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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A Club Classic

The Club Sandwich. A Classic.

There are few dishes more iconic than The Club Sandwich.

For my Indian compatriots, especially those who grew up in the Indian “club culture,” the image of the club sandwich probably stirs up feelings of nostalgia – swimming lessons, tennis lessons, Sunday lunches with family, carefree times spent with friends after school – the association is strange, and hard to explain, but I know those who understand, understand.

For the Club Sandwich - distinguishing itself with having three slices of bread instead of the usual two - is a lifer on the food and beverage menu of any Indian club. And somehow, it doesn't matter if you're in Bangalore or in Madras, in Delhi or in Bombay, it's not a city thing, it’s a "club thing" - no matter where you are, they all seem to make it the same way. And really well!

Although food historians credit the inventor of the generic sandwich to John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, interestingly, it appears that the club sandwich was probably created in the United States during the late 19th/early 20th century. The most popular theory contends this sandwich - as the name suggests - originated in men's social clubs, most notably the Saratoga Club in Saratoga, NY. The specific where & who behind this classic sandwich remains a matter of culinary debate as does the fascinating question of how it came to India and of course, how it remains such an integral part of the modern diet of the country.

I think back to my recent trip to India this past winter. Here's some food for thought (and my puns are always intended):

Sitting out in the Delhi Gymkhana Club lawn on a sunny December afternoon under colourful umbrellas fluttering in the breeze, you think to yourself - could life be any better? Cheerful waiters, dapper in their starched white uniforms, scurry back and forth carrying plates of freshly made food and drink to various tables. There must be close to a hundred people having lunch, but somehow, they seem to greet everyone by name. You are sitting under a jolly looking red and white peppermint striped  umbrella, sipping a cool "fresh-lime soda, half-sweet, half-salt" (another club classic, this time on the beverage side) and piled high, on a plate in front of you, is a perfectly made, perfectly toasted, perfectly presented, club sandwich.

Granted, the ambience has much to do with it, but as you take your first heavenly bite, you wonder - what on earth am I doing in New York (or London or Chicago or whichever other part of the developed world it might be) I mean, Man - this is the life!

That's a serious question, by the way. If someone in my boat has that figured out, do let me know.

Anyway – from that sunny afternoon in Delhi to my sunny kitchen in London – I can't replicate the ambience, sadly, but here's how you make the sandwich:

- 3 slices of toasted wholemeal bread
- Mayonnaise, to spread
- 1/4 pound chicken breast, cooked and thinly sliced
- 4-5 tomato slices
- 3 strips of cooked, crispy bacon
- A handful of lettuce leaves
- 1 fried egg
- Salt and pepper, to taste

Now, for the fun bit - build your sandwich! Spread the mayonnaise over all the slices of toasted bread. Place a small pile of torn lettuce leaves and 2-3 tomato slices on top of the mayonnaise coated side of the bread. Season the cooked chicken and fried egg with salt and pepper, place on top of the lettuce and tomato and add the next slice of bread, mayonnaise side down. Next, add another layer of lettuce, another layer of tomatoes and 3 rashers of crispy bacon. Place the final slice of toast, mayonnaise side down, on top of the bacon and press the sandwich lightly. Carefully slice the sandwich on the diagonal into 4 triangles.

Put your feet up, grab your plate and enjoy with a side of potato crisps, and a chilled glass of fresh-lime soda!

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