Thursday, November 4, 2010

Elevating corned beef to sandwich nirvana

The one and only time I’ve made my mum cry I was about eight, and I announced at the dinner table that the corned beef she’d made was “disgusting”. In hindsight, she was probably having a bad day because La Madre is the least emo woman in the history of motherhood. (For the record, she left the kitchen in tears, my dad gave me a belting, and when I went to apologise to her I told her the corned beef wasn’t really disgusting… It was really the accompanying boiled celery, carrot and unidentified root vegetables I found totally repugnant… *I wisely kept this last bit to myself*)

Fast forward 20 years and what I wouldn’t give for a slab of cold corned beef in between bread for lunch, especially after yesterday’s Word of Mouth post about salt beef sandwich bars in the capital. I made the mistake of ordering a corned beef sandwich from the staff café at work a few months back, and it was presented as a lump of gelatinous reconstituted matter, like a cross section of a can of dog food. What the HELL! I still haven’t come to terms with this god-forsaken country’s obsession with ‘reconstituting’ everything that’s good and nutritional (ham, orange juice, the list goes on…). At a massive stretch, it looked like tongue sandwich.

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The purists always mention the signature sangas at Katz's Deli in New York and Schwarz’s in Montreal but honestly, my lasting impression of these places was that I could have made three with the amount of meat they dished up on my plate. (My other impression was that young, hungover ladies dining solo were a rare commodity and attracted extra pickles at no extra cost… score!)

If you’re talking traditional, New York deli sandwich styles, I’d take warm, freshly-sliced, pinky-purple corned beef over pastrami any day. My opinion of condiments is that they're not worth including unless they put hair on your chest, so mix some horseradish and hot English mustard into a Dijon base and slather on both pieces of buttered bread. Stick as much sliced polish dill pickle in as meat, and don’t even think about adding cheese (Marks and Spencer’s New York deli sandwich is pretty damn good, but emmantal cheese gets a thumbs down from this correspondent). Sure, rye bread’s great if you can find an unsliced loaf containing carroway seeds, but dense multigrain works a treat as well. I recommend a bread slice thickness that’s greater than the individual thickness of the pickles or meat, but thinner than the fillings combined.

Now, I ask you: when you can reach sandwich nirvana like this, why would you dish up a poor man’s roast of corned beef wet from the pot, with soggy boiled celery, carrots and white sauce? Sorry mum...

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