. Lots of runny yolk there. And I notice that he has fried the bread as well which Tony Naylor thinks is a crime - toasting it too. To him it's the simplest thing - fry, almost poach your egg in butter, so that it doesn't crisp at the edges, until the yolk is almost set, and slap between two slices of thickly buttered ordinary bread. With maybe a bit of HP sauce if you must.

And finally here is one of those criminal versions of the egg sandwich - Sausage and egg sandwich from Max Halley which adds sausages - no, no, no and puts it in a ciabatta bun - also no, no, no - ciabatta and bun. I think I see what they say about the stupidity of doing that - it's fraught with disaster I think as far as getting stuff all over you. Much like a hamburger really, which I find to be one of the most difficult things to eat. I would never eat a hamburger in public. You would need a giant bib I think. But it could taste very good.

So there you go - from the hallowed halls of Claridge's via the Indian railway system and Japanese fast food to working class kitchens. Egg sandwiches. Yum.

"You might think there's nothing remotely exciting about sandwiches, but the fact is that you can make them in seconds, they're easily portable and there's no excuse for them not to be damned tasty." Jamie Oliver

Interestingly Jamie, who loves sandwiches and has lots on his website, does not have a single kind of egg sandwich - simple or elaborate.

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