Few things in life are as satisfying as a superbly constructed sandwich. A sandwich can be a meal or a snack, suitable for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or bed at 2 a.m. Thanks to its endless range and versatility, there’s a sandwich to fit every palate. For some, a smear of creamy peanut butter between two slabs of brioche is enough to sate the appetite, while others prefer mounds of warm pastrami dripping with melted Swiss cheese. Whether you throw together the nearest meats and cheeses or spend hours braising a brisket filling, there is no wrong way to build a sandwich. The weight of the bread in your hands, loaded with fillings of your choosing, should provoke joy—and if it doesn’t, Texas chefs are here to help.
2020 left many people to their own devices in the kitchen, and many of us sought solace in the foods we chose to cook. Luckily for weary home chefs, assembling a sandwich doesn’t require an extensive set of culinary skills. Sandwiches don’t call for a bunch of fancy kitchen gadgets, so you can forget about a sink piled with dirty dishes. Sandwiches are fun. They’re straightforward. They don’t take themselves too seriously. And above all else, sandwiches are a comfort food. They can make you nostalgic for simpler times or provide an opportunity for innovation.
Most of us have a few go-to sandwich recipes (doesn’t everybody have a preferred way to make a grilled cheese?), but sometimes, especially after a year of at-home lunches and anxiety-fueled midnight snacks, the repertoire needs something new. To elevate our collective sandwich game, we asked seven Texas chefs from around the state to share a recipe that reflects their cooking style. There are melted leeks atop thick slices of bacon, mangoes that mingle with peanut butter and mint, and, yes, even a take on grilled cheese. The results are personal, playful, and most important, delicious. Here’s hoping they provide you with a taste of perfection.
Anita Jaisinghani, Pondicheri
The old-school combination of peanut butter and jelly has never appealed to Anita Jaisinghani, the chef and co-owner of Houston’s Pondicheri. “It’s too sweet, and I found myself wanting to add something spicy to it,” she says. After playing around in her kitchen, the chef came up with her own rendition of the classic pairing, drawing upon the ingredients and spices of Indian street food she uses at her restaurant. The result is the PBP sandwich: warm slabs of sourdough slathered with crunchy peanut butter and then layered with sliced mango, chopped herbs (cilantro, basil, or mint, depending on what’s available), and masala-coated Indian pickles. This sandwich is bursting with complementary flavors and textures and is way more fun to eat than the brown-bag lunch staple that inspired it.
2 slices of sourdough bread
Crunchy peanut butter
Indian pickles, preferably lemon or mango
Fresh herbs (mint, cilantro, or basil), coarsely chopped
1 mango, sliced
- Toast sourdough slices.
- Spread peanut butter on top layer of bread. Spread Indian pickles on bottom layer of bread. Stack mango and chopped herbs in between and close.
Egg and Soy Sauce Breakfast Sandwich
Donny Sirisavath, Khao Noodle Shop
Scrambled eggs served over rice with soy sauce was a breakfast staple in Donny Sirisavath’s Laotian home growing up. One morning, when the chef was around seven years old, he recalls scooping up the sauce-drenched eggs with two pieces of bread as he ran out the door to catch the bus. Even as a child, he was taking inspiration from his mother’s dishes and forming them into his own. His Dallas restaurant, Khao Noodle Shop, is an homage to those formative years spent in the kitchen learning her cooking techniques, and this sandwich is a slightly reimagined ode to those egg-filled mornings.
2 pieces of wheat bread
1 garlic clove, chopped
Oil of your choosing
1 scallion, chopped
1 teaspoon soy sauce
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Mayonnaise (however much you’d like on your sandwich)
1 lime wedge
1 or 2 slices of provolone cheese
1 or 2 slices of Vietnamese ham (regular ham is fine too)
1 tomato, sliced
Handful of arugula
- Toast the bread.
- Heat garlic and a splash of oil in a pan.
- Whisk eggs in a bowl, then mix in scallion, soy sauce, and pepper. Add mixture to the pan. Lightly scramble and then fold eggs into the shape of a square (like a mini omelet).
- Mix mayonnaise in a bowl with more black pepper and a squeeze of lime.
- Slather toasted bread with mayonnaise. Layer all other ingredients as you please.
Torta de Pollo Adobado
Iliana de la Vega, El Naranjo
Iliana de la Vega grew up eating tortas. She praises the Mexican sandwiches for their versatility, as well as their portability. “Anything can go inside a torta the same way that anything can go inside a taco,” she says. “And they travel well—you can eat them in the streets.” While the former is true for her torta de pollo adobado, the latter is up for debate. (You might want to have a tub of baby wipes and a spare shirt handy if you plan to eat this while walking.) This gussied-up torta touts a piquant blend of poblano peppers, mashed avocado, refried black beans, and marinated chicken. It’s a nod to the traditional Mexican fare served at the chef’s Austin restaurant. “I think it combines a little bit of everything we like and what people expect from Mexican cooking,” she says. “It’s easy to make and it’s also super delicious. The flavors are out of this world.”
For the chicken:
4 ancho chiles, seeds and stems removed
2 guajillo chiles, seeds and stems removed
2 medium garlic cloves
¼ small onion
2 black peppercorns
¼ teaspoon dried marjoram
¼ teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
6 small chicken breasts, (deboned, skinned, and flattened)
- In a dry cast-iron skillet, slightly roast the chiles and then soak them in ¾ cup hot water for roughly 90 minutes. When time is up and the chiles are tender, drain and discard the water.
- Transfer chiles to a blender along with garlic, onion, peppercorns, marjoram, oregano, and cumin seeds. Add enough water to make the mixture blendable. Blend and strain.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the chile mixture, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes. Add the vinegars, stir, and cook over low heat for 20 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Season with salt to taste.
- Allow the sauce to cool, then spread the adobo on chicken breasts and marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Preheat the grill, oil the chicken pieces, and cook the marinated chicken fillets on the grill or in a sauté pan until cooked through. Keep the chicken warm.
For the torta:
2 poblano chiles
6 bolillo or telera rolls
1 tablespoon butter
1 avocado, mashed
½ cup refried black beans
Sliced jalapeños en escabeche (optional)
- Peel the chiles, remove seeds and stems, and slice. Reserve.
- Cut off ends of the rolls, then slice in half lengthwise. Melt the butter on a griddle set over medium-low heat. Warm the bread cut side down, then spread each bottom half with a layer of beans.
- Season the mashed avocado with salt to taste, then spread it on the top halves of the bread.
- Divide the reserved adobado chicken among the bottom rolls, then layer with poblano chile slices and bread tops. Warm again on the griddle if needed. Cut tortas in half diagonally and serve with jalapeños en escabeche on the side.
Mark Clayton, Squable
The most important component of a BLT, according to Houston chef Mark Clayton, is the tomatoes. But there are times, for instance in midwinter, when getting one’s hands on ripe, garden-grown beefsteaks or luscious Black Krims isn’t possible. This sandwich, which the Houston chef describes as a “slightly reimagined version of a BLT,” takes the stress off finding the perfect, plump tomato. The fruit is sliced thin, making it suitable for all seasons. Melted leeks, marinated tomatoes, and toasted tomato paste surround thick cuts of crisp bacon. While the sandwich is based on a simple classic, the recipe requires a bit of patience, a smidgen of skill, and lots of pots and pans. It’s just the type of elevated comfort food you might find on the upscale European menu at Squable, which we named one of Texas’s best new restaurants in 2020.
For the braised bacon:
1 pound bacon, thick-sliced or slab
Leek tops (green part), washed, from 1 medium sized leek
2 garlic cloves, smashed
2 bay leaves
1 big pinch of red chili flakes
1 small sprig of fresh thyme (or a small pinch of dried thyme)
1 teaspoon white or regular soy sauce
1 cup chicken stock
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Then, using stovetop, sear bacon over medium heat in an oven-safe pan with a lid that fits (you will be using the same pan to braise the bacon later).
- Remove bacon and set it off to the side on a plate. Keep fat in the pan.
- Add the leek tops, garlic, bay leaves, chili flakes, and thyme to the rendered bacon fat and cook until fragrant, about 1–2 minutes. Transfer aromatics into cheesecloth and tie into a sachet.
- Place sachet in the pan you used to sear the bacon, and add the bacon back to the pan. Add soy sauce and chicken stock.
- Cover pan with lid, place in oven and cook for about 2–2.5 hours, until bacon is just tender enough to easily pierce with a knife. (If using sliced bacon, cook time will be significantly shorter.)
- Cool bacon in braising liquid before removing to slice.
- Remove fat from cooled braise and discard. Reduce the braising liquid down to a salty syrup and save for later when you sear the sliced, braised bacon.
For the toasted tomato paste:
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 ½ shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed
1 tablespoon sugar (can substitute honey or agave)
½ cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons white soy sauce (can substitute regular soy sauce)
⅓ teaspoon smoked paprika
⅓ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup mayonnaise
- Add oil, shallots, garlic, and sugar in a sauce pot over medium heat and cook until shallots and garlic are caramelized.
- Add tomato paste and cook until it is bronzed.
- Add vinegar, soy sauce, smoked paprika, and cayenne pepper.
- Remove from heat and blend until smooth.
- Add tomato paste to mayonnaise to create the “tomayo.”
For the melted leeks:
3 or 4 leeks (light green and white part), split lengthwise and cut into 1/8-inch half-moons (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon ground white peppercorns
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
½ teaspoon salt
- Place leeks and olive oil in a sauté pan over medium-low heat. Season with salt.
- Once leeks begin to sizzle, reduce the heat to low and allow leeks to slowly cook without getting any color.
- Once leeks are tender and translucent, remove from heat and add white pepper, vinegar, and thyme leaves, then mix. Taste the leeks, which should be fairly acidic. If you enjoy vinegar, you can add more to taste.
For the marinated tomatoes:
¼ pound of tomatoes sliced as thin as you can manage
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon either dried thyme, dried basil, or dried oregano
- Arrange the sliced tomatoes on a cooling rack set over a lined baking sheet.
- Mix oil and vinegar into a loose vinaigrette, then drizzle it over the tomatoes. Season tomatoes with salt, pepper, sugar, and herbs.
- To partially dry the tomatoes, set in the turned-off oven with the newly braised bacon, leaving the oven door open a crack.
To assemble the sandwich:
- If it’s not precut, slice the braised bacon. Sear the slices in a cast-iron skillet or a nonstick pan. When finished, brush with reduced bacon braising liquid for extra flavor and set aside.
- Toast some good sandwich bread (the chef uses pain de mie) in butter or oil, on just one side. Spread tomayo on the untoasted sides of the bread.
- Arrange one piece of bread toasted side down, and top with romaine, butter lettuce, or whatever lettuce you have in the fridge.
- Retrieve your tomatoes, which should be partially dried by now. Arrange tomatoes on top of the lettuce. (“Go with a single layer here—you don’t want to create the dreaded tomato slide,” says Clayton.)
- Top tomatoes with as much seared, braised bacon as you desire.
- Top bacon with melted leeks.
- You can stop here and top the leeks with the remaining slice of bread. Or, as the chef suggests, you can put some salt and vinegar potato chips on top of the leeks, top with the remaining slice of bread, and press down for a crushed chip garnish.
John Russ, Clementine
John Russ doesn’t mess around with boring cheddar. Not even when he’s building a grilled cheese at home for his wife and kids. “It’s not within the realm of what I do,” he says. And so, when a sample of Tickler cheddar arrived at his family-owned, Southern-oriented San Antonio restaurant last year, he was instantly sold on its sharpness and depth. He had a surplus of duck confit at the time, having just taken it off the restaurant’s menu, and this sparked an idea: he would make a sandwich. “It’s just such a fun way to utilize two products that would generally not meet.” Tender shredded duck and melted cheese meld together on toasted sourdough bread. Russ suggests pairing it with a light salad. We suggest licking your fingers clean.
3 ounces Tickler cheddar cheese
3 ounces shredded duck confit (available at fine grocery stores, or you can make your own)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 thick slices rustic sourdough
- Heat your griddle to medium-low heat (the chef recommends 315 degrees). If you don’t have a griddle, you can use a cast-iron skillet.
- Shred the cheese using a large-hole grater, then toss it together with the duck confit.
- Evenly distribute the cheese and duck mixture between the bread slices.
- Oil the griddle and place the built sandwich on it, then top sandwich with a heavy plate or a grill weight to help create crispy and evenly cooked toast. Flip after 4 to 6 minutes to ensure golden-brown toasting on opposite side.
Brisket and Egg on a Roll
Mark Scott, Convenience West
Mark Scott fell in love with the bodega-style egg sandwich while in Manhattan on a work trip last February. After returning home to Marfa, he realized there wasn’t anything like it in town. “If I wanted it, I would have to make it myself,” he says. And so, he did, but with some Texas tweaks. He says he often has extra brisket lying around in his fridge (must be nice!), and one day he sliced some up and added it to the sandwich. He also added cream cheese, hot sauce, and fresh basil from his wife and business partner Kaki’s garden. Being a pitmaster at a popular barbecue joint like Convenience West is laborious, and some days he’s on his feet for fifteen hours with barely enough time to cram in one quick meal. He’s found that this sandwich is substantial enough to hold him over while also satisfying his desire for something delicious. New York bodegas got nothing on this.
Sliced brisket (leftover brisket works great)
2 tablespoons butter, divided
Shredded cheddar cheese
Mayonnaise (preferably Duke’s)
Soft roll (preferably Martin’s Potato Rolls)
Hot sauce (optional)
- Crack eggs into bowl and whisk until fluffy. Set aside.
- Bring pan to medium heat, and sear brisket slices on both sides—a few minutes on each side should do. Once slices are heated, turn off the burner, leaving the brisket in pan. Set aside.
- In a second pan, also over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and toast roll. Remove roll and set aside.
- Add the second tablespoon of butter to the roll pan and let melt. Pour your eggs into the pan and sprinkle a small handful of shredded cheddar cheese over the top. Cook into a simple omelet or scramble.
- Smear a layer of cream cheese on the bottom half of the roll, then layer on cooked brisket slices, followed by eggs. (Now’s a great time for just a touch of salt on top of the eggs.) Sprinkle more cheddar cheese on top of the eggs, add a few basil leaves, and smear a bit of mayo on the top half of the roll. Add a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce to kick it up a bit.
Pork Rillettes and Collard Greens
Misti Norris, Petra and the Beast
Growing up, Dallas chef Misti Norris’s favorite sandwich was American singles and turkey on white bread with mayonnaise. Now that her palate and skills have evolved, she’s pushing the boundaries of bread and cheese. The result is a sandwich she terms the embodiment of solace squished between two slices of bread. “It’s just a comfort food kind of thing,” she says. “It’s everything I like.” Rich and fatty pork rillettes are fried and topped with collard greens, cheese, and a dill pickle emulsion, then stacked between pan de cristal, or a country loaf if you prefer. The dish is rich, acidic, and akin to the locavore fare Norris serves at her Dallas restaurant.
For the pork rillettes:
1 kilogram (just over 2 pounds) pork shoulder
2 cloves garlic, cut in half horizontally
4 sprigs of thyme
1 cup pork fat
Potato starch for dusting
Salt to taste
- The day before you plan to eat, set pork shoulder in a baking dish or Dutch oven and cover with garlic and thyme. Cover with water, and braise in oven until tender, about 2 ½ to 3 hours at 325 degrees. Remove and let cool; once it’s cool enough to handle, drain, reserving cooking liquid. Add melted pork fat to cooked shoulder and shred. Add in 1 cup of cooking liquid. Mash together with your hands until combined. Line a loaf pan with parchment. Pour mixture in and press down to make sure there are no air pockets. Place in refrigerator overnight to set.
- The next day, cut a slice about ½-inch thick. Dust with potato starch and panfry in a cast-iron skillet.
For the collards:
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
6 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup lemon juice
A big pinch of fennel seed
4 large bunches (about 10 cups packed) of collard greens
- In a medium pot, over medium heat, add onion, garlic, butter, and fennel.
- Sweat until the onions are translucent.
- Add the collards and cover, then turn heat down to low and stir every 10 minutes, until soft. (This will take up to 90 minutes.) Add lemon juice.
- Separate greens from liquid and reserve liquid.
For the dill pickle emulsion:
1 cup chopped or sliced dill pickle
2 egg yolks
1 cup jus from greens
Salt to taste
2 ½ cups grapeseed oil
- Add everything but the oil into the blender and puree until smooth.
- Slowly stream in oil until it thickens.
To assemble the sandwich:
- Toast bread of your choice.
- Spread dill pickle emulsion on each half, place rillettes down, add collards on top of that, and follow with Kentucky rose cheese, or your favorite white cheddar.