Travel+Leisure's list of "America's Strangest Sandwiches" includes a doughnut burger (hamburger patty, American cheese, and chocolate-covered bacon on a grilled Krispy Kreme); a chicken and waffle ice cream sandwich (featuring caramel infused with fried chicken skin); and No. 7 Sub's "Broccoli Classic."
And that gives me pause: What's so strange, really, about a broccoli sandwich? Does it truly belong here, among the doughnut burgers of the world? Especially considering that Tyler Kord, chef at No. 7, has recipes in A Super Upsetting Cookbook About Sandwiches for "Sandwiches Fall Apart" (fried squid, chicken, avocado, raisin, iceberg lettuce on white bread) and "Gentle Thoughts" (whole asparagus stalks, crumbled feta, and carrot purée on "cheap pumpernickel bread")?
So what if No. 7's broccoli sandwich includes "Lychee Muchim"? [Lychee Muchim (which seems like it needs an exclamation point: Lychee Muchim!) is a mixture of canned lychees drained of their juices, chopped up, and brined in spicy-sweet, allium-spiked vinegar, and so named by Kord as a nod to the Korean cucumber salad oi muchim.]
All of the other ingredients are the usual suspects: grilled broccoli, mayonnaise, toasted pine nuts, fried shallots, and ricotta salata. Still, No. 7's broccoli-on-a-bun has been featured on The Splendid Table, WNYC, The Sporkful, and Serious Eats.
And even Alton Brown's riff on the Classic, where he trades the lychees for bread-and-butter pickles, marinated in a simplified brine, was referred to by the Washington Post's Joe Yonan as "strange-but-delicious."
There must be something remarkable about putting broccoli on a sandwich: But what? Is it the notion of piling a side dish on bread? Or the risk of crafting sandwich with no M.P.S. (major protein source)?
When I spotted a broccoli sandwich at Boulenc in Oaxaca City, Mexico, where the florets are sautéed in thyme and garlic, then layered with fresh tomatoes, goat cheese, and spicy mayonnaise, I knew the Broccoli Sandwich was not a solo phenomenon but part of a nation-spanning, soon-to-be-galaxy-spanning movement. Everyone—and I mean everyone—knows that two instances a sweeping trend makes.
Although Boulenc's sandwich is tamer than No. 7's, no Lychee Muchim! here, it demonstrates the same principles of good broccoli-sandwich-making. An excellent specimen includes all of the following:
- broccoli that's tender but not mushy, in bite-size pieces that can balance comfortably on a sandwich
- something creamy, be that mayo or cheese or, my preference, both
- something salty (more cheese! but also: sun-dried tomatoes, capers, anchovies)
- something spicy or smoky (chile flakes, Sriracha, smoked paprika)
- and something sharp and sweet (pickled red onions, Lychee Muchim!, lime juice).
- 1 head broccoli
- 1 lime
- Smoked paprika
- Olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced into half moons (or sub in an equivalent amount of quick-pickled red onions)
- 1 very fresh baguette that you're excited to eat
- Ricotta salata, grated or crumbled
- Sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
The version I like is a happy medium of No. 7's and Poulenc's: The broccoli is sautéed and seasoned with smoked paprika and lime juice, then layered on a sandwich with spicy mayo (which is just regular mayo... whisked with lime juice, Sriracha, and smoked paprika), grated or crumbled ricotta salata, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, pickled red onions (or raw red onions, or red onions added to the broccoli for the last few minutes), and cilantro.
It's fast enough to make for breakfast (I can vouch for this) and substantial enough to feel like dinner. And it might be a little "strange," yes—but sometimes the strangest combinations become our most favorite...
And hey, P.S. Even if you don't make the sandwich, make the broccoli. This cooking technique—high heat to sear, followed by steam to soften—makes for charred, tender florets that would be good in a frittata or creamy pasta or even in a taco? That might be even stranger than on a sandwich, but give it a go:
You there: What's your favorite "strange" sandwich? Tell us in the comments below.