The Art of The Christmas Leftovers Sandwich

Christmas dinner is all right but everyone knows that the real highlight of the festive period is the leftover sandwich. Here’s why it’s so magic.

Turkey. Potatoes. Sprouts. Yorkshires. Parsnips. Your standard Christmas spread contains a brigade of ingredients that all go perfectly well together on a plate. Don’t get me wrong: it’s an exceedingly enjoyable assembly of ingredients, especially when slathered in gallons of gravy, but it’s also exceedingly… boring.

The hypothesis I’d like to present here is that the leftovers sandwich you make the day after Christmas is better than the dinner itself. Because – and forgive me for saying this – as good as Christmas dinner is, it really is just a dressed-up version of a Sunday roast, isn’t it? The only real difference is whether or not you have got a paper hat sitting on your bonce while you chow down on that familiar combination of roasted meat and carbohydrates.

The leftovers sandwich, on the other hand, is a food that’s completely unique to Boxing Day. A meal that’s much more Christmassy than Christmas dinner. When else are you going to have an excuse to put pigs in blankets, brussels sprouts, and bread sauce into a demi-baguette? Never. The 26th of December is the one day a year that you get to enjoy a sandwich that’s only limited by your imagination. And whatever’s left in the fridge.

"My favourite Christmas sandwich is actually something I make for breakfast on Boxing Day," says Freddie Janssen, founder of Snackbar in Dalston. "Why wait until lunchtime?! For me, the best way to soak up everything I drank the day before is to make a festive take on a Monte Cristo sandwich, it’s a cross between a Croque Monsieur and French toast. I put leftover cheese (my favourite is Ogleshield) and slices of glazed Christmas ham and sandwich them between slices of brioche with lashings of honey mustard mayo and cranberry sauce."

Those "lashings" of mustard mayo and cranberry sauce are what Freddie maintains to be the key to making the perfect Christmas sandwich. "They provide a sharpness and a sweetness to cut through the salty cheese and ham," she says. It's a technique I'll certainly be looking to crib this year though, admittedly, the biggest trouble I have with making a Christmas leftovers sandwich is knowing when enough is enough. On more than one occasion I've fucked the job by throwing simply far too much between two slices of bread; an overload that puts the whole sarnie's balance off-kilter.

"Christmas, with its various dishes and leftovers, is a time of endless sandwich possibilities," agrees Nicholas Balfe, the owner of Larry's – a popular restaurant and sandwich mecca Peckham. "When there are so many delicious things around, it can be tempting to go overboard on your Christmas sandwiches, but, in my opinion, you want to walk the line between ridiculously indulgent yet still balanced."

IMG 5354
The Chrimbo sando at Larry's is serious business.

Mortals like you and me might be restricted to playing within the boundaries of our cupboards, taking care not to upset any family members by stealing the last of the stuffing, but all the various bakeries, restaurants and cafes producing Christmas sandwiches to compete with the likes of Pret and the supermarkets have got a blank cheque for creativity. The Christmas special at Larry's is a turkey schnitzel situation where a brined, crumbed, and deep-fried turkey escalope is joined by crunchy red cabbage kraut, sweet, tangy, spiced cranberry compote, plenty of fermented chilli mayo and a slice of Emmental cheese. It is immense.

Travelling around and sampling the best Christmas sandwiches available is one of my favourite festive activities. It’s right up there with listening to Britney Spears’s ‘My Only Wish (This Year)’ and shimmying in the mirror wearing nothing but tinsel.

“Every year we have the same sandwich on at Christmas time,” says Rebecca Oliver of The Dusty Knuckle Bakery, “it’s always porchetta, quince aioli, and watercress. It’s delicious, modest, and just the right amount of Christmassy!”

To pair with that porky po’ boy, the chefs at Dusty Knuckle’s Dalston location have pushed the envelope this year and gone all out with a second Christmas number: a “slutty vegan” special packed with cranberry sauce, parsnip purée, stuffing balls, and charred lemon-dressed sprout tops. “It’s filled with all the things you need in a great dish – sweetness, crunch, creaminess and acid,” says Rebecca.

"The Christmas Sandwich is a simple and satisfying masterpiece of leftovers, which is anticipated more than the meal itself," says Holly Chaves, the owner of Wind & Rind cheese shop in north London, "the greatness of the sandwich is dependent on the greatness of the components of the meal". Holly suggests that the formula for creating the ideal Christmas sandwich is as follows:

  • Meat/cheese (or both)
  • Whatever sharp jelly you have at the table (cranberry/redcurrant)
  • Stuffing (and greens)
  • Butter and English mustard are compulsory

Wine & Rind takes that formula and executes it to perfection in their classic taleggio and sausage ragù toastie. Expect the sandwich to be wrapped in the tastiest wrapping paper of all: serrano ham, sage, and a simply daft amount of butter. "It's a crispy, cheesy piggy in a blanket – a saltimbocca'd sandwich, a melting masterpiece," adds Holly, "we are very proud of it."

Henry Freestone, head chef at Peckham Cellars, is another festive sandwich enthusiast like Rebecca, Holly, and myself. Unlike me, he’s so good at making Christmas sandwiches that people are willing to spend £12 to get their hands on his bready creations.

"Christmas sandwiches really encapsulate what Christmas is all about: gluttony,” Henry tells Mob, “only British culture would champion putting multiple meats in between soft, pillowy bread as a festive snack.” Henry’s take on it this year includes turkey schnitzel, bacon jam, cranberry sauce, whipped brie, and a boat of proper gravy.

Like Ross Gellar's moist maker, it's the gravy that takes Henry's sandwich from good to great. And it's something you should definitely try doing to your own leftovers sandwich at home. “Texture is what really separates a festive sarnie like your average supermarket one – which is generally just mush between bread – from an elevated one like what we’re doing at Peckham Cellars,” says Henry.

That being said, the chef admits he’s still partial to the occasional crap Christmas sandwich. So much so that he thinks they shouldn't be limited to just the festive period. “Christmas sarnies should be like puppies,” he says, “they’re not just for Christmas!" I couldn’t agree more. That’s why my new year’s resolution for this year is going to be to make myself at least one Christmas sandwich every month of the year. I’ll let you know how I get on with that.

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