Don't get me wrong - I love me an overstuffed Italian hoagie. But in a never-ending attempt to live a bucolic Southern lifestyle in the middle of urban Brooklyn, I am drawn towards dainty tea sandwiches. They are a quintessential Southern finger food at showers, luncheons, and parties (I really want to say "ladies' socials" here...do people still have ladies' socials?). I do not know why cutting the crust off a sandwich makes it so darn appealing, but these lovely little bites are always a crowd pleaser for city-folk, too. Even my brother Chris, who can manhandle a Katz's reuben in record time, gets giddy for these little treats. Granted, he stuffs about half a tray in his mouth without a second thought...but I never said you had to be dainty about eating them.
We made ours with 3 super simple classic combinations - tomato-cheddar, cucumber and cream cheese, and smoked salmon with Boursin, an herbed spreadable cheese. But the opportunities are pretty much endless, from complex fillings like this curried shrimp salad to the simplest butter and watercress. If I were really in the South, I definitely would make some with pimiento cheese spread (have you tried pimiento cheese? It's a Southern staple that I'm dangerously addicted to)...but for this post, I stuck to combos more readily available to us Northerners, too. In my opinion, the simplest ones are always the most satisfying - the key is that the ingredients are summery and fresh. They make the perfect snack for a picnic or platter for a patio gathering. Serve them alongside a tall glass of our sun tea - or pair them this weekend with tomorrow's Pimm's cups!
General Tea Sandwich Tips:
- Choose a bread that's sliced thin, like Pepperidge Farm "Very Thin" White or Wheat
- If you choose a filling that requires assembly, like egg salad or seasoned butter, make it up to a day in advance
- Freeze the bread first - this makes it easier to slice
- Make the sandwiches in an assembly-line fashion, laying out half of your slices, placing the filling on top, topping them with the other slice, and cutting them all at the same time
- To keep sandwiches from drying out before serving, cover them with a sheet of wax paper, then lay a damp paper towel on top of the wax paper, and refrigerate in an airtight container. While it's best to make them the morning of, at least, you can make many combos a day in advance. Keep in mind that wetter ingredients, like tomatoes, will make sandwiches soggy faster.
- TOMATO-CHEDDAR - Thinly slice a tomato and pat dry. Top half of your bread slices with cheddar cheese (I used a single slice of thick-cut sharp cheddar) and two halves of a tomato slice. Top with the other half of the bread slices, remove the crusts, and cut each sandwich in half into rectangles or triangles.
- CUCUMBER & CREAM CHEESE - Use a vegetable peeler to slice cucumber into thin ribbons, and pat the ribbons dry. Top half of your bread slices with spreadable cream cheese, then layer the ribbons of cucumber evenly on top. Because the cucumber looks so graphic and pretty, I left some of these open-faced - simply cut each slice in half in triangles and garnish with a sprig of dill. For closed sandwiches, top with the other half of the bread slices, remove the crusts, and cut each sandwich in half into rectangles or triangles.
- SMOKED SALMON & BOURSIN - Boursin is an herbed spreadable cheese found at most grocery stores (I used garlic and herb). You could use any herbed cheese or plain cream cheese instead - or could mix cream cheese with minced garlic and the dried herbs of your choosing. Spread half of your bread slices with herbed cheese and the other half with a slice or two of smoked salmon. Lay the cheese slices on top of the salmon slices, remove the crusts, and cut each sandwich in half into rectangles or triangles.
Some other fillings to try are:
- Simple egg salad
- Cream cheese and chutney or hot pepper jelly
- Butter and watercress (try this lemon-herb butter!)
- Brie and green apple
- Ham and cheese
(all photos, jamie grill photography)