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The Art of the Deli Sandwich

There is hardly an American culinary passion as popular as the sandwich. We all love ham and cheese, smoked turkey, chicken salad and maybe the ever-popular bologna, especially with the kids. But did you know that Wikipedia list more than thirty deli meats? There is a lot to work with out there, like capicola, soppressata and cotechino. There has got to be at least dozen kinds of ham and an equal number of salamis, and who can hardly count the kinds of sausage that can be found?

But, what a minute! Do we have to always be so over the top in finding odd and different kinds of ingredients? Why not stick with the basics, but just present them in a little different way? 

Let’s start with the bread. You can count me out when it comes to plan white American bread, period. Just not interested. But I love wheat bread, and the dark hearty breads, like rye and pumpernickel. If you want to back off on the carbs, make it an open face sandwich. A good crusty baguette is also a good choice, but what about a plan breakfast biscuit? That works just fine in my book. Another favorite is a whole-wheat tortilla.  

So, beside the ham and bologna, what else can you put on a sandwich? My goodness, that is an almost endless list. So here goes: a fried egg, pimento and cheese, chips of almost any sort, fried pickles, a good slathering of cream cheese, a handful of chopped herbs, like cilantro, refried beans, salsa, diced jalapeno, not to mention all the more traditional condiments.

A special note on mayo: It is easy to mix store bought mayo with other ingredients to get a special sauce (yes, mayonnaise is a sauce), but homemade is always best. Once you’ve got the mayo you want, mix it with anchovy paste, caviar, vinegar, pureed shrimp, lobster, chicken, duck or turkey or watercress. These area all suggestions form Larousse Gastronomique, the classic French encyclopedia of cooking. What about cilantro, for a flavorful green mayo or roasted garlic for a serious bite?

OK, enough clowning around, here are a few recipes I thought you might like.

Biscuit and Cheese Sandwich

This is about as easy as it gets, but it makes for a delicious difference. Recommended for breakfast or lunch. 

1 package favorite refrigerated biscuits

2 slices white cheddar per biscuit

2 slices smoked deli ham per biscuit

Wickles Relish

Optional: butter

Bake the biscuits according to package directions. When ready, work quickly as you want to serve them hot, slice open the biscuits, add the optional butter if you like, then fill with cheese and ham and serve at once. 

Grilled ham and pimento and cheese

I’d recommend that you serve this sandwich on wheat bread, but that’s just me. By the way, did you know the original pimento peppers came to us from Spain? I just knew you were wondering. 

Wheat bread

Thin sliced deli ham

1 cup grated white cheddar cheese

1 cup grated yellow cheddar

1 small jar pimentos 

Cream cheese


Combine the two cheeses and the pimentos, then mix in the cream cheese until you have the consistency you want. Slather on two sliced of bread, add the ham, butter the outside and grill until golden brown. Serve with your favorite crunchy chip for a contrast in textures.

The Reuben

This is not a new idea, in fact the Reuben may be the classic American sandwich, the king of them all. To get it right, as always, use the best ingredients possible.

Thin sliced corned beef

Swiss cheese


Russian Dressing

Rye bread

Make sure the corned beef is sliced paper thin, and the cheese this as well, but not paper thin. Please make sure to pick a good sauerkraut, some are definitely better than others. It may take a little experimenting. Add cheese to the first slice of bread, run it under the broiler to get it nice amelted, then add lots of corned beef, sauerkraut and then the dressing. Add the second slice of bread, put it in a press if you have one, or just back in a hot oven for a bit. Make sure to serve piping hot.



Written by Julian Brunt

Julian Brunt is a food and travel writer that has been writing about the food culture of the Deep South for over a decade. He is the eleventh generation of his family to live in the South, grew up in Europe, traveled extensively for the first fifteen years after graduating from the University of Maryland, University College, Heidelberg, Germany. Today, he's a contributor for multiple publications, including Our Mississippi Home. He's also appeared on Gordon Ramsay's television show, "To Hell and Back in 24 Hours."


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