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On Soggy Bread

August 10, 2017

Most of social media is just awful these days. Fortunately, apocalypse Twitter is just back to regular nasty Twitter. And Facebook remains just as argumentative as ever. Which is why, for the moment, my social media channel of choice is Instagram.

IG is a place where I can go and just look at some beautiful, and not so beautiful, pictures of food. Yes, there is room for some commentary, but most of it I’ve found to be positive. It’s not the place for getting into debates or heated arguments on the foldability of pizza.

That said, a good Facebook argument is one of those things that can inspire a blog post on the FLB. I’m terrible at writing short answers. I need a few hundred words to express my thoughts. Because rarely are things as cut and dry as one might want them to be.

For example, let’s take soggy bread.

In the spirit of full disclosure, this was inspired by some conversation on my personal Facebook page, after posting about the Burger King chicken parm sandwich earlier this week. And things got heated. A local restaurateur even got into the fray, and then ended up deleting his comment. But I have no interest in rehashing that thread.

One can’t even call it a debate, because arguments on Facebook are so spiraling and tangential, getting involved in one is more often than not an exercise in futility.

Texture is important when it comes to food, and sogginess can totally diminish one’s joy.

On the basic level, I cringe at the thought of taking a sandwich out of the cooler at the beach, and unwrapping it to find it somehow got a little wet. My heart breaks a bit just thinking about it.

Likewise, when I was in elementary school, my father made me tuna sandwiches almost everyday. That was until I finally got sick of them, and just couldn’t eat another. The thing that got to me in the end, and the thing that still haunts me to this day, is how soggy the bread became after being commingled with the moist filling for several hours in the fridge.

Give me that same tuna salad today on a crisp Ak-Mak and I’m a happy camper.

When you start frying or toasting bread, sogginess becomes a bigger issue, especially when the condensation of hot food on a cool plate produces condensation. I really want some plate sized wire racks so I can put them under the grilled cheese sandwiches I make for my kids. Not that they complain, but it just kills me when that hard fought crispness I’ve delivered on the plate gets lost in a puddle of moisture.

Now this is a bit of a stretch, but I’m hoping you’ll go with me here. Cake isn’t that far off from bread. And I remember the very first time I had tres leches in Miami. For those who have never had it, this is a traditional Cuban cake that has been soaked in sweetened condensed milk.

Why would anyone do something so awful to cake, I bemoaned. It’s soggy cake. On purpose. After trying it once and finding it to be gross, I largely avoided the stuff for most of my time in Miami. That is until ADS intervened with a version of tres leches he had been working on perfecting for years.

Well, I loved it. The difference was that his cake wasn’t just a little sodden, it was drenched with sweetened condensed milk, and the whole cake was transformed into something almost custard-like.

Moisture has a way of transforming bread in marvelous ways. I think about the French Dip at Philippe’s in Los Angeles, where those in the know ask for it double dipped. The crusty exterior is sturdy enough to hold your sandwich together while the crumb inside beautifully soaks up the meat juices, that in addition to some excellent hot mustard, lubricate this meat delivery device.

What is French Onion soup without its sodden crouton? It’s just onion soup with cheese on top. You need to have that deeply soaked piece of bread to give the thing its incredible body.

Panzanella. It’s one of my favorite uses for glorious summer tomatoes. And that is little more than bread soaked in fresh tomato juice. Of course, there’s some great olive oil in there, with capers and anchovies to give it a more flavorful punch.

One of the things I learned on my Tour de Italian Deli Sandwiches was the importance of having the ingredients cure inside the sandwich, to allow the sub, or hoagie, or hero, to come together as a whole. I made the mistake of wanting to avoid any sogginess entirely, and insisted upon eating the sandwiches the moment they were made.

Lesson learned.

The thing is that I haven’t eaten a lot of chicken parm subs. Fried chicken, drenched with cheese, and encased in a white flour roll, is one of those sometimes treats for me. So typically, I will only get them when sitting down to eat at a restaurant, because I want to enjoy every last bite.

When the mood strikes, I’ll typically order a chicken parmesan sandwich over a chicken parmesan dinner for a few reasons.

Primarily, it’s about the fried chicken staying off the plate. As I mentioned above, when hot fried food comes into contact with the surface of a plate, moisture blooms and crisp fried bits get soft and soggy. The roll does a brilliant job in protecting those precious, fried edges.

But the sandwich also manages portion sizes. You can get a crap-ton of chicken parm on your plate up in these parts, and I do not need that much food served to me in a sitting. Nor do I particularly want a giant plate of mushy pasta on the side, which you also avoid when going the sandwich route.

As an added bonus, the sandwich costs significantly less than a “dinner” sized portion of the dish.

Does the crumb of the bread get soggy from the tomato sauce? Sure. But for me, this falls somewhere between the French Dip, the panzanella, and the Italian sub. In a good way. Of course, as someone who walked away from tuna salad sandwiches because the sogginess just got too out of control, I can totally understand why someone might wash their hands of the chicken parm sub as well.

Soggy bread can ruin your day, but it can also be totally fantastic.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. -R. permalink
    August 10, 2017 11:50 am

    My place for food pictures and discussion of late has been reddit. The food subreddit is quite interesting, with a good mix of professional, homemade, street food, you name it. The pizza subreddit is equally appealing – pizza from all over the world (there’s some interesting combinations I had never even pondered). Yes, there’s some smarminess typical of any public forum, but there’s also some damn good advice and recipes.

  2. EPT permalink
    August 14, 2017 11:31 am

    Years ago we bought Plate Pal, it a thin disc you put in the center of a plate and microwave for a minute or so. It heats the center of the plate nicely, never a cold plate even in the dead if winter. It was produced/sold by iSi Basics but I couldn’t find it on the web. We use them daily. Great product that shouldn’t have gone away.

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