What makes a gourmet sandwich, gourmet?
The average sandwich is having a renaissance. Once the lesser-loved school lunch option - images of bland, white bread filled with wilted lettuce and plasticky cheese come to mind - sandwiches are getting revamped and more interesting. Thickly-layered and various multi-coloured fillings like roast vegetables and various cured meats, different styles of bread or even alternative replacements for bread, and internationally-inspired condiments can be seen in cafés and home cooking around the world. In London alone, more and more trendy cafés and restaurants have turned to making show-stopping sandwiches as their mainstays. Max’s Sandwich Shop and Dom’s Subs have menus entirely based around the lunchtime essential, delivering massive sarnies that take two hands and sometimes a knife and fork to eat. Bakeries like the Dusty Knuckle are making stellar versions on their own plump and fluffy focaccia.
And why does it work? Because the sandwich, a basic combination of carb-y base and whatever filling under the sun, is so universal and convenient that it’s accessible to everyone. Wrapping meat or vegetables in some form of bread has been done across the globe for centuries. The cultural iterations of the sandwich - from sabich to dosa to toastie to burger - are wonderfully endless. In this age of social media where global fusion and food instagrams reign supreme, it was an obvious progression to take something so ubiquitous and diversify it by applying professional techniques and blending cuisines.
The gourmetization of the sandwich isn’t without criticism, as usually happens when a humble cultural item is made more expensive and otherwise “upgraded.” But the other end of the argument highlights how the weaving of highbrow and lowbrow food cultures begets a culinary inventiveness like no other, and serves to democratise ingredients and cooking styles that you’d have been hard-pressed to find outside of fancy restaurants only a few decades ago.
How to make your sandwich “gourmet”
Go as simple or extravagant as you like: the key to a quality gourmet sandwich lies in the ingredients and the composition of your sandwich.
The first order of operations is the bread. No longer a mere vehicle, the bready base of a sandwich needs to be in balance with and complement the insides perfectly. While sliced white bread is a great package for the classic Breville toastie or a school-lunch PB&J, artisan sourdoughs and pillow-y focaccias not only add depth and flavour but make for a stunning presentation. Take two slices of sourdough and stuff with caramelised leeks, cheddar, and kimchi for the ultimate in an oozy grilled cheese experience. A more sturdy focaccia can handle bigger and bolder toppings like roasted aubergine or grilled slices of steak.
Once you’ve chosen your bread, you can consider your toppings. This is, of course, entirely personalised and dependent on your taste. Meat options can range from the classic pork cold cuts to a more elaborate porchetta or rare sirloin steak. Vegetables and fruit like grilled asparagus, roasted pears, or sliced celeriac are perfect meat-free alternatives that still have flavour and heft to stand up to thick layers of bread. And finally, there’s the cheese - from melty cheddar or monterey jack to tangy goat or funky blue, the cheese you choose is totally up to you.
A dry sandwich is no one’s friend. If you’re reaching for water to help you chew in between bites, that’s a sign you probably need to add a sauce or condiment. A pesto or aioli is always a safe bet. A more substantial spread or dip - like tzatziki or baba ganoush - will also give some much needed hydration to the whole composition. If your sandwich is more simple, say a classic heritage tomato and buffalo mozzarella situation, a generous drizzle of olive oil and a dash of sherry vinegar will suffice.
Lastly, you want to consider the textural contrast of your sandwich. If everything is soft, you’ll probably want to add a bit of crunch. Fried or crispy onions are a great and easy addition that add that pleasant contrast. Or, add some kimchi or pickles that not only add extra crunch but will also contribute to a balance of acidity to cut through the carb-y bread and richness of your cheeses and other sauces.
And finally, you want to think about the order of the layering. Don’t put the fragile bits - crispy onions, delicate salads - underneath heavier cold cuts and spreads. And if you’re adding sauces, make sure to slather them thickly and directly on your bread layers so they can be absorbed instead of slipping out.
Gourmet sandwich inspiration
Check out these takes on classic sandwiches for some gourmet inspiration.
Gourmet turkey sandwich
This twist on a Cuban sandwich is a fantastic way to use up your post-holiday leftovers. Adapted from The Spruce Eats.
1 loaf sandwich bread
3 tablespoons yellow mustard
80g pickles (chopped)
125g Gruyère or cheddar cheese (sliced)
250g leftover roasted turkey breast
250g leftover honey baked ham or other sliced cured pork
4 tablespoons cranberry jam (or chutney)
4 pats salted butter
- Gather your ingredients and preheat the oven to 180 C.
- Slice your bread in half and slather one side with mustard.
- Add the pickles, then the slices of cheese.
- Layer on your cold cuts in even spaces.
- Slather the cranberry jam or chutney onto the other half of the bread and close your sandwich.
- Brush the outside with butter, and wrap the sandwich in foil.
- Take a heavy, oven-proof pan and use it to press the sandwich down.
- Bake it in the oven for 12-16 minutes until the cheese has melted and the bread is crisp.
- Serve hot, and dig in.
Gourmet steak sandwich
Chef Gordon Ramsay’s steak sandwich is the ultimate in gourmet sandwiches. He seasons a full fillet of beef with salt and pepper then sears in a hot pan with garlic and thyme to get a lovely golden-brown crust, followed by a final roast for 8-10 minutes. That gets paired with a homemade tomato relish and mustard mayonnaise, and topped with crisp lettuce for balance.
Gourmet chicken sandwich
This grilled chicken sandwich from Bon Appetit is served with a homemade fennel-basil slaw that’s both packed in flavour and light.
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, plus more
90g plus 2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grill
6 Tbsp. mayonnaise
50g chopped cornichons (about 9)
4 large or 6 small skinless, boneless chicken thighs (about 1½ lb. total)
4 brioche buns, split
1 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced crosswise, fronds reserved
1 bunch of basil leaves
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1 small head Little Gem lettuce
1 medium tomato, sliced ¼" thick
Whisk mustard, Worcestershire, garlic, 2 Tbsp. lemon juice, and 2 tsp. black pepper in a medium bowl. Whisking constantly, stream in 90g cup oil until emulsified. Transfer half of marinade to a small bowl, then whisk in mayonnaise and cornichons (this will be the special sauce). Season mayo dressing with salt; set aside.
Season chicken thighs with salt and add to medium bowl with remaining marinade. Toss to coat. Let sit at room temperature, tossing occasionally, at least 30 minutes, or chill up to 4 hours.
Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. Lightly oil grate. Grill chicken, turning once halfway through, until well charred and cooked through, 8–10 minutes. Transfer to a platter and let rest 5 minutes. If you have 6 chicken thighs, cut 2 of them in half and use 1½ thighs per sandwich.
Grill buns cut side down until lightly charred, about 30 seconds. Transfer to platter with chicken.
While chicken rests, coarsely chop fennel fronds. Toss fronds, sliced fennel, basil, red pepper flakes (if using), and remaining 2 tsp. oil and 2 tsp. lemon juice in a medium bowl; season with salt and black pepper.
Spread reserved mayonnaise dressing on cut sides of each bun. Arrange 1–2 lettuce leaves and sliced tomato on bottom halves. Top each with chicken, then arrange fennel salad over. Close sandwiches with top buns.