Lifestyles of the Victorian upper crust were sedentary. This sandwich was designed for taste, not for nutritional value. You’re not going to build a house or plow the garden on this sandwich alone.
That makes the recipe and preparation of the perfect cucumber sandwich that much more important. You don’t want to end up with a soggy mess or a tasteless sandwich. And believe it or not, even some of the worlds most celebrated chefs can have a hard time creating the perfect cucumber tea sandwich.
Should you need any further persuading of the merits of this excellent dish, the cucumber sandwich was lauded by American scientists in 2012 as the best thing to eat to regulate body temperature and stave off dehydration during a heat wave – Telegraph.co.uk : Food and Drink.
A sandwich made of thinly sliced bread and a fruit that’s 96% water isn’t filling, nor will it ruin your dinner. But it’s the perfect little sandwich to satisfy your palate.
½ cucumber, peeled
6 thin slices of good white bread
Unsalted or salted butter, at room temperature
The key to making the perfect cucumber sandwich is in how you prepare the fruit itself. Do you peel or not. Do you soak the fruit before adding it to the sandwich. What about salting or adding a condiment? Some of this can be looked at as preference. But the traditional filling is a bit more simple.
To Peel and Slice:
The first thing you must do, is peel the cucumber. Traditionally these sandwiches are made peeled and this is about honoring tradition. The last thing you want to do is leave a pesky sliver of peel in the teeth of your guests. It’s also a good idea for our modern times for different reasons. Leaving the skin on the fruit risks serving your guests with an improperly washed filling. The last thing you want is left over wax, pesticides or germs from the many hands the fruit went through to get to your kitchen. So skip all that and peel!
Slicing and thickness is up to preference to a degree. Here tradition allows for long thin slices, or traditional thin round cuts. If you decide on the long thin slices, a vegetable peeler is perfect for making your slices. If you refer the round slices, keep them thin as your sharp knife and fingers will allow.
One advantage of the long thin slices is the limit of the internal seed filing. Removing the gooey seed filing is a must. The internal membrane will promote sogginess and you don’t want that when it comes to tea time. If you choose to make the round slices, you will need to take the extra time and steps to remove those seeds.
Once your slices have been cut, place them on a dry paper towel. Pat them dry.
Marinating or Soaking:
Adding flavor to the sandwich is something modern palates feel the need to do. But traditionally, the fruit stood on its own for taste. No soaking or marinating.
If you absolutely must add an additional flavor there are some do’s and don’ts. Never soak for a long length of time. Simply running through a flavored liquid is enough. Allow the flavoring to drip off the slices so you’re not adding additional liquid to your bread. You might think patting your slices dry before the marinade is a wasted step, it’s not. Soaking a dry fruit allows the slices to pull in the additional flavoring you’re adding. So don’t skip that step.
As for what to flavor your cucumber slices with; white anything is appropriate. You can use white juices such as grape or lemon. White apple cider vinegar or a white wine vinegar can also add a bit of a bite. But you don’t want to turn you fruit into a sweet or sour pickle and totally overwhelm the flavor of the fruit itself.
To Salt or not to Salt:
Salt, but very lightly with sea salt. Fine sea salt at that. The salt draws out some of the liquid from the cucumber, leaving it firmer and less slimy filing, while also bringing out the flavor. Lay out your slices, salt and let them stand for about 15 minutes. Using a damp cloth or paper towel, gently wipe the seasoning from the fruit. This will remove most, but not all the salt to keep some flavoring in the sandwich.
Preparing Your Bread:
Light bread is the key to these sandwiches. This is not the place for a chewy sourdough or whole wheat. Traditional soft white bread is a must. And the softer the better. This is not the place for alternatives.
Dave Cruz, on the Oprah Winfrey’s website, goes for brioche, a yet richer bread, full of butter and egg. Even a worse choice as it’s quite hard to slice neatly. Stick to tradition here!
Butter your slices generously first!
Yes you need to put some type of spread between the bread and the fruit! Not only does it help protect the bread from becoming soggy, it also adds a light flair to the sandwich. Today there are again modern choices such as mayonnaise, cream cheese or even a mayo-diced egg combinations. All of these are up to taste, but they are not traditional.
Which ever you choose , butter first. It’s a lot harder to add a spread to the bread with the crust already removed.
Traditionally unsalted butter (not margarine) was the preferred filling to add a slight sweetness to the sandwich. I’m not a fan and prefer lightly salted butter. This is also the preferred choice if you don’t salt the fruit during its preparation. You want some kind of salt to pull out the flavor of the fruit. If you don’t salt it in the preparation of your slices, add it in the butter spread.
Some Assembly Required:
With your fruit and bread prepared it’s time to put it all together. Once the crusts have been cut from the bread, lay the slices of cucumber over your spread. Depending on how thick you made your slices will depend on how many layers you add. Thinly sliced as in the picture above, calls for 3 layers of fruit. Remember this is a finger sandwich, not a giant backyard BBQ burger! Keep it small.
You certainly don’t need to include additional salt. But pepper is welcomed. A dash of mint can also be included and it’s a popular addition here in the States.
The one thing you don’t want to add is any kind of additional “salad”. No tomato, celery or lettuce. This isn’t a salad sandwich. It’s a cucumber sandwich, keep it simple! And for heaven’s sake NO relish!
Cut and Shape:
Today we have many cutting tools that were not available in the mid 1800s when these sandwiches found their way onto tea trays. Long narrow slices were the traditional shape for the Queen’s tea.
Of course variety is the spice of life. Not to mention aesthetically pleasing to the eye as well. Simply remember that a tea sandwich is small and is designed to be consumed in at least two bites and no more. You should be able to hold it with one hand and 3 fingers alone.
Don’t be afraid to provide different shapes. But keep those shapes small!
There’s something to be said for tradition. At the very least, you can honor the traditional Cucumber Sandwich on your tea-tray, and still offer a variety of other sandwich choices to satisfy the palate of your guests.
Good Luck and enjoy.