Christmas 2008 Sandwiches

Christmas sandwiches prove a real tester for sandwich designers: do you stick to the tried and tested turkey and trimmings or risk something adventurous? Nellie Nichols tries out this season’s offerings and bestows her Snowflake Award on the very best.

The trouble with living in London is snow is such a rarity, which is a shame as we’re in the middle of a freezing cold snap as I write. But we have been promised inches of snow across the country tonight and so I’ve got the dogs’ coats ready, just in case, for Flora and Marge’s walk in the morning.

Marge’s is sheepskin lined as she is a whippet and consequently rather feels the cold, bless. I so hope it does snow because with only a matter of weeks to go before Christmas it’ll put everyone in much more of a Christmassy mood.

Not that personally I need any encouragement. I sort through all my Christmas CD’s into a huge pile in anticipation of 1st December when I allow myself to start playing them, along with eating my daily allocation of one mince pie. I have found, through experience, that if you start either any earlier you get thoroughly sick of them by the 25th. Then you have to listen to some other completely inappropriate music on Christmas morning while you’re stuffing the turkey and, worst of all, can’t face any Christmas pudding either, which is a great shame.

This is specially relevant to me as it’s so good frying leftover slices in a bit of melted butter and then letting massive spoonfuls of brandy butter melt all over it.

Talking of turkey, all the Christmas sandwiches are now back on the shelves again, so I’ve bought a load to see how much they’ve changed from last year’s turnout.

Disappointingly, they do look remarkably similar when I line them all up in my kitchen, but this year I have tried very hard to seek out the alternative fillings from the same old/same old turkey. It’s always struck me as very weird and backward eating cold turkey and stuffing sandwiches for weeks on end leading up to Christmas, when that’s exactly what we all end up having to do afterwards with all the wretched leftovers.

I do so wish that everyone would develop a little bit more outside the box and think about all the other wonderful festive ingredients that are so traditional at this time of year and try putting them in a sandwich for a change. I think I might just have a couple in front of me now but cutting to the chase and telling you about them first would just spoil it all, so you’re going to have to hear all about the turkey ones first.

Now, why is it every turkey sandwich I’ve got in front of me contains exactly the same ingredients? It’s as if there’s a universal Christmas turkey sandwich template that has to be followed by some festive food law. It goes like this: turkey breast (optional smoke), stuffing (optional pork), onions, cranberry sauce, and baby spinach on malted bread. The variants are nearly always with or without bacon, mayo, different ways of cooking the onions and additions to the cranberries.

Interestingly, the prices of the products I’ve bought yo-yo somewhat – the lowest being £2.00 (Boots Shapers) and the highest Pret’s Christmas Lunch at £3.25. I know 10p of this more expensive sandwich is going to the Homeless and no one can argue with that – or that Pret did it first. But it must also be said that M & S do the same too with a much larger Christmas range and a more generous 5% donation on each, equating to 15p per sandwich.

The Boots Shapers Turkey Stuffing and Cranberry has to be marvelled at as being the only Christmas sandwich I could find that gives waistline watchers a bite of a more interesting festive diet sandwich with a very impressive miniscule 2.2g of fat and only 328 cals. I can live without the fat but it is a little on the dry side and could do with a more generous spoonful of the low fat mayo or fromage frais it contains.

Sainsbury’s Classic Turkey Feast (£2.70, 16.1g fat and 472 cals) is made with butter basted turkey (though I always think this just sounds good, rather than actually achieving any taste benefit). This is cut very thinly and has an odd circular turkey roll appearance to it. The rest of the sandwich is nice enough: a good stuffing mayonnaise, some sweet cured bacon and wild cranberry sauce (do wild cranberries really taste better than cultivated when they are cooked in so much sugar, surely it’s extremely hard to tell). A good enough sandwich all round but the turkey is, I think, a little disappointing.

Starbucks Turkey Feast Club (£2.95, 18.3g fat and 435 cals) reminds me of the importance of matching halves. One half of this sandwich is literally stuffed with spinach, the other has virtually none. This gives the appearance of two different sandwiches being in the same pack which, of course, they aren’t. I really like the stuffing, which has rather a good pepperiness to it and the caramelised onions also make a very welcome change. This has the addition of rocket as well as spinach and again a wild cranberry sauce. Pret’s Christmas Lunch (£3.25, 23.2g fat and 542 cals) has to be the most visually enticing of all the turkey sandwiches I tried. Bulging, decadent, and a bit naughty in a ‘let’s throw caution to the wind’ sort of way. No thinly cut turkey here, but clean cut chunks and lots of them. If I had to choose the best turkey out of them all this would be it but, to be honest, it’s a bit spoilt by the tiny bits of fried crispy onion shrapnel, the slightly processed looking square stuffing and, I hate to say it but I must, really quite dry bread.

This year the vegetarian Christmas option seems to mainly be answered by using brie. No surprises here then. Sainsbury’s have a Merry Berry Wrap (£2.50, 23g fat and 496 cals) brie, cranberry and orange chutney, mayo and lettuce. I really like this for a change from a sandwich; the brie is fantastically creamy and melts in the mouth and the chutney is really delicious and Christmassy with the addition of the orange. Pret has a brie, cranberry and port sauce, toasted pine nuts and salad leaves (£2.85, 34g fat, 553 cals). Again an enjoyable veggie option, but if the pine nuts are described as toasted, which does make all the difference, then they should be.

And now, if you’re still with me, we’ve got to my two overall favourites. Is this because they’re not the ubiquitous turkey? I don’t really think so. It’s just because they are, in my eyes anyway, proper treats at a time of year when that’s more likely to be the ‘oh go on then’ choice we all like to go and make.

And honestly I do think we’ll all susceptible to a little turkey fatigue setting in if you start in mid November. So thanks M & S for, in my second place, your King Prawns, Crème Fraiche and Herb Sauce, Lochmuir Smoked Salmon and Lettuce on Oatmeal Bread (£3.00, 20.4g fat and 445 cals) for being totally indulgent, very interesting and really delicious, exactly what a well thought through Christmas sandwich should be.

But my overall Snowflake Award for the best festive sandwich I could find has to go to their Aberdeen Angus Rare Roast Beef, Red Onion and Arran Ale Chutney, Mustard Dressing, Caramelised Shallots and Mixed Salad Leaves on White Bread (£3.00, 24.9g fat and 565 cals).

The beef is deliciously rare (far from being an easy feat when it has to get through the chill chain) the chutney is bold and rich, the onions sweet and almost toffee like and are contrasted by a feisty mustard. The leaves, a lovely mix are fresh and bouncy and the bread is simply the softest and moistest I’ve come across in a very long time coming out of a sandwich box. This is a very fine sandwich which has taken several staple ingredients and re delivered them with a true sense of Christmas style and magic and that truly beats the turkey and cranberry combination in my book any day.


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