Crafting a Sandwich: From Bread Choice to Fillings

The sandwich is the ultimate convenient and versatile culinary invention and probably the first meal that most of us learned to make by ourselves as children. There are countless variations of sandwiches to suit every taste, occasion, and dietary restriction – from packed lunches to lazy weekend brunches, vegan to gluten-free, kids’ favourites to complicated gourmet creations, and dainty afternoon teas to picnics in the park.

Whatever your tastes and preferences, specific requisite components come together to make up the perfect sarnie; at the heart of each one is a carefully curated combination of bread, spread, and filling.

Let’s take a closer look at how to craft a well-balanced butty, maximising flavour while achieving visual appeal, optimum structural perfection, and limiting the dreaded ‘sog’ factor.

Start with the right bread, and you’re halfway there

The bread is essentially the foundation on which your sandwich is built, serving as the packaging that holds your sandwich together and adding flavour and texture. If you start with great bread – whether that be soft white, rustic wholemeal, sweet brioche, wrap, pitta, English muffin, chewy bagel, croissant, baguette, ciabatta, rye, or sourdough – you’re already halfway to making a great sandwich. 

Sourdough will bring a hint of sour tanginess, rye has a great chewy texture and earthy taste, and an oil-based loaf like focaccia pairs perfectly with other Italian ingredients such as spicy salami, pepperoni, provolone cheese, and Mediterranean vegetables. Wholegrain bread is ideal for adding a hearty bite, and ciabatta is renowned for making delicious grilled panini, whilst brioche has a sweet flavour and melt-in-the-mouth texture that goes well with saltier fillings, as well as accentuating sweet centres like jam or chocolate. And then, of course, there’s the classic white sliced – a much-loved and convenient option that’s great for rustling up a quick bite when you’re short on time.

There are no hard and fast rules here; your choice of bread will come down to personal preference. However, it’s a good idea to contrast your bread with your filling. A drier bread, for example, works well with a ‘wetter’ filling, whilst a crunchy bread style will complement a softer filling. 

Spread a little love

The spread on a sandwich serves a dual purpose. Not only can it add another layer of flavour, making your choice of filling really sing, but it also coats the bread and prevents the wetter ingredients from turning your butty into a soggy mess. 

Although butter has long been the spread of choice for many, there are a plethora of other options – think mayo, ketchup, mustard, chutney, cream cheese, salsa, BBQ sauce, houmous, tapenade and guacamole, to name but a few. The type of spread you choose could depend on the filling you’re using. BBQ sauce, for example, pairs perfectly with chicken, whilst pesto adds an authentic touch to an Italian-inspired antipasti sandwich, and spicy horseradish complements roast beef by cutting through the rich flavour of the meat.

Firm Favourites and Next-Level Fillings

We’ve already discussed how the bread is the starting point of your sandwich masterpiece; now, let’s take a look at the filling. Sandwich fillings are arguably the star of the show, providing key flavours, textures, and nutrients. The possibilities are virtually endless here – you can go as simple or bold as you like; just make sure your individual components are well-balanced and work well together to enhance the overall flavour profile. 

The best sandwich pairings complement each other in terms of both flavour and texture, resulting in a taste sensation with every bite. Classic combinations like egg and cress, ham and cheese, bacon, lettuce and tomato, tuna and cucumber, or chicken and salad are forever popular and continue to stand the test of time.

The sandwich world is constantly evolving and growing, with chefs and home cooks alike becoming ever more adventurous and innovative in the creation of this favourite of UK foods. 

At last year’s annual Sandwich Designer of the Year competition – part of the Sammies (the Grammys of the sandwich world) – Katarina Broadribb’s ‘Smokey Roll‘ was awarded the sought-after title of ‘Britain’s Best Sandwich’. The unusual yet perfectly balanced flavour combinations brought together smoked brisket, rich gouda cheese, mushrooms, horseradish sauce, and herbs in a memorable taste sensation. The 2022 winning creation, ‘You’re Bacon Miso Bananas’, also demonstrated innovation at its finest, combining as it did bacon, miso, caramelised rice puffs, and bananas.