I was near a small sandwich stand in an open-air market.
It was like many you would see almost anywhere in the world. A radio was playing a vaguely familiar tune. Soft drink cans and cigarette packs lined the windows inside the stand where a lady was stuffing soft buns with meats. There was a paper napkin dispenser advertising “Coca-Cola.”
This sandwich stand happened to be in Florence, Italy.
In my hack Italian I said, “Buon giorno Signora. Due Lamprodette, per favore.”
“We Italians are absolutely crazy about these sandwiches,” my new friend Iano explained. “It is made from the stomach of the cow.”
Iano had lived in the United States for a number of years before returning to his native land. He had eaten classic New York pastrami sandwiches, barbeque’d Carolina pork and good ol' All-American cheeseburgers.
But the cow’s belly on a bun that he asked me to join him in consuming was his all-time favorite sandwich. I have to admit, I liked it very much.
That might come as a surprise to one of my former babysitters. I received an e-mail recently from a girl who used to watch me when I was five years old and she was merely 12. She wrote me of a night way back then when she fixed me a “dinner” of hot dogs. I howled in protest! She said I refused on the grounds that a sandwich was not a proper dinner. I even “ate standing up, unwilling to sit at the table” she went on. My father came home later and consoled the poor girl and even said that I “was unreasonable sometimes about food and its presentation.”
Hell, I was just warming up!
An Englishman who also held the title of “The Earl of Sandwich” reportedly invented sandwiches. Many people know this by now, but if you don’t the knowledge is helpful. Apparently he was an avid card player and wanted a way of conveying the foods of 19th Century England to his mouth without greasing up the cards he loved playing so much.
Grouse on rye with stilton and onion, anyone?
My definition of sandwiches has blossomed just as it has around the world. The central rule seems to be portability with a sub-clause calling for bread of some kind. Tacos seem legit in this braver new world! Good Lord, if ‘wraps’ are considered sandwiches the world of tacos must be admitted!
The thrifty, resourceful and non-squeamish good people of Mexico make carnitas tacos that are an equivalent of the Italian’s love of lamprodetta. Carnitas means, ‘little meats.’ It foxily doesn’t confine itself to the usual center cuts but can employ a whole host of parts. The stomach, feet, shoulder, ears, ribs, tongue and rind are all legit. The pig parts are cooked in their own lard for this. Time is crucial as the goal is to have the pig’s natural collagens expressed as it cooks, softening the tougher cuts that results in exquisite juiciness and tenderness. Tuck that into a corn tortilla and you have a Mexican sandwich worth it’s salt.
And salt is necessary amidst the luxury of the meat and fat. So is bitter. That is why you often see radishes offered. So is acidity. That is why there are plates of pickled jalapeños and carrots in small bowls on the counter. And herbs are nice to have in the expanding range of flavors in your carnitas sandwich. In Mexico cilantro is prevalent. But you may not be in Mexico. You may not like cilantro. Try a tad of oregano or wild marjoram. Amazing with pork! But let’s rejoin our friend Iano back in Italy a moment, where I asked him this:
What would “The Earl of Sandwich” have thought of lamprodetta?
Iano looked far over the water as he finished the last bite of his lunch and said, “He might have loved them. After all, he was a gambling man and it is a gutsy sandwich.”
RECIPE FOR MOLETTE SANDWICH
Like many foods there are various versions of a molette sandwich. I first learned of them at a tiny place called Five Brothers Grocery at the corner of Southard and Grinnell Streets down from the old and peaceful Key West graveyard.
The grocery part is smaller than a one-car garage but it is stocked with plantain smashers (for tostones), café con leche makers, paella pans and fishing lures. In addition to this sandwich, they run daily soups and specials that include oxtail, chicken fricassee and fresh baked grouper.
I prepared this sandwich at The South Beach Wine and Food Festival one year to 800 folks. Many couldn’t pronounce it but they sure could enjoy it!
Yield: 4 sandwiches
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1-¼ Pounds ground beef
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
3 Cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 Red onion, peeled and diced medium
1 Red bell pepper, stem and seeds discarded, diced medium
1 Yellow bell pepper
1 Cup tomato concassé (1 large tomato)
½ Cup tomato paste
1 Cup dry red wine
½ Cup sherry wine
¼ Cup well-rinsed small capers, chopped
½ Cup raisins or currants, roughly chopped
5 Tablespoons green olives, pitted, lightly rinsed and roughly chopped
¾ Cup scallions, sliced
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
Heat a large skillet on medium-high and add the olive oil. Now add the beef. Cook until crumbly and lightly browned chopping the meat up with a spoon or spatula as it cooks. Cook for about 5 minutes.
Remove the cooked meat to a bowl with the juices. Reserve.
Using the same pan you cooked the turkey in, add the second measurement of olive oil and the butter. Stir in the garlic, onions and bell peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 10-15 minutes over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the cooked beef, tomato, the tomato paste, red wine, sherry, capers, raisins, olives and scallions. Stir. Lower the heat to medium-low. Season to taste and cook about 15 minutes. Reserve.
For the sandwiches:
4 Short soft sub rolls, hollowed out, extra bread saved for breadcrumbs if desired
2 Eggs, beaten with a splash of milk or water
1 Cup panko bread crumbs or more as needed (depending on bread size)
Canola oil, as needed to crisp all sides of the sandwich.
Stuff the bread with the prepared picadillo, spooning it in tightly to give a nice amount of filling.
Secure the open end with wet toothpicks.
Roll the stuffed sandwiches in the beaten egg first then in the panko bread crumbs until nicely coated.
Heat the canola oil and then brown the sandwich on all sides until golden and crispy.
This can be prepared 15-20 minutes ahead and kept warm in a pre-heated 300 degree oven.