Wednesday, December 4, 2013

James Beard's Onion Tea Sandwiches

As far as tasty little tea sandwiches go, I've never come across one I didn't like. These are the first ones I've ever had though that made me stop in my tracks while I contemplated over the simplicity of them, and how it contrasted with what I actually tasted. Sharp, acrid raw onion paired with a robust herb? It completely works - the intensity of the onion is tamed by the fresh flat leaf parsley, and together they create a whole new taste. The creaminess of the mayo rounds everything out and adds just the right amount of richness a tea sandwich needs. The bread is important too - every day white sandwich bread will not do here. A simple loaf of french or italian 'peasant' bread works wonderfully - a little more chew than plain old white bread, yet not enough to make you really work at it like a ciabatta or baguette might. It's still a tea sandwich - you want it to go down easy. 

Which they will, especially during the holiday season when we're customarily bombarded with some relatively heavy appetizers/dishes. They're kind of a labor of love, so I'd save these for a small get together of specially chosen people that you have confidence in their enjoyment of these little beauties.
The following 'recipe' will yield a dozen, but I stopped at 6 here because 1.) I wasn't actually making them for a tea or cocktail party- just myself and 2.) although simple, they are a tad laborious. Plus I was starving and immediately after snapping a few shots I scarfed down 3 in about a minute. There is no need to make them circular, either. After doing about 4, I realized I could have simply made squares when removing the crusts and halved them diagonally for an equally appealing sandwich. Oh well. And don't worry about all the leftover bread scraps - if you have a food processor, simply toss them in and pulse till you get the consistency of bread crumbs you prefer, place in a freezer safe ziplock and they will keep in the deep freeze for about 1 month. Or, give them to your carb-ivore 2 year old who will relish a snack of just good bread.


1 loaf Italian or French 'peasant' style bread,
   preferably from a bakery so it is very fresh

~1 cup mayonnaise; homemade is best, but 
   store bought works just fine. Should really
   be full fat.

1 bunch flat leaf parsley, rinsed very well and spun
   dry in salad spinner if you can, and chopped
   finely (no stems!)

1 large Vidalia, Wala Wala, Peruvian, or other
   sweet onion, peeled and sliced very thinly

coarse sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Slice your bread into ~1/2 inch slices, or get your bakery to do it when you purchase it. Using a sharp biscuit or cookie cutter, cut 24 circles out of the slices. If you get a round loaf, you'll get more out of each slice than one that was baked in a standard loaf pan. Set aside.

After rinsing and spinning dry the parsley, pick off most of the leaves, taking care not to discard any stems that aren't very thin and tender. Chop very finely and set aside. 

No need to measure out the mayo here - I just guesstimated as to how much would be needed to make 12. If you have a standard size jar that is at least halfway full, you should have plenty. 

Lightly spread mayo on the less attractive side of the bread on each piece before assembly. Add a few slices of onion, about 1/4 inch high, taking care not to allow any to hang over the edge. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Gently press the top round into the onion to 'adhere'. Using a small off set spatula (a butter knife would work too), spread a thin layer of mayo around the periphery of the sandwich, ensuring that the bread is well coated. Roll the sides in the parsley to coat well. You really want to pack it on here. Set onto a pretty serving plate, or whatever you plan on serving them on, and dig in. 

These can be made a day in advance and kept tightly covered with plastic wrap in the fridge. Allow to come up to room temperature before serving.

Recipe sort of, not really, adapted from James Beard.

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