Arms of the Earl of Sandwich. “Post Tot Naufragia Portum (After so Many Shipwrecks We Reach Port)”
The first written record of the word "sandwich" as we know it (2 slices of bread with a filling) appeared in historian Edward Gibbon’s private journal on November 24, 1762:
"I dined at the Cocoa-Tree with Holt. We went thence to the play (the ‘Spanish Friar’), and when it was over returned to the Cocoa-Tree. That respectable body of which I have the honor of being a member, affords every evening a sight truly English. Twenty or thirty of the first men in the kingdom in point of fashion and fortune, supping at little tables covered with a napkin, upon a bit of cold meat, or a sandwich, and drinking a glass of punch."
Interior of Brooks, another 18th century club on St James Street
The 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-92) would have been one of those “first men” and was credited with the invention of the sandwich.
The site What’s Cooking in America gave a little history of Gibbon’s favorite venue, explaining, “The Cocoa-Tree, located at Pall Mall and St. James's Street, was a fashionable gentlemen's gaming club in London beginning in the 18th century. Gaming houses in London were for the chosen few, where men of common tastes and of one class might meet together.” Fortunes that were generations-in-the-making were lost in an evening or two on the club’s gaming tables. The Cocoa-Tree was still a favorite destination for the rich and famous in Byron’s time (1788-1824) so I imagine if a food fashion was going to be launched, this would be the place for it to happen (along with other gambling clubs like Brooks, Boodles, Whites and such around St. James Street and Pall Mall). Marathon drinking and gambling would have been much helped by late-night sandwiches –– meat-betwixt-the-bread fortifications.
Fifty two years later, on the 9th of April, 1814 no less than George Gordon, Lord Byron wrote an account of what an evening at the Cocoa-Tree would have been like in his time –– one can imagine by 1814 their 2 am “supping” entailed some few sandwiches on the menu or as snacks in the 8 hours before: “I am but just returned to town, from which you may infer that I have been out of it…. I have also been drinking, and on one occasion, with three other friends at the Cocoa-Tree, from six till four, yea, until five in the matin. We clareted and champagned till two, then supped, and finished with a kind of regency punch composed of Madeira, brandy and green tea, no real water being admitted therein.”
Hinchingbrooke House, Ancestral home of John Montague, the 4th Earl of Sandwich
History is a little vague about whether the sandwich came about because the Earl of Sandwich wouldn’t leave a gaming table to have a bite because he was losing or because he wouldn’t let hunger interrupt his Admiralty work (he was the First Lord of the Admiralty) and so ate his favorite salted beef between 2 slices of bread as he worked, keeping one hand free to turn pages. His biographer believed it was the later not the more popular former tale. Whichever is true, he must have shared his invention with his friends at home or at his clubs and a new food trend was begun –– I imagine his grateful friends and associates named it so in his honor.
North front of Hinchinbrook House, 1787
Have times changed that much? We still grab a sandwich at our desks and eat it distractedly as we work. May I say, bless you John Montague, 4th Earl of Sandwich for the splendid invention. Without it, we might still be noshing on meat pies as our 1-handed meal of choice when cutlery is just too much bother.
My cooking group Creative Crew’s challenge this month involves sandwiches so I wanted to do something that would merit attention –– something you would want to sit down at a table and savor.
My first idea was a baked bean sandwich –– a favorite in the UK and Boston. But the weather got warmer and Boston was in the news in a bad way –– baked beans just lost their allure. I did a 180º when I saw a description of a magnificent sandwich in the NYT Magazine section this week. I had to make it.
The author, Alexander Lobrano (who writes a great Paris food blog), said Renata Dominik, the chef for Café Prunier in Paris (the famed 19th century seafood restaurant), had come up with “the best lobster sandwich I’ve ever eaten on either side of the Atlantic. Why? It’s made with toasted, freshly made Moroccan flatbread, impeccably cooked lobster tossed in a light honey-and-Xeres vinegar sauce, fresh herbs, including dill and chervil, fresh grapes, and orange and pink grapefruit sections.”
Sounds amazing, right? Now, how to fill in the blanks starting with what flatbread to use? That’s easy. After I made m’semmen for what has become one of my favorite sandwich snacks (m’semmen flatbread topped with olives, honey, harissa with or without goat cheese (see it HERE) I knew this was going to be my bread –– it is awesome with its buttery layers (you can use a light oil if you want to go vegan with this) and looks like what they may have used. It's also easy to make. My blogpal Barbara recommended substituting naan if you are in a hurry -- great idea (but the m'semmen is great if you have the time).
I made up a dressing for the lobster based on what I read and saw (like the sliver of vanilla bean in the photograph). The use of vanilla with lobster was a fashion in the 90's -- the first time I saw it I thought it would be ghastly but tasting it made me change my mind –– it's a match made in heaven. Warm lobster with a voluptuously sweet and gently sour dressing that's drinkably good is divine with spritely citrus and grape accents on warm bread. Eat with a knife and fork or fold it up and eat it that way (you may want to make the lobster pieces smaller if you are using your hands–– you could also make bite size versions of this for a party). I think it would work with shrimp too. It makes for a perfect dish that will have you holding the mayo next time you think lobster club.
Lobster Sandwich a la Prunier for 2
1- 1 1/2lb lobster, steamed and cut into tail slices and claw meat removed as gently as you can to keep the shape - warm or room temperature
OR one or 2 cooked, shelled lobster tails – depending on size**
OR 6 oz shrimp
10 green grapes, sliced
1/2 an orange, sectioned*
1/2 a grapefruit, sectioned*
chervil and or shiso or mint
2 m'semmen, preferably warm
Toss the warm lobster and fruits in the dressing. Arrange the lobster and fruits on the m'semmen. Sprinkle with chopped herbs.
*The sections are called suprêmes –– this involves cutting off all the membrane on each section of the fruit which takes a little patience and a sharp knife but is worth the effort for an elegant dish (there is a video for it HERE).
** remember when you cook lobster, no high heat and not for too long or it gets rubbery. When I got my whole lobster at the store, I had them cook it for me. The first time was way too long and I brought it back. If you get a live lobster, watch HERE for instructions -- 10 minutes should be fine for 1 1/2 lbs. If using lobster tails, cut the shell, take the meat out of the tail and slice it into medallions. Sauté over low heat with a bit of butter for a few minutes till just cooked. Then the meat will be sweet and luscious–– not rubbery!
2 T sherry vinegar
1 t Pedro Jimenez sherry or cream sherry (optional)
1 T honey (I used a mild cream honey but you could use an acacia or other light floral honey)
1/4 t vanilla
1 T hazelnut oil (optional but recommended)
2-3 T grapeseed or canola oil (3 if you are skipping the hazelnut oil)
1/8 t salt
Put all the ingredient in a jar and shake (although the honey may need a stir to get it going).
M’semmen (makes 4-6)
3/4 c flour
3/4 c semolina
1/2 c warm water
2 t oil
1/4 t salt
2 T softened butter, approximately (a little over a teaspoon per bread)*
2 T butter for frying, approximately*
Add the first 5 ingredients together and knead for a few minutes. Let rest for half an hour. Cut into 4-6 squarish portions. Roll out till thin and cover one side with butter, fold 1/3 over and butter the top 1/3. Fold the other side over. Turn and roll out. Repeat process and rest in the fridge for a few minutes. Roll again to a rectangle about 7”x 5” cover one side with butter place the other side in a buttered skillet, fry at medium heat till brown spots appear then turn and do the buttered side.
* you can use a light oil instead if you can't have butter
Come by HERE this week to see the great sandwiches the crew has come up with