Hot deli sandwiches become more than the sum of their parts when they hit the grill.
A cook slathers melted butter on a crusty baguette, tops it with Swiss cheese and thinly sliced ham, hits it with a dab of grainy mustard, adds another slice of bread, turns up the griddle, then stands back and lets it sizzle. It's lunchtime in America.
The deli sandwich — a longtime center of lunchtime gravity — becomes more than the sum of its parts when taken to the melting point.
“When you add heat, it makes the sandwich sexy,” says Scott Berlin, executive chef at UC Santa Cruz. “It's not ‘just a sandwich’ anymore.”
Fire-roasted subs are served in several locations at UC Santa Cruz's all-you-care-to-eat dining halls. Cooks send standard subs — Southwest turkey, steak and cheese — through impinger ovens, creating bubbly beauties.
Currently, at select locations on campus, Berlin is testing an idea for turning hot deli sandwiches into a snack or side dish option. Larger hot deli sandwiches, on big slices of oval-shaped foccacia (24 inches long!), are grilled, then cut into slices, allowing 12 portions to be made at once, then placed on the line as small bites.
Hot deli sandwiches are also a good place to experiment with more global flavors and trends, along with the classics, and Berlin is looking to the streets (California's ubiquitous food trucks) for inspiration.
Hand-held Street Food
“With the explosion of food trucks, customers want hot street-food sandwiches with world flavors,” he says, adding that Vietnamese banh-mi sandwiches and deli sandwiches with Mediterranean flavor profiles (think feta cheese, cucumber, olives, tomatoes, onions) are both good bets for hot deli sandwiches in the year ahead.
The Cuban Sandwich seems to be most popular in the state of Florida, but it can be a great addition to a menu anywhere, with its sassy combination of pork, mustard, ham and pickle (see recipes for two versions, p. 32, p. 34).
It's easy to pile on the perceived value to hot deli sandwiches. One word: brie. This cheese is a little fancy, but not too out-there, melts great, and it's easy to swap out with other cheeses for a sophisticated menu item. See recipe for Open Faced Turkey and Brie with Cranberry-Vodka Mayonnaise and Warm Apples (p. 32) for an example of how gussied-up condiments, cheese and accompaniments can take a sandwich uptown fast. And don't overlook the bread, either.
Artisanal bread from a great local bakery makes the difference in grilled sandwiches served at the 5555 Cafe at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center, a 600-bed, 3,000-employee hospital in Glendale, AZ.
Jaime Palenque, executive chef, found out about Jonathan Robins Bakery in Tempe through another vendor, who spoke of a superior product that was local.
“We tried it, and then we switched all of our bread,” Palenque says. The bakery works with the hospital, creating custom breads with no preservatives, always “fresh and good.”
Breads that the hospital orders include pannini, foccacia, all kinds of crusty breads, olive bread, 9-grain bread, and the brioche-style Texas Toast that makes one of Palenque's most creative hot sandwiches.
“We are going to be rolling this out soon and I'm really excited about it: We start with the Texas Toast — it's very thick-cut — and then layer sharp cheddar, mac ‘n cheese, pulled pork and roasted onions, before closing it with another slice of Texas Toast. Incredible,” Palenque says, adding that he got the idea after seeing a similar sandwich on the Food Network.
Palenque also makes another very special hot deli sandwich: Roast beef, roasted onions, Jack cheese with a creamy horseradish sauce.
Sometimes, just a small touch can bring the sandwich to a whole new level.
“Tons of garlic butter” makes the difference on the Smoky Turkey Grill, one of the most popular lunch offerings at Morris Hospital and Healthcare Centers, Morris, IL, says Nancy Stewart, RD, manager of nutrition services. See her simple, savory recipe (p. 36).
Morphing your mayo into a fancier-sounding and fabulous-tasting aioli can also give sandwiches a big boost. Roasted garlic is a great go-to, but also consider other flavors. (Try Avocado Aioli, p. 34).
Retro-cool combinations also make great sandwiches, Berlin says, describing a Tiki Chicken hot deli sandwich that's a hit at UC Santa Cruz, complete with ham, chicken and pineapple.
And what could be more retro than a Monte Cristo sandwich, or its cousin, the Croque Monsieur? The Monte Cristo, a ham, turkey and Swiss cheese sandwich, is traditionally dipped in eggs and deep-fried. It can be topped with a shake of powdered sugar and served with fruit preserves. (see Monte Cristo recipe, p. 34).
The Croque Monsieur is similar, except the cheese is often gruyere rather than Swiss, and some fancier versions can even contain a Mornay or Bechamel sauce. The Croque Madame is yet another iteration, but served with a fried or poached egg on top. Both would be good ones to try on a brunch menu.
Which Meat Goes with Which Cheese on Your ‘Wich
Baked Ham + Aged Swiss, Cheddar, Havarti or Monterey Jack
Bologna + Mild Cheddar, Monterey Jack, American or Swiss
Smoked Turkey + Colby, Fontina or Gruyere
Ham + Baby Swiss, Fontina or Gruyere
Corned Beef + Aged Swiss, Baby Swiss, Fontina or Havarti
Pastrami + Aged Swiss, Baby Swiss, Gruyere or Monterey Jack
Roast Beef + Aged Cheddar, Colby or Havarti
Roast Turkey + Pepper Jack, Fontina or Havarti
Salami + Mild Provolone, Aged Provolone or Fontina
Source: Sagg’s Specialty Meats & Sausages Deli Primer, 2009 Saag’s Products, LLC
Open Faced Turkey and Brie with Cranberry-Vodka Mayonnaise and Warm Apples
Florida Mojo Pork Cubano
Grilled Onion Rings and Sausage Sandwich
Grilled Pear Cubano
Monte Cristo Sandwich
Gyro with Lamb and Yogurt Sauce
Nancy Stewart's Smoky Turkey Grill
Kim's Hot Turkey Club