Ah, the seaside. Sweeping views, breezes, sandcastles and picnics. You sit back, the sun on your face and the wind in your hair and let the fresh air permeate. Now time for lunch, you unwrap your carefully made sandwich (make sure it’s yours though, with the special mark you made – you don’t want the dry-looking one), bite into the soft roll and get the unmistakeable grind of sand between your teeth. How the devil did that get in there? Split seconds from cling-film to mouth - unbelievable!
It may be fun for building with and burying people in, but when it comes to food, sand is an evil grain with many cunning plans. If your chosen bite falls to the ground with a thuck, you can forget it; it is irretrievable (except maybe if you’re a dog, but I know some fussy dogs). No, for a worry-free shore-side lunch, you need to come up with food that exposes as little of itself as possible to this elements, but remains as exciting and varied as picnic food can be.
I think we may have found a solution.
Last Saturday was scorchio, so a secret seven hit our local beach at Brancaster. The unfathomable Brit beach-going rule that ‘the nearer the car park and toilets the better’* meant that we had a huge stretch of it pretty much to ourselves. Not ones to miss a picnic opportunity like this, we took some sandwiches - two, actually. And they were HUGE. We hadn’t so much made these as packed them: two loaf suitcases rammed with flavoursome delights, one all hunter-gatherer and the other perhaps a bit more metrosexual (well, it has more veg in it). Both were free from the mountain of cling-film hell and the guesswork that accompanies so many beach outings. In the battle against the sand invasion, these brutes are all the food you’ll need, I promise. They’re neat, they’re fun to make and a bit like cake, sharing one makes you feel you’re all at a party (there’s also something rather grown-up about bringing a chopping board to a picnic…)
The first, manlier of the two (but refined – like Tom Ford) was the Shooter’s Sandwich, which G had read about courtesy of Tim Hayward on the Guardian food blog earlier this year. Over came the link and down went the gauntlet. This comprised well-seasoned steaks cooked medium-rare, whipped straight out of the hot pan and laid into a hollowed-out long loaf, lined with mustard and/or horseradish and smothered in a savoury, duxelles-type thing. Once the mustard-slathered bread lid is replaced, the whole thing is wrapped in greaseproof paper and string, weighed down with books/saucepans of water/chopping boards and left in a cool place (you’d be amazed how much debate surrounded this particular stage at one in the morning – GCSE Physics, was it? Everyone was an expert.) After an uncomfortable night under the press, the precious package was richly squished with savoury juices and ready to be transported, carved and consumed. Minimum fuss: maximum excitement.
As we did it in a wine-fuelled frenzy in the wee hours I have no photos of the process, but here’s the ‘after’.
I more than made up for it the next morning when we started on the second sanger, based on a New Orleans invention, the Muffuletta. It is a picnic in a sandwich.
This involved a sundried tomato and olive mush made in the food processor with which we lined our hollow loaf, partnered with liberal glugs of green olive oil.
Then alternating layers of Parma ham, salami, Taleggio cheese and roasted red peppers were carefully added.
If I were to be really picky, it perhaps could have done with some more green in the form of avocados – but these would have quickly turned brown so perhaps courgettes and basil instead – I confess that I am prone to over-packing. Nevertheless, that’s the beauty of it: anything goes. To be honest, it would have benefited from the overnight torture the Shooter’s Sandwich had received, being a bit drier and less yielding (perhaps more olive oil required?) Who knows, but it was delicious, fun to build and sand-free. I am very much looking forward to experimenting with the next one.
*Two miles of wide, dune-backed beach and the 50 metres around the entrance is a labyrinth of windbreakers, killer stunt-kites** and orange Crocs.
**Having seen it with my own eyes, it is perfectly possible (probable) that such a stunt kite when badly driven is capable of grounding and swallowing a hefty teenage boy – especially when said bad driver is their dad. It is also absolutely hilarious; just ask his mother.