Two nights ago, on Masterchef Australia, there were two challenges: a mystery box challenge — where contestants were given a box of different main ingredients and were required to cook a dish using any of those ingredients; and an invention test — where contestants were given a core ingredient and required to cook a dish around the core ingredient. Fillipo (the contestant who has more than a passing resemblance to Steve Buscemi) won the first challenge and got to choose the core ingredient for the second challenge. His chosen core ingredient was the tomato. The challenge? Create the perfect sandwich using the core ingredient.
Now, I’m a simple man. My needs are simple. The humble cucumber sandwich (together with hot tea) is one of my favourite sandwiches. Upon hearing the challenge, I immediately tried sudo make me a sandwich on my partner, alas to no avail. And so I vowed to make my perfect sandwich, and to be in tune with the Masterchef challenge, I will bake my own bread and use the core ingredient.
I thought through this problem for a bit, and finally settled down to making a cucumber sandwich with tomato bread.
Tomato Bread Recipe
To make tomato bread is quite simple. The idea is this: Start off with your basic white bread ingredients, substitute some of the mixing liquid with tomato concentrate instead. Then mix in tomato puree. And so, these are the ingredients for the tomato bread (not shown in the picture is dry sherry — I used an amontillado as I have ran out of olorosso, which goes better with tomato; konbu seaweed; and worcestershire sauce):
There are some strange ingredients you don’t usually associate with making bread. I’m on a mostly-paleo diet, and as such I don’t each much bread (in fact, I went out to buy bread for this challenge). This is also the reason for the pizza flour. I like “00″ pizza flour as bread dough though. But feel free to substitute with plain white flour. My mostly-paleo diet is also why the recipe below actually yields very little bread (about half the standard loaf).
- 250g 00 pizza flour (substitute with plain flour if you like)
- 1 teaspoon yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
- 190 ml liquid (water + tomato concentrate)
- 5 tomatoes (enough to fill a small saucepan)
- 110 ml sherry (Enough to cover the base of the saucepan)
- 30 ml water (if you think too much sherry is too much)
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 lapsang souchong teabag
- 1 sheet konbu, soaked in water
First, make the tomato concentrate. Here are the instructions:
- Fill your saucepan with tomatoes and sherry and water. Cook tomatoes till they’re soft and fall apart easily. It helps if you’ve got a pressure cooker.
- Cut the konbu into tiny pieces and cook them with the tomato for just a bit.
- Using a stick/immersion blender, blend the mixture until it becomes liquid. You may choose to strain the liquid to remove the seeds, but I chose not to, as they give a strange bittery taste that I think enhances the flavours of the tomato liquid. It should look like this:
- Add the teabag to the sauce, and put it back on boil. Stir often.
- When it boils, add the remaining ingredients (fish sauce, worcestershire sauce and both soy sauces) and reduce heat. Keep stirring.
- Keep the mixture heated until it reduces into a dark red tomato paste (ever wondered how tomato pastes were so dark red? Reduction is the key). There should be some liquid remaining with the paste.
- Strain and reserve the liquid from the paste. Also, keep the paste.
- The liquid is the tomato concentrate. It should be slightly sticky, and fairly viscous.
If done right, you won’t have a lot of liquid remaining. I had about 87 ml of liquid remaining from 5 tomatoes. All the goodness from the 5 tomatoes are concentrated down to 87 ml. The taste of that concentrate was very intense.
Next make the bread. The yeast I have is an active dry yeast, which requires reactivation with warm water. You can use instant yeast too. I used about 100ml water to reactivate the yeast.
- Reactivate the yeast (this can be done as the tomato concentrate is cooling down)
- Mix all the bread ingredients together to form a dough (if you’re using instant yeast, the water must be warm). I used the still-warm tomato concentrate to keep my dough warm.
- Lightly flour your workbench.
- Knead dough on workbench until done. You know a dough is well knead when it springs back after being pushed lightly.
- Oil a container and put the dough in it.
- Put the container somewhere warm (~30°C). This process is called proving the bread. It takes about 30-45 minutes for it to double in size. Here’s mine after proving (I clearly forgot to oil the top of it to prevent it from drying):
- Once the bread has been proven, take it out, and punch it down. This lets out all the spare carbon dioxide trapped in the bread.
- In the meantime, preheat your oven to 180-200°C.
- Knead the dough a few more times. This is where you add in the tomato paste if you want to have a more intense flavour. You can also add dates (to balance the richness of the tomato).
- Once the dough’s size is back down to slightly larger than its original size, form a nice log shape from the dough.
- Lightly dust a baking tray with flour. Put the dough-log on the baking tray.
- If you have some remaining tomato concentrate, brush the top of the dough with some tomato concentrate, then dust the top with more flour. Else, just brush it with water and dust the top with flour.
- Score the log with a knife. Professional bakers use a specialized knife called a lame to score the bread. I used a serrated knife. Hold it at a 30° angle, and quickly slice a small portion of the top of the dough. This is done so you can control where the bread rises. You can learn more about scoring bread here.
- Bake the bread for about 35-45 minutes. Since the dough already looks brownish-orange from the tomato concentrate, it may be a little hard to tell when the bread is done. One trick I like to use is to knock on the bread. If it sounds hollow, it is almost done — give it another 5 minutes.
And the bread is done. Behold:
Notice that my bread isn’t that well scored, and the bread rose elsewhere.
Making the Perfect Sandwich
Now that the bread is done, it is time to assemble the perfect sandwich. If you read everything, you might have noticed I said I even went out to buy bread for this challenge. You see, I love my cucumber sandwich, and a few years ago, I had a crazy idea that would forever change the way I eat my cucumber sandwich.
If you think of your typical cucumber sandwich, it’s just soft white bread that is thickly buttered, with thinly sliced cucumbers in the middle. The epiphany I had was this: what if you could change the texture of a typical cucumber sandwich? What if you ate a sandwich, with a piece of toast in it? And that changed EVERYTHING. A cucumber sandwich with a slice of toast in the middle was a brilliant idea. Unlike other fillings, it didn’t detract from the taste of a cucumber sandwich — each bite still feels clean, but with a different texture.
And so, that was the reason I bought white bread.
I’ve given some thought as to how I would assemble my perfect sandwich. Do I want a piece of white toast in the middle of two tomato bread slices? Or do I want a tomato bread slice as the hero of the sandwich? I thought, if I were in Masterchef, the whole point was to make the tomato the hero of the dish, so I very quickly settled on the former idea — a slice of toast between two slices of tomato bread.
The next thing to do would be to butter the bread. But not with just any butter. If you look at the photo of ingredients above, you’ll notice one ingredient has yet to be mentioned: the oregano. There are a few herbs that go well with tomato. In a bruschetta, basil would go perfectly. But I chose oregano instead (ahem, a famous sub sandwich shop used to sell Parmesan Oregano breads).
To make my oregano butter, I simply mashed up a knob of butter with oregano and a little freshly ground sea salt. I thickly butter both my slices of tomato bread, and start the assembly.
First the bread is buttered, then the layer of cucumber is added. The toast, buttered on both sides is added next. Then comes another layer of cucumber. Then finally, the last piece of tomato bread, thickly buttered, is put on.
Behold, my perfect cucumber sandwich, inspired by Masterchef Australia:
I paired this with a strongly brewed earl grey. Not quite your light tea sandwich (due to the fact that I don’t actually have the skill to cut freshly baked bread), but I think it works well — the lightness of the cucumber offsets the heavy intensity of the tomato and the spiced butter.
Does it work well for you? Let me know. If you’re in the Sydney area, join up Strangers for Dinner. Who knows, you might be at my dinner party. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it gets out of the way of your life.