I sometimes wonder if the club sandwich was invented after Thanksgiving. When someone somewhere had leftover meat from a plump roast chicken or turkey sitting in their fridge and found a tasty way to use it up.
When researching the history of the sandwich, though, I found no evidence of that seasonal connection, but I did find a suggestion it was first created from leftovers.
According to Marion H. Neil’s book, Salads, Sandwiches, and Chafing Dish Recipes, published in 1916, the club sandwich originated by accident. In the book, she writes that a man, she was told, arrived at his home one night after the family and servants had retired. He was hungry, headed to the pantry and icebox and found a variety of foods, but no one thing was sufficiently abundant enough to satisfy his appetite. So he decided to make some toast, butter it, and top it with the bits of things he could find, which turned out to be leftover cooked cold chicken and bacon, mayonnaise and tomato. On went a second piece of toast and his late night snack, now a filling sandwich, was ready to devour.
He must have enjoyed it, because according to Neil’s book he told his friends at the private club he belonged to about it, made one there for them to try, they liked it and it became known as the “club sandwich.” Members from other clubs eventually learned of the sandwich, so did restaurants, and its popularity grew from there.
According to the food history website whatscookingamerica.net, the most popular theory is that the club the sandwich was first served at, circa 1894, was the famous Saratoga Club-House, located in Saratoga Springs, New York. A place where something you might serve with a sandwich was also invented, potato chips.
An early recipe for a club sandwich, which is also called a club house, or clubhouse sandwich, appeared in the 1903 edition of Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book. It uses the ingredients noted above, but lettuce is also added and you have the option to use turkey or chicken meat in what that book describes as a “whole meal” sandwich.
That hearty, filling, whole meal label for a club sandwich became if truer when it started to be made with three slices of bread, instead of two. One of the earliest references to that “triple-decker” version of the sandwich appeared in Eva Greene Fuller’s, The Up-to-date Sandwich Book: 400 Ways to Make a Sandwich, published 1909.
There are other theories on where the club sandwich was first created and what ingredients should be used. For example, a few of the very old recipes I found called for ham, not bacon.
My recipe is the triple-decker version of the sandwich you’ll find served in reputable restaurants/diners all over North America. The type where good quality roast turkey or chicken (not processed turkey or chicken deli meat), ripe, juicy tomato, smoky, locally made bacon, crisp lettuce, mayonnaise, butter and good bread all combine to create a very splendid sandwich.
Here’s my hearty, triple-decker version of a club sandwich. You can use some of your leftover roast Thanksgiving turkey or chicken in the two sandwiches the recipe yields. Have the fillings prepped and ready to go before toasting the bread and building the sandwiches.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: About 10 minutes
Makes: two servings
6 thin slices white bread (see Note)
• soft butter, to taste
1 cup cold, sliced roasted turkey or chicken meat, or to taste
• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
4 head, butter or leaf lettuce leafs (divided)
• mayonnaise, to taste
6 to 8 slices ripe tomato
3 slices bacon, each halved widthwise, cooked crisply and drained well (see Note)
Toast the bread and then lightly butter one side of each slice (see Eric’s option). Divide and top two of the buttered slices of toast with turkey (or chicken). Season the turkey (or chicken) with salt and pepper. Set a lettuce leaf on top of the turkey (or chicken) on each sandwich. Spread the top of the lettuce with mayonnaise.
Set another piece of toast on top of lettuce on each sandwich, setting them buttered side up. Divide and top those pieces of toast with sliced tomatoes. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper. Top the tomatoes on each sandwich with three slices of the bacon. Set a lettuce leaf on the tomatoes on each sandwich. Spread the top of those lettuce leaves with mayonnaise. Set on the remaining slices of toast, buttered side down. Press down lightly on each sandwich to slightly compact the layers. Secure the sandwiches with toothpicks, if desired. Cut each sandwich into four quarters, plate and serve.
Note: You can, of course, use your favourite type of white bread in this recipe, even whole-wheat, if desired. But when testing the recipe, I used the thinly sliced, sturdy-when toasted, French (white) bread made by Saanichton-based Moulin Vert Bakery. For locations selling their fine bread, visit moulinvertbakery.com.
Eric’s options: To toast the bread more quickly, instead of using a toaster, place the six slices on a baking sheet and use your oven’s broiler to toast each side.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.