It's time for another round of The Food Lab. Got a suggestion for an upcoming topic? Email Kenji here, and he'll do his best to answer your queries in a future post. Become a fan of The Food Lab on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for play-by-plays on future kitchen tests and recipe experiments.
The classic shooter's sandwich is made by stuffing cooked steak into a hollowed out loaf of bread along with sautéed mushrooms and onions, dressing it with mustard and horseradish, then wrapping it tightly and pressing it overnight under very heavy weights. You end up with a sort of portable version of beef Wellington the next day, ready to be sliced into wedges and eaten on a picnic (or a hunt, as the case may be). But as impressive as it may be on paper, we discovered the sad reality by making the absolute best version of the original shooter. It fails at the most basic job of any great sandwich: the whole must be greater than the sum of its parts.
But the idea of a party-sized, ultra-pressed sandwich is so appealing that I've spent the last few weeks brainstorming and testing recipes for versions of shooter's-style sandwiches that actually work. All this week, I'll be sharing them with you. Click through here for more shooter's sandwich coverage, or jump down to my general shooter's sandwich tips for some quick-and-dirty details.
Turkey, Bacon, and Broccoli Rabe Shooter's-Style Sandwiches
I don't think I've ever seen a sandwich with this particular set of ingredients, but they work so well together that if I had my way, it'd become a classic.
I knew that I wanted to do a turkey-centric version of a shooter's sandwich, so I started to think about what flavors pair well with turkey. Right off the bat, bacon is a no-brainer. Do you know anyone who prefers a straight-up turkey sandwich to a turkey club? I sure don't. To go along with the club sandwich theme, some whole grain mustard was my dressing of choice.
I tried a couple different cheeses, including muenster (too soft and moist) and provolone (too funky), and ended up settling on sharp cheddar as the best option. The only remaining element was the vegetable. I contemplated pickles, various lettuces or sautéed vegetables, and then it hit me: broccoli rabe. It's one of the greatest sandwich toppers out there and, to anyone who doesn't live in Philadelphia, perhaps also the most under-utilized.
I cook my turkey breast sous-vide for the ultimate in tenderness and juiciness (see this post for some guidelines on cook times), then smoke it on my stovetop using this method, though store-bought high-quality roast turkey will do just fine. I don't smoke my own bacon, but I do like to buy the nice, thick-cut, naturally smoked stuff. Vermont Smoke and Cure's is pretty awesome.
Cabot's Seriously Sharp Cheddar is a seriously good cheese. Since this sandwich is a mash-up of sorts, I don't go for the 100% typical Philly-style braised rabe. Instead, I like to blanch mine, then sauté it very briefly in olive oil with a ton of garlic so that it remains bright green and crisp.
Because there are so many deli flavors here—the mustard, the turkey, the bacon—I chose a hearty pumpernickel loaf for my sandwich, though any sort of seeded rye would work well. Even a hearty white or sourdough loaf would fit the bill.
Here's how I put it all together.
Step 1: Remove the Top
Use a bread knife to take the top off the bread. You're going for just the top here, not slicing the bread in half. The goal is to create a bowl out of the bottom half, into which you'll stuff your ingredients.
Step 2: Cut Around the Bottom
Use the bread knife to cut around the inside of the bottom half. You don't wan to cut all the way through the bottom crust, just through the tender crumb.
Step 3: Scoop
Scoop out the crumb with your hands. It should come out cleanly, leaving you with a bowl to stuff.
Step 4: Make the Weave
Pop quiz: What's the most sandwich-stable way to cook bacon? Answer: a bacon weave. By latticing strips of bacon and cooking them in the oven on a foil-lined baking sheet, you end up with perfectly even bacon coverage inside your 'wich. (Read up more on bacon weaves in our recipe for The Ultimate Bacon Cheeseburger.)
Step 5: Blanch the Rabe
Broccoli rabe can be extremely bitter. Par-cooking it by blanching it in a big pot of boiling salted water not only removes some of its bitterness, but it also seasons the stalks. I let them boil for just a minute or so—enough to turn them bright green—then drain them and run them under cold water to rapidly cool them.
Step 6: Dry the Rabe
We're going to be sautéing the broccoli rabe, so it needs to be as dry as possible, to both prevent oil from splashing up and ensure that we can cook it quickly and effectively. I use a salad spinner to spin it dry.
Step 7: Lots of Garlic!
We want really punchy flavors for this sandwich, so I'm using a ton of garlic: a whole 16 cloves, sliced thin and sautéed in extra-virgin olive oil just until slightly golden.
Step 8: Add the Rabe
In goes the rabe, along with a pinch of red pepper flakes. It's already mostly cooked, so the goal here is really just to get it to its final stage of tenderness, and to coat it evenly in that garlic-flavored oil. A minute or two should do it.
Step 9: Slice Turkey
I like my turkey in hearty slices, which is why I prefer slicing a whole breast by hand rather than using store-sliced stuff.
Step 10: Start Layering
Time to start building our sandwich. Start with a hefty slathering of whole grain mustard. You can use whatever mustard you'd like, but don't break the cardinal rule of turkey sandwiches: they must be mustarded.
In goes the rabe...
...followed by a layer of sliced aged cheddar cheese and a layer of turkey...
...then the bacon weave in the middle (I had to trim it to get it to fit, which meant some very happy dogs waiting by the kitchen door)...
...more turkey and cheese...
...then the rest of the rabe and the mustard. If you'll notice, we built a palindromic 'wich: it reads the same top to bottom as it does bottom to top.
Step 11: Close Sandwich
Cover the sandwich with its hat, pressing down gently with your hands to ensure that all the ingredients fit. Wrap the sandwich tightly with butcher's paper or aluminum foil.
Step 12: Weight and Wait
Place the sandwich between two firm cutting boards, then place a very heavy object on top of it and let it sit for at least 4 hours and up to overnight (check on it occasionally to make sure it hasn't toppled and is pressing evenly!)
Step 13: Slice and Serve
Slice directly through the foil or paper to reveal your gloriously stratified creation, then dig in. Delight in how the tender turkey mingles with the bacon on the palate. Revel in the faint bitter bitter edge of the broccoli rabe as garlicky flavor pours over your tongue. Swoon as waves of pure, sandwichy delight wash over your palate. Then take another bite.
Shooter's Sandwich Tips
Here are some general tips for helping you design your own shooter's-style sandwiches.
- Use hearty bread. You want bread with a significant, hearty crust, especially if you have any kind of moist fillings. It's going to take a beating.
- If it doesn't belong in a normal sandwich, it doesn't belong in a shooter's. There's nothing magical about the shooter's process that makes things you typically wouldn't put in a normal sandwich suddenly viable. I'm looking at you here, entire un-sliced steak.
- Go heavy on flavorful garnishes. Compression does make flavors marry better, but it can also make some layers nearly disappear, particularly garnishes like pickles, relishes, and dressings. Go extra heavy on them if you want your sandwich balanced in the end.
- Wrap in foil or paper, not plastic. Forget the plastic wrap, use heavy-duty aluminum foil or butcher's paper to wrap your sandwiches. You're going to be putting them under a lot of pressure.
- Press hard, but not too hard. I press my sandwiches between two cutting boards and weight them down with big books. There is such thing as too much weight. I hit this breaking point when I put an entire desk along with a dozen or so bottles of full liquor and a computer on top of one. It got so compressed that the small amount of juices inside were squished out, turning the bread soggy.
- Don't let it topple! Keep an eye on the sandwich at the beginning: as it compresses, the cutting board may topple. You can use smaller books or other supports make a fail safe in case you have to leave.
- Leave it at room temperature. Officially, I think it'd be unwise for me to recommend leaving a sandwich out at room temperature for 4 hours or overnight. Unofficially, I can tell you that I've never heard of anyone getting sick from a shooter's, especially with such strongly flavored ingredients (the things that taste good to us—salt, acid, sugar—also happen to make inhospitable environments for bacteria). You can refrigerate if you're squeamish, but bread goes stale faster in the refrigerator. Your sandwich will taste better at room temperature.
- Consider heating. Some sandwiches taste better warm, especially if there's cooked meat or melty cheese in there. I warm my sandwiches directly in their foil wrapper in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes. You can also take off the foil before warming if you want a crisper crust.
- Slice while wrapped. The foil or paper wrapper can help keep your sandwich nicely shaped and perfectly held together during the slicing and serving process.