Christmas sandwiches have become an important addition to the culinary calendar, with retailers pulling out the stops to produce innovative offerings and packaging. Nellie Nichols looks back at the ‘crackers’ and the ‘turkeys’
Well that’s Christmas then. After an impressive buildup starting in October here we are the other side of it in January; the month of self loathing that encourages us to go to the gym instead of just paying the membership. All that’s left are the abandoned Christmas trees rolling about London street corners. At least they’ve still got all their needles on now the branches are cultivated, to dry out and go crisply rigid rather than fall off all over the carpet and bung up the hoover.
My prize for the fastest commercial metamorphosis goes to my local shop which managed to replace its extensive collection of Christmas cards with Valentine and Easter ones by New Year’s Eve. Overnight all references to the noble turkey have all but disappeared (except the lovely three wise cranberries poster advertising Pret’s Christmas sandwich still in their windows well into the New Year). The constant recipes in every magazine advising the most creative use of leftovers are gone, now replaced with our penance of tediously sensible advice on New Year eating. Before Father Christmas slid down the chimney and we all disappeared into a haze of mulled wine and festivity, I took a look at some of the Christmas sandwiches available on the high street.
“My overall winner on every count has to be Sainsbury’s for quietly getting everything just about spot on; the innovation, the taste, the attention to detail, and most definitely the price ”
Only a few years ago a Turkey sandwich was as hard to find as mistletoe in most outlets in the lead up to Christmas but this year brings an advancement with the sophistication of added jokes and hats in the skillet (e mails please if you saw anyone who was brave enough to wear one of those in your office) and a growing number donating a contribution from every sandwich sold to the homeless. Even packaging became wonderfully festive: bright red and even cracker shaped, some covered with snowflakes and stars.
The humble turkey sandwich, traditionally a predictable and unexciting post-Christmas tedium of a snack has now become a forerunner of innovation across the retailers in the build-up to Christmas Day. In addition, innovative non-turkey versions were also launched, widening the festive choice. Personally, I think butter basting really only works if you mash the best quality unsalted butter with a delicious ingredient like fresh sage or finely chopped truffle for extra flavour, then stuff and massage it between the skin and the breast of a whole bird. Trapped between the two it permeates slowly into the meat giving delicious moist flavour and succulence.
Somehow the commercial reality of either injecting or tumbling with butter oil doesn’t quite give the same effect. The compromise, I believe, which delivers the best commercial result is carefully basting with butter by placing it on top of sliced breast sections.
Starbucks’ Butter Basted Turkey Feast Club with Cranberry and Port Sauce on Malted (£2.95), also had a sage & onion stuffing and bacon. The turkey and the sauce were good, but the bread dry and the stuffing lacked that delicious stodginess one expects and was far too crumbly, jumping out of the sandwich all over my lap. Also basting with butter were Boots with their Butter Basted Turkey Bacon and Cranberry (£2.60 including festive hat and joke). A nice product and good value but the bread was one of the driest. Too much air exposure in the chilled environment during production is more often than not the reason for dry bread. This is such a wide spread issue, there has to be a way to minimise this and ensure the bread successfully retains its moisture.
M & S were creative, innovative and generous with their lovely Christmas Cracker Wrap “Turkey & Trimmings”. £2.75 with a 5% donation to Shelter as well as a hat and a joke. When they said trimmings they meant the business, with delicious cranberry and orange relish, bread sauce (very brave but it works), pork, sage and onion stuffing, crispy onions and sausages.
Also in their Christmas range was their Turkey Bacon and Stuffing Feast on cranberry and onion bread (little evidence of cranberries), again £2.75 with the same donation. This turkey had been roast and marinated with sage but it was bone dry and I couldn’t taste sage at all. The pork, orange and cranberry stuffing was fabulous though, only equalled by the very clever touch of the roasted onion mayo. Their Brie and Merry Berry on Cranberry and Oatmeal Bread (£2.50, same 5% to Shelter) was a bit of a disappointment for me. The cranberry sauce with a small clump of sliced grapes in the middle had made the bread wet and there weren’t any cranberries in the bread at all.
Pret’s Christmas Lunch (£2.95 and 10p to the Pret Foundation Trust) was as always good and this year’s stuffing has to be their best so far. The only ingredient which let down a truly great product was the far too sickly sweet and very jammy Cranberry. The Plum chutney in their Brie and Plum (£2.75) was the complete reverse, tart and sour and not at all nice, and the pine nuts which are normally toasted and delicious hadn’t been and were pale and tasteless.
Lastly, but far from least, were two exceptional sandwiches from Sainsbury’s. Their Wensleydale with Fig and Fruit Chutney at £1.90 was in my book sensational – festive and full of flavour and outstandingly good value. The chutney – masterfully full of wonderful fruits and spices and perfect for the time of year. Here they’ve used an under-utilised and delicious sandwich cheese that never seems to get good press, a great chutney and good greenery of Red Oak and Spinach. I was hoping to find a proper Christmas ham sandwich and again found it in Sainsbury’s. They came up with a Gammon with Mincemeat and Whiskey (lovely touch) Chutney with Frisee and Rocket (£2.30). Fantastic proper ham, this one would have been unbeatable except for the exhausted rocket leaves.
So there you have it. The gauntlet’s well and truly down for this year’s Christmas sandwiches and if 2006 is anything to go by it should be a wider field and even more innovatively competitive. So get out the goose, the nut roast and the lobster. But until then my overall winner on every count has to be Sainsbury’s for quietly getting everything just about spot on; the innovation, the taste, the attention to detail, and most definitely the price. I think they may take some beating, so let’s see who can.