The Sandwich Century: #4 – The Baked Bean Sandwich
Desperate times call for desperate actions, and desperate people, apparently, call for desperate sandwiches. While cheapness and ease of assembly are a big part of the appeal of the sandwich, they’re qualities it’s altogether too easy to overdo, and you end up with something that sullies the entire notion of putting things between two pieces of bread. There’s a temptation to call the contempt in which I hold some of these toothless, white-trash excuses for a sammy ‘elitism’ or ‘snobbery’, since they are more often the product of a low-rent trailer park kitchenette than the pretentious overdoing it of a culinary school sandwich dabbler. But there are dozens of sandwiches of low origins, favored by the working-class poor, that are of unimpeachable quality and fine reputation despite their minimum-wage ingredients, from the grilled cheese to the PB&J. So it’s not their status on the lower rungs of the ingredients pyramid that make certain sandwiches undesirables; it’s how little they do with what they’ve got.
Such is the case with the fourth sandwich in our 100-meal project. So far, our selections have ranged from uninspiring but passable (the American sandwich) to the horrifying but delicious (the bacon sandwich); but now, for the first time, we’ve found a sandwich that is so misbegotten that it barely deserves the name. In fact, it serves as a perfect counter-example of the commonly held notion that anything can be a sandwich — that any palatable food can be sandwichified by sticking it between two pieces of bread. Just as some fancy stitching and blurring one’s eyes does not transform a sow’s ear into a fine silk purse, the application of two pieces of bread and some misplaced optimism does not make this abomination into a sandwich.
THE SANDWICH: The origins of the baked bean sandwich are somewhat murky. Many sources claim for it a British origin, which seems plausible given that the English are wont to put all sorts of ridiculously non-sandwichy ingredients in between two slices and call it a butty. Others, however, cite its origins in a different England — the New one located in the northeastern United States. This, too, is easy to believe given its ingredients, which are much beloved in the chowder states. Either way, though, it is clearly the product of desperate honkies who believe that anything they do is, de facto, worthwhile. They are wrong.
THE INGREDIENTS: Brown bread is the preferred delivery vector for this sandwich, which turned out to be a major hassle. San Antonio ain’t Maine, and it took several shopping excursions before I finally turned up an overpriced loaf at a Mormon-run bakery near Olmos Park. (Incidentally, in my Chicago years, I was made aware that there is such a thing as canned brown bread, for New England expats too lazy to bake. I ask you to consider your role in a universe where canned bread exists.) Since I didn’t want to spend three days simmering white beans for a four-ounce sandwich, I opted for a can of Heinz Beans (or “Beanz”, as they are now annoyingly known) in hopes of covering my authenticity bases if the stuff does indeed hail from the U.K. A slice of lettuce (iceberg, for maximum white trashiness) sealed the deal; dressing for the lettuce is frequently called for, but as I have mentioned before, there is only so far over the Grossness County Line I am willing to travel for this project.
THE TASTE TEST: Why does this sandwich exist? For God’s sake, if you’re broke and all you have is bread and stuff from the dollar store, at least fill them shits with cost-cutter bologna or a slice of processed cheese. There is such a thing as texture, folks, and the laws of texture tell us that a globby lump of semi-solid beans in a stealth ketchup sauce is going to feel like complete doody in the mouth. The taste isn’t anything to write home about either, since the sweet-and-savory flavor of the beans clashes with the sweet and spicy notes of brown bread. But it could be forgiven if it wasn’t for the horrible, horrible texture, which serves to remind one of vomit before it actually becomes vomit several minutes later. I became extremely depressed after eating the baked bean sandwich. It’s also meant to be eaten cold, which only increases its overall sense of despair-on-a-bun; I tried heating it up, but that only made it more aggressive, like a drunk who goes from crying to punching you in the stomach. This sandwich actively made me want to waste food.