The Perfect Breakfast Sandwich

What makes a perfect breakfast sandwich? The question is huge. But it’s important. What separates the history-making breakfast sandwiches from the flops?

First – and this may seem obvious – the breakfast sandwich must be a sandwich. But I don’t just mean “toppings on bread” – I’m talking about the metaphysical essence of sandwich artistry. You could talk about that all day, but in brief it boils down to improvisation. Like a sonnet or haiku, the sandwich is a meal framework with a fairly established set of ground rules, but what makes it beautiful is how you adapt it to fit your style. The element of personalization is at the center of every sandwich, but it’s even more essential to the breakfast variety. When you wake up, roll out of bed and want something to eat that won’t require you to put on pants, you’re certainly not going to drive to the grocery and pick up ingredients. You’re going to improvise.

Next, the breakfast sandwich must be breakfast. Again, that sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked. If you eat a meatball sub or a Reuben, you’re going to be feeling off for the rest of the day – I know I would. While the ideal breakfast sandwich is built from the ground up for that purpose, sometimes it’s not possible – or just more economical to start from leftovers. Fortunately, it doesn’t take much to turn a regular sandwich into something worth starting the day with. Maybe toast the bread you make your PB&J on, or throw a fried egg onto that burger.

Another oft-overlooked aspect of the breakfast sandwich is that it absolutely must be easy to make. Elegance lies in simplicity, especially before you’ve had your coffee. You don’t have time to make a masterpiece when you have to be at the office in half an hour, and can’t concentrate on keeping that Béchamel sauce from curdling if you’re reeling from a hangover – let alone still drunk. So keep it simple! Two or three ingredients on an English muffin is plenty.

Moving on, your sandwich must be hearty. When you get up each day, you probably haven’t eaten in at least twelve hours. It’s probably another four or more hours before your lunch break rolls around, and now that you’re out of bed your metabolism is in high gear. You need something that can get you through the rest of your morning routine. Think protein and carbs – eggs, meat, peanut butter, good bread. Around 11, you’ll be glad you did.

Finally, your breakfast sandwich should ideally be fun. It’s hard enough for me to convince myself to get out of bed, and if all I have to look forward to is putting on a tie and wincing through some boring-ass toast I’m likely to go back to sleep and hold out until lunch. There are plenty of ways to put the zap on a breakfast without overcomplicating it. Tabasco sauce is great at this, but if you have some leftover cilantro sitting around it’ll get the job done too. Keep your eyes open for zesty flavors in small packages.

So when I’m staggering blearily into the kitchen at 7 a.m., what do I emerge with? Feast your eyes on my Perfect Breakfast Sandwich. I take a single egg and drop it into an oiled skillet on medium heat. When the white is just barely firm enough, I flip the egg and add a slice of ham or salami and cheese. If I’ve got one handy, a tomato slice goes on as well. Then I turn off the heat and cover the skillet, leaving it on the warm burner while I toast the bread. If it’s done right, your first bite will release a dribble of warm yolk on your plate that you can dip the bread into as you eat. The thought of one of these sandwiches is enough to rouse me from even the deepest slumbers. Make a waterproof version and you could probably wake Cthulhu.

Of course, this version isn’t for everyone all the time. When I can, I mix things up, using bacon or mushrooms instead of the salami. If I’m going to be driving anyway, sometimes I splurge and grab a McGriddles from the nearest McDonald’s drive-thru. But it’s a powerful combo, and a morning sandwich that’s served me well for years.

Like I said, improvise! Sandwiches have limitless potential. What recipe do you use to uncork a morning?