Donal Skehan’s simple sandwich recipes are full of nostalgia
In our house, we’ve been easing into the new year with just the right amount of trepidation to take on year three of a pandemic, parenting two young children, while also holding down a busy workload. Needless to say, we’re not planning on a dry January! No, 2022 is a year for taking stock, for leaning into achievable goals and celebrating just getting by.
The same can be said for cooking in the kitchen. I’m all for meal plans. In fact, they are what get us through the week. But sometimes all you need is home comfort. Around this time of year, of course there should be room for lighter eating, but for goodness sake, we are still in the depths of winter. We need space for indulgence and frivolity.
Most of my comfort food is derived from nostalgia — foods I grew up eating and dishes that bring me right back to a certain time and place — and often a good starting point is a really good sandwich. Even the bare bones of my mum’s kitchen would always have some form of bread to magic into a lunch fix: brown bread, batch bread or just a regular old sliced pan.
One of my favourite Dublin café’s, The Pepper Pot in Powerscourt Townhouse, has been making some of the city’s finest sandwiches for a long time now. A couple of years ago, they shared the recipe for their white yeasted loaves — a crisp crust with just the right amount of pillowy soft white interior to make it the perfect sandwich loaf. It’s my starting point for the recipes this week, because if making your own bread isn’t the antidote to the doom and gloom out there, I’m not sure what is.
Once you’ve whipped up your homemade loaf, I recommend making a nostalgic classic — a fish finger sandwich. I’ve provided a recipe on how to transform white fish into crispy golden pieces to be sandwiched with tartar sauce and baby gem lettuce leaves. However, if you have a packet of fish fingers in the freezer, I won’t be judging if you want to skip right to the good part.
Lastly, if you can’t make it into the brilliant Pepper Pot Café, you must try and make their signature sambo — Cheddar, roast pear and crispy bacon. In between that pillowy soft white bread, it’s a little moment of heaven.
Time: 2 hours 30 mins Makes: 3 loaves
1.5kg strong white flour
50g fresh yeast (or 3 x 7g sachets of active yeast)
1. In a large mixing bowl, sieve flour and salt together and then rub in the butter with your fingertips (add the active yeast at this point if using). Make a well with your hand, forming a large space in the centre with a wall of flour surrounding it. Crumble your yeast into the well and add the water. Dissolve the yeast by swirling your hands in a circular motion.
2. Using your hand or a wooden spoon, begin to incorporate the flour, a little at a time, until a rough dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a clean work surface and knead until the dough is smooth, elastic and springy to the touch. Place in a clean bowl and allow to rise for 45 minutes until it has doubled in size. After 45 minutes, punch the dough down.
3. Line three 1lb loaf tins with silicone paper or use parchment paper.
4. Divide the dough in three and use a weighing scale to measure out each third into 800g. Shape into three round balls of dough. Cover again. After 5 minutes, flatten with your knuckles, fold in from the sides, left to right, into the middle and roll from the top toward yourself into a Swiss roll type shape. Place in lined tins. Dust with flour and leave in a warm place for 30 minutes to rise.
5. Preheat the oven to 210°C/Gas Mark 8.
6. Once the bread has risen, make three slashes across the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Place in the oven to bake
for 30 minutes before removing
from the tins and placing back in the oven to crisp up for 5
more minutes. Remove breads and place on a wire rack to cool.
Fish Finger Sandwich
Time: 45 mins Serves: 4
750g white fish (you can use most fish here, such as cod, haddock or lemon sole cut into 6cm-long, thin-ish fingers)
3 tbsp plain flour, seasoned
2 free-range eggs, beaten
100g fine breadcrumbs
4 tbsp olive oil
25g unsalted butter
4 soft white floury baps
1 baby gem lettuce, leaves separate
For the tartar sauce
50g Greek yoghurt
5 cornichon, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers, chopped
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Good squeeze lemon juice
1 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1. Make the tartar sauce. Blend the ingredients together, season to taste and set aside.
2. Dip the fish into the plain flour, then the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs.
3. Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over a high heat until it shimmers. Add the fish fingers and start to fry, adding the butter once they start to brown. Fry for 2-3 minutes, turning halfway, until they are golden brown and cooked all the way through. Drain on kitchen towel.
4. Split the baps and add a dollop of tartar sauce. Add a couple of lettuce leaves, then the fish fingers. Top with more tartar sauce and serve.
Roast Pear, Bacon & Cheddar Sandwich
Time: 45 mins Serves: 2
3 pears, peeled and cut into eighths
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
6 slices of dry cure bacon
2 tbsp mayonnaise
4 slices of batch white bread
100g Montgomery Cheddar cheese, cut into thick slices
For the salad
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
Sea salt and ground black pepper
Large handful of salad leaves
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas Mark 6. Toss the pears in a large roasting tin with the olive oil, honey and balsamic vinegar. 2. Cook the pears in the oven for 35 minutes until tender when pierced with a fork. Turn occasionally with a fork to prevent them from sticking. Remove and set aside to cool slightly.
3. Cook the bacon under a hot grill on both sides until crisp.
4. For the salad, mix the vinegar, extra-virgin oil and mustard in a bowl and season with sea salt and ground black pepper. Add the salad leaves and toss to coat.
5. Spread a little mayo on each slice of bread and assemble the sandwich by layering up the leaves, bacon, cooked pears and cheese. Cut in half and serve straight away.