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The Sandwich, Dissected

By Luisa ColónJan 25 2021
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Deli sandwich. Gyro. Falafel. New York City sandwich culture is a real thing, with residents holding the delicacy to fiercely held, super-high standards of quality and authenticity. Done correctly, a sandwich makes the perfect meal, one that addresses any foodie’s wants and needs. A sandwich is mobile. It can be purchased and then whisked home, or brought to the nearest park bench for lunch al fresco.

But whatever type, and whatever name it’s called by, a sandwich’s potential begins with the quality of its ingredients. New York’s legendary sandwich shop Alidoro (now with a location at 1 Rockefeller Plaza) has been perfecting these components for decades, along with that special dash of know-how and attitude that New Yorkers know is served along with any authentic sandwich. “We don’t serve avocados, or liverwurst or ketchup, mayo, mustard. People ask us for tomato sauce,” Alidoro co-owner Walter Momenté once said dubiously, with a mischievous smile. “I’m no spaghetteria.”

Fans of an authentic Italian sandwich know that the best ingredients, no matter how simple, have an artisan flair that elevate what would otherwise be an average sandwich: fresh arugula, for example, instead of just plain iceberg lettuce; meats such as hot soppressata and mortadella that surpass “cold cuts” or “deli slices” as we know them; and cheeses—as an accompaniment or as the starring role—like the semi-soft Italian favorite Bel Paese. (If you don’t want to scour your local Italian market for jugs of oil and olive paste, Alidoro now offers sandwich kits through Goldbelly.)

The perfect sandwich is art meets science meets culinary transcendence, as described by co-owner and CEO, Jon Streep. “The folding of certain meats versus the laying flat of others; the slicing densities, depending on which meat is being used; the amounts of one ingredient over another, as to not overpower any one flavor; overloading (very American); creating air pockets between ingredients,” he says. “It sounds absurd, but trust me, it makes a big difference.”

To up your own folding game, think about the density of the meat you’re using. “The thicker cuts tend to lay flat, whereas the thinner cuts are folded,” Streep says. “For example, our soppressata is laid flat because it’s thicker and structurally, it makes more sense. It also would just become too dense and chewy if folded. However, our prosciutto is sliced into thin ribbons—so thin they’re almost translucent, so these have various folds creating air pockets that create a much lighter, airier bite, and thus overall sandwich.”

Streep also suggests always putting your spreads down first, and be mindful about which sandwiches you decide to toast. “The heating/toasting of a sandwich—or anything really—completely changes its composition and flavor profile,” Streep says. “If you’re heating an Italian salami, you’ll start to render and crispen fat and all kinds of other [components] that change the entire thing, and it very much works with that sandwich.”

Other sandwiches, Streep says, may work better cold. “There’s something very authentic about a cold sandwich and the experience of those fresh individual ingredients that changes when they’re heated,” he says, citing Alidoro’s Romeo sandwich as an example. The Romeo contains smoked chicken from a family-owned smokehouse in Connecticut that Streep says is the best—“believe me, I’ve tried probably 30 kinds and nothing comes close to this in flavor, texture, etc.”—and the flavor shouldn’t be altered by the heating process. “I want to taste it the exact same way it came out of the smoker, no alteration or augmentation,” he says. However, Streep is quick to mention that it’s all subjective and, at the end of the day, up to the sandwich eater.

Be forewarned, however, when making sandwiches at home. Even once you have your ingredients on hand and a basic idea of your meat-to-cheese ratio, there are some things you’ll have to learn yourself, first-hand, about the perfect Italian sub. “Even cutting it is an art,” Momenté told Gothamist. “Especially with focaccia, it is very delicate. So when you cut it you have to go slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly.” Just like any other art, creating the perfect sandwich takes practice—but the reward is worth every bite.

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