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~ Some Hot & Savory Open-Faced Sandwich History ~

IMG_0737There's no time like the week after Thanksgiving to dive into a discussion about open-faced sandwiches.  After all, a great percentage of our United States's population just spent the weekend making hot, open-faced sandwiches using their leftover turkey, dressing and gravy.  I'm no exception.  Shortly after sitting down to write my recipes for Kentucky's Classic Hot Brown and Pittsburgh's Original Devonshire, two iconic hot turkey sandwiches, both with rich histories, I took a break to research the finer-points of the open-faced sandwich. Why? Technically, open-faced sandwiches aren't sandwiches in the true sense of the word.

Unlike traditional sandwiches, open-faced sandwiches never sandwich anything between two slices of bread, & typically don't get picked up to eat with the hands.

IMG_0722The definition & origin(s) of the open-faced sandwich.

According to Wikipedia, an open-faced sandwich, also known as an open-face sandwich, bread platter, or, tartine (a fancy French word for an open-faced sandwich made with spreadable ingredients), consists of a single slice of fresh bread with one or more foods piled on top.  During the middle ages in 15th Century England, thin slices of coarse-grained bread, called "trenchers" were used as plates.  At the end of the meal, the food-soaked trencher was eaten by the diner (referred to as a "trencherman"), fed to a dog, or, given to a beggar.  Trenchers were not only the harbinger of today's open-faced sandwiches are they were the first disposable plates.

The precursor to the English open-faced trencher is:

IMG_0411The Scandinavian-style served-cold open-sandwich.

The precursor to the English open-faced sandwich (not known to the English at the time), is the iconic Scandinavian open sandwich (Danish:  smørrebrød, Norwegian:  smørbrød, Swedish: smørgäs), consisting of one buttered piece of bread, usually whole-grained rye,  topped with thinly-sliced cold items (cheese, steak, ham, turkey, shrimp, smoked salmon, caviar, cooked eggs, bacon, herring, fish filets, liver pâté, etc.).  A condiment, such as mayonnaise, or a mayo-based dressing was/is usually included too.  In the 17th Century, naturalist John Ray, wrote about what he experienced while in the Netherlands:  "In the taverns, beef hung from the rafters, which they cut into thin slices to eat with bread and butter, heaping the slices upon the butter."  

Versions of the cold Scandinavian-type open sandwich are served all over the world.  That said, in Great Britain, open sandwiches are rare outside of a Scandinavian delicatessen, except for the famous Welsh rarebit and Scotch woodcock (a fondue-like cheese sauce "on toast"), historically served at the colleges of the University of Cambridge. The hot, hearty and somewhat messy-looking open sandwich, usually consisting of warm, sliced meat and a generous drizzle of gravy, or leftover sliced meat reheated in simmering gravy, is the traditional sandwich in poorer Eastern European countries, where they are eaten with a knife and fork for breakfast, lunch or dinner -- to turn leftovers into a meal.  The latter is the type of open-faced sandwich, I grew up eating.

IMG_0730When to call the food police about your open-faced sandwich:

130328_FoodPoliceBadge-picIn the United States, in the court case of White City Shopping Ctr., LP v. PR Rests, LLC, 21 Mass. L. Rep. 565 (2006), the judge ruled that to be called a true sandwich (from a legal perspective) the dish must include at least two slices of bread.  In many restaurants, many open-faced sandwich do not meet this criteria, although most served in diners and restaurants here in the Northeastern states where I live generally do pile the meat and gravy atop two overlapping slices of bread.  Oh my.  I'll no longer be throwing the term "open-faced sandwich" loosely around. Important:  before you pick up your knife and fork: 

If on your dish doesn't appear two slices of bread, (side-by-side or slightly-overlapping), you're only being served "half-an-open-faced sandwich".

IMG_0759"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023) 


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