Monday 22 March 2010

Smoked Salmon & Horseradish Sandwich Fingers: reviving the art of making a dainty sandwich

'Dainty' isn't a word I use often, because it's just so old-fashioned, and so reminiscent of doilies, girls tiptoeing in petticoats, and ladies holding teacups with arched pinky fingers.
But it is a word that I think can be applied with no qualms to a sandwich. Not a doorstop wholewheat sandwich, mind you, or a limp lunchbox sandwich glued with peanut butter, or a supermarket sandwich stuffed into a plastic triangle and refrigerated to cadaver-stiff.

What I mean by a dainty sandwich is one that is made at the very last minute with soft, fresh, highly refined bread, crusts removed, spread with nice salty butter, and cut into bite-sized triangles. (With an optional garnish of shredded iceberg lettuce.)

When last did you see a good and dainty sandwich of this sort? I came across a plateful of them a few weeks ago, when my sister Sophie served - oh, joy! - properly triangled cucumber sandwiches, made with the fluffiest Government Loaf, and zinged with a little chopped fresh mint. Even though I'm not a big fan of bread, I fell upon these sarmies with greedy pleasure.

I don't mean to be a snob, but I reckon that there are only a handful of appropriate fillings for dainty sandwiches, among them cucumbers; eggs mashed with home-made mayonnaise; good ham with lettuce; mustard & cress, and finely sliced cheddar with salted tomato. Only white pepper will do: freshly ground black pepper is just not on. Newfangled ingredients such as pesto, sundried tomatoes and grilled aubergines have no place between the slices of a sandwich of this sort.

Looking through my collection of Fifties and Sixties cookbooks, I've been very amused by all the different variations on the theme of Dainty Sandwiches. I've found checkerboard sandwiches, rolled sandwiches (here's my recipe for salmon pinwheels), stacked sandwiches, diced sandwiches and even flattened sandwiches, which involve thinning the bread slices with a rolling pin.

Here is a way to make a little smoked salmon go a long way. Look, it's a bit fiddly, but really worth the effort, especially if you have an old auntie or granny over for tea. You will get the neatest results if you use an electric carving knife to slice up the bread stacks (sounds like overkill, but it's the best tool for this job). If you don't have such a gadget, use a very sharp serrated bread knife, and cut the stacks in a light, quick-sawing motion. Whatever you do, don't apply any downward pressure with the knife, or you'll take all the bounce out of the dainties. I stirred prepared horseradish into my butter, but you could use a little lemon juice or zest, a few minced capers, a sprinkling of finely chopped fresh dill, or all of the above.

Smoked Salmon Sandwich Fingers

125 g soft salted butter
1 T (15 ml) creamed horseradish sauce
salt and white pepper
8 slices fresh white bread
8 slices fresh brown bread
12 slices smoked salmon

Put the butter into a little bowl and beat in the horseradish sauce and a little white pepper and salt, to taste. Make four bread stacks, as follows: place a slice of white bread on a chopping board. Spread the horseradish butter over the slice, and top with a piece of smoked salmon. Put a piece of brown bread on top, and repeat the steps above - alternating white and brown slices - above until you have a stack of four slices of bread. Using a very sharp serrated knife, or, preferably, an electric carving knife, cut off the crusts on all four sides of the bread stack. Now cut the stack, from top to bottom, into four slices. Place each slice downwards on the chopping board and slice into three to four fingers. Repeat the process with the remaining 12 slices of bread.

Arranged the salmon fingers, with great nicety, on a plate, preferably with a doily, and serve immediately.

Serves 8, as a snack or starter.
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Keri said...

Hi, this post was great. took me to a place I think I ate in once. Great read. glad I came accross your blog this evening. I'd be honored if you visited mine some time. Take care, Keri (a.k.a. Sam)

Nina Timm said...

This is lovely Juno!!! Those sandwiches took me right back to my granny's house. I will never forget the tea in the porcelain cups and the lovely chats we had, while scoffing sown these lovely sandwiches..

Adele @ WillworkforBiltong said...

Oooh, how I love the dainty sandwich. And smoked salmon is the ultimate dainty sandwich filling. These are beautiful, thank you very much.

Jane-Anne said...

Thank you for the comments, all. Keri and Adele, I am on my way to visit your blogs. Nina, I also had sandwiches similar to this at my granny's house!

Kit said...

They look beautiful, Juno! I always remember my grandmother buttering the bread before she cut the slice, so that she could cut it daintily thin for tea; sometimes it was made into cucumber sandwiches, sometimes just served as bread and butter, which we had to eat before we could have cake or biscuits.

Marisa said...

I love this post! Dainty sandwiches (done properly) is definitely not something one sees every day.

Robyn said...

Bring on the Bolly! Such lovely nibbles...

Homemade Heaven said...

So it's true, you've applied for a job at the Mount Nelson's High Tea kitchen! The last time I saw anything this dainty was there - but you have raised the bar for them with these.
I think even Marguerite Patten would approve.

Tish Boyle said...

This is my kind of food! They look beautiful and very dainty...Thanks!

Helen said...

These look fabulous! I particularly like the way you've used two breads. I'm thinking a bit of cream cheese might also be nice in there. I'm a sucker for old-fashioned teas - there is something really fun about replicating the treats we (and our mums and grannies) ate as youngsters. Today I made cheese straws - to me they're in the same category as these sandwiches... deliciously retro :)