A ham sandwich is an impossible ask. Maple-smoked ham with havarti, chipotle mayonnaise, avocado, oven dried tomatoes, pickled jalapeños on an onion-parmesan bun? No problem. But ham on a roll? Hen’s teeth. And yet that simple union of good bread and gently cured meat is precisely the sort of inoffensive sustenance that twenty minutes between midday engagements requires. More importantly, it won’t leave you in desperate search of antacids and breath mints.
Actually any single element on bread is a noble meal. Cured meat of any kind works. A sharp old cheddar jammed into a roll is another personal favorite. The prospect of putting a leftover slice of pork or beef between bread is almost reason alone to invite people over for a roast. And after much experimentation, there is no better use for cold lamb.
In my opinion, and I’m certain to cause offense here, meat and cheese is a step in the wrong direction. I don’t have moral objections to joining the two—doing so just seems conspicuous and unnecessary. Butter is a far better addition anyway. It will provide a modest but flavorful counterpoint without the heaviness of mayonnaise.
The bread is important. The ideal vehicle is perhaps a small French roll that has been permitted to sit in a waxed bag overnight. It will be fresh, but not so crusty as to abrade the roof of your mouth. Crucially, it will provide the correct ratio of bread to filling. That ratio is more of a challenge when deciding how large a section of baguette or ciabatta to select. The trick is to use less than you think. An English muffin is good too, if a little too civilized for the spirit of this sandwich. Pullman slices are fine in a pinch, but useless unless toasted.
Finally, mustard is a gateway condiment. A dab can be fun on occasion, but for those of a weaker constitution its use can be habit forming and enough to encourage experimentation with harder substances. Remember: no one starts out using Sriracha. The safer route is to stay dry altogether. Actually it’s that very fear of dryness that compels most to start using; the better choice is to learn to embrace the austerity.
Incidentally, I don’t eschew the leisurely lunch—in fact, a long, multi-course midday meal unencumbered by a serious reason for having one, or threatened by time constraints, is for me a greater pleasure than a similar dinner. But we can’t lunch like Apicius everyday, and I wonder why, on those ordinary occasions, the unadorned sandwich is so rare. Is it because, like those famously indulgent Romans, exotic ingredients and elaborate preparations were a sign of wealth? Are multiple meats and spiced condiments a contemporary display of stature? Or have we just forgotten how good an honest sandwich can be?