The Sandwich Century — #8: The Breakfast Sandwich

The problem with writing about the breakfast sandwich, as part of the Sandwich Century project, is that it’s not really a single sandwich, as such, but more a genre of sandwich.  To borrow a line from Parks and Recreation, you can’t say your favorite kind of cake is birthday cake, and you can’t say your favorite kind of cereal is breakfast cereal.  The breakfast sandwich isn’t so much a particular combination of ingredients, or a precise method of preparation; it’s just the process of taking a bunch of shit you would probably eat for breakfast anyway and sticking them between a couple of starch slabs.  That said, the breakfast sandwich, in its myriad permutations, is one of the most popular sandwiches in the world; almost every restaurant in existence that opens before noon has some version of it on the menu.  Excluding it from the project just because it’s more of an imprecise concept than a sandwich wasn’t an option.

Something else that became an issue as I progressed was the fact that I haven’t actually had a breakfast sandwich in ages.  There are a number of reasons for this:  first, I don’t eat at fast food restaurants that often anymore; second, I’m not a huge fan of most of what are considered traditional breakfast foods; and third, I have a constitutional aversion to waking up before 11 o’clock, which means most breakfast sandwiches are already off the menu before I even bother to get dressed.  In fact, this particular sandwich was made and eaten around 9:30 PM, which will no doubt lead to accusations that I am not treating the project entirely seriously.  Against this charge I have no especially robust defense.  All I can say is that I attempted to adhere to the letter of the sandwich, if not its spirit.

THE SANDWICH: Again, the ‘breakfast sandwich’ is not really one sandwich at all.  It is an approach to sandwich-making that stems from the British tendency to serve breakfast foods on toast rather than with toast, the British being the only nationality that treats breakfast with more elaborate piety than the Americans.  Almost all breakfast sandwiches contain egg of some sort, but beyond that, all bets are off:  cheeses vary or are absent, meats range from bacon to steak, extremists insist on marmalade, syrup, or jam, and even the bread can be toast, croissant, English muffin, or even some sweetened, wafffle-like monstrosity.  I chose to recreate America’s favorite breakfast sandwich, the aesthetically pleasing, perfectly circular calorie bomb known as the Egg McMuffin, brought to you by Ray Kroc’s industrial food sorcerers.  (By the way, in a fine example of being totally mystified by something that is actually quite simple, I spent years wonder how the hell the got the egg in what Bill Murray called an “Egga Muffin” to be so astonishingly perfect in its roundness.  I suspected it was some sort of prefabricated pseudo-egg.  It turns out they just cook it in a die-cut round metal thing.)

THE INGREDIENTS: Given all the leeway I had with this one, I went straight-up traditional, if something the same age as Dita Von Teese could be described as “traditional”.  English muffin, lightly fried egg, slice of American cheese, and a Frisbee-shaped slice of Canadian bacon, heated in and eated from a pan of butter.  As a side note, this sandwich may be our all-time champion for containing foods named after countries, but which have no real relationship to that country whatsoever:  English muffins are only called that in America (and I made mine extra-American by choosing a sourdough variety); American cheese, which, while sort of American, isn’t cheese at all, and Canadian bacon, which is, of course, ham.  (I am reliably informed that most bacon in England is actually Canadian bacon — that is to say, ham — and am wondering if this is some kind of self-defeating cultural revenge for America having stolen the word “football” to describe something that is not soccer.)

Since I don’t have access to one of those little Teflon deals they use to make a perfectly round fried egg, mine are the more country-fried oval wobblers.  Otherwise, everything’s much the same:  cooked in close proximity on a skillet so all the flavors blend together, which sounds gross but actually helps account for the addictive nature of McDonald’s food.  I forsook whatever industrial oil blend they use in favor of real butter, though, and took an additional and super-delicious step of flash-cooking the muffins on the griddle a few seconds after I’d stacked the fillings in between them.

THE TASTE TEST: As I said, I haven’t eaten at a McDonald’s in a while, and I can’t even remember the last time I had an Egg McMuffin.  It must be more than a decade ago.  So I can’t really remember what they taste like, but I can’t imagine it’s anything like what resulted from my attempt to make a breakfast sandwich.  Because let me tell you something, folks:  this thing was god-damned delicious.  I’m sure it was pure poison — it’s basically a hand grenade of fat, salt and cholesterol — but it was so good that I plan on moving into regular rotation.  I’m talking about eating this motherfucker for dinner, people, because I don’t eat breakfast.  It was that good.  The yolk of the egg breaks in your second or third bite, spilling it inside the sandwich and providing a sort of internal sauce reserve; the egg white and the Canadian bacon go together perfectly; the cheese gives it just the right textural counterpart; and the muffin disproves the common wisdom that the bread is the least important aspect of a sandwich by holding everything perfectly in place, while the process of heating it briefly on the buttery skillet kicks it up substantially in terms of taste.  I can’t imagine a real Egg McMuffin tastes this good or I’d eat them twice a day and every hour on Sundays.  No doubt the sandwich most likely to kill me of everything I’ve tried so far, but man was it good.

5 SHOTS LICKED so far.

  1. Djur
    04/12/2011 at 7:43 PM

    Actually, real Canadian bacon is back bacon, not ham. “Bacon” more or less means “cured pig meat which is not ham”, so there’s a lot of different types of bacon. American bacon (as well as pancetta) is cut from the belly. Canadian/UK-style bacon is cut from the loin. There’s also guanciale, which is cut from the cheek.

    Why Americans decided to call thin slices of smoked ham “Canadian bacon” is beyond me. Presumably it’s because ham was more readily available/cheaper at some point than back bacon.

    Back bacon is a good deal leaner than belly bacon, though, so it’s a different eating experience.

    In any case, yes, the ‘McMuffin’ style sandwich is one of the great pleasures of life. I’ve always preferred it with a thin patty of breakfast sausage. And colby or cheddar instead of american cheese. Or pepper jack.

    One thing that quite firmly does not belong: any kind of vegetable. In essence, there’s nothing you can do with a vegetable to a muffin sandwich that’s better than other options with the same ingredients.

    However, I have sometimes considered adding a little Hollandaise and omitting the cheese, thus creating a benedict sandwich.

    Good article, good series. Keep ’em coming.

    • LP
      04/13/2011 at 10:09 AM

      So, what the Americans call Canadian bacon is ham, but what the Canadians call Canadian bacon — and what the British call regular bacon — is not ham, but rather bacon, but a different kind of bacon than what the Americans call bacon (or Canadian bacon).

      PEOPLE ARE OVERCOMPLICATING BACON

      • Djur
        04/13/2011 at 11:14 AM

        Then in Canada they have ‘peameal bacon’, which is back bacon coated in cornmeal. (It used to be coated in peameal.)

        Incidentally, the common American term for back bacon is ‘Irish bacon’.

        There are few things in this world as complicated and internally contradictory as the classification of meats.

  2. roseyv
    04/14/2011 at 10:57 AM

    I know I’ve told this story before, but when I was around 15 or so, I saw a movie on television (I think it was The Mephisto Waltz) which included a very creepy image of a Doberman Pinscher wearing a human mask. I was horrified! I couldn’t imagine what special effects were required to make the actor’s legs look so skinny and double-jointed and … dog-like.

    That’s what I think of whenever someone talks about, for example, not being able to figure out how McDonald’s got the egg so perfectly round, especially when that person is smarter than me. And then I feel a little better about myself. It’s petty and childish, I know, but it keeps me sane.

    • roseyv
      04/14/2011 at 11:02 AM

      By the way, it’s just a biscuit cutter. You could even just use a small can with the top and bottom cut out.

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