Moving from one neighborhood to another is like a breakup, an amputation, and an acid trip all in one. You wake up one morning and you have no idea where you are. The coffee shop to which you tied so much of your identity is now an hour away; you’re not sure if there are any cute bartenders in a five-block radius; and worst of all, you don’t know where to get a sandwich.
I found myself in such a situation recently, and after indulging in a deep, month-long depression, I decided to accept my new neighborhood, despite the overwhelming abundance of strollers and the eery quiet that falls around 11 PM. So I threw a Memorial Day party, on my roof, where we would all celebrate life and vitamin D and three-day weekends. And if I couldn't find a good sandwich, I'd make one myself.
In fact, I ended up making sandwiches for thirty; sandwiches from a shop that used to be just down the street from me. These were, and are, the greatest sandwiches in all the world.
The Scuttlebutt -- conceived by Caroline Fidanza and her band of geniuses at Brooklyn’s Saltie -- is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. It has seen me through first dates and hangovers and a long, cruel winter; it was the last thing I ate before packing up the final box in my big, old apartment.
This sandwich has a cult following, of which I am a card-carrying member. We are quite a big cult. We value salt, and color, and pickled vegetables, and homemade focaccia. Our culty robes carry stains from pimentón-steeped aioli and blood-purple beets and we wear them proudly. We are forever finding bits of herbs in our hair.
You can enjoy the Scuttlebutt year-round -- with pickled whatever -- but it's best right now, when new beets and carrots are popping up, ready to be pickled, and radishes are unavoidable, imposing their crunch on everything. In the Saltie cookbook, Fidanza calls it a "free-for-all that for some can end in tears."
The book, by the way, is fantastic. You might think that a sandwich shop's cookbook would be a one-trick pony, but it includes M.F.K. Fisher quotes and a recipe for Beef Shin and Radish Soup, so you'd be wrong. It's currently getting top billing on my shelf, sticking its neck out in front of all the old classics.
In a frenzy of DIY ambition, I committed myself to making Scutlebutts, in bulk, for the party. They would require no less than six prepared components; still, I convinced myself that it was a good idea. I hope to convince you of the same.
Because this sandwich demands forethought, but is generous in its flexibility. Vegetables must be pickled at least a day ahead, but can loiter in your fridge for up to a month; that pimentón aioli will last for a week, perfect for all sorts of dunking and smearing. The focaccia dough needs an overnight rise in the fridge, but it is just as happy to sit for two nights instead of one. It bakes up in a sheet pan, begging to be served en masse. If you're making all this stuff, you might as well make an event out of it.
More: If your aioli breaks, never fear -- here's how to fix it. (And yes, this happened to me.)
On the day of, all you need to do is lay your dough into a baking sheet and pock it with your fingers, like you’re playing emphatic chords on a piano. Drizzle it frivolously with olive oil and salt, and bake.
While your focaccia fluffs up in the oven, toss together a salad of sorts: a flurry of herbs, technicolor pickles, some more briny bits, all tied together with a glug of oil. Then lay out the rest of your components (feta, eggs, aioli), and assemble towers of greatness. They do well in outdoor situations too, since the enthusiasm with which everyone eats their sandwich will inevitably lead to aioli on forearms and pickles on the ground and little bits of feta on your mouth that you’ll want to flick away carelessly before you grab another icy beer form the cooler.
A week later, at a different party, no fewer than five people approached me, asking me to make them another sandwich. They refused to simply take a field trip to Saltie, insisted that it be homemade.
I’ve often joked that I’ll someday publish something called “How to Win Friends and Influence People: The Cookbook.” This sandwich, were it truly mine, would be the book's crowning glory.
From Saltie: A Cookbook (Chronicle, 2012)
Makes 8 to 10 very large, very messy, very life-changing sandwiches, with extra pickles and aioli
For the sandwiches:
For the pickled vegetable and herb salad:
1 bunch beets
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large red onions
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided
2 cups red wine vinegar
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 whole star anise pods, broken up
8 whole allspice berries
8 medium carrots, peeled
2 cups apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 árbol chiles
2 heaping cups fresh herbs (like parsley, mint, and dill)
A few scallions, thinly sliced on a bias
A few radishes, thinly sliced
1/4 cup capers
1/2 cup pitted oil-cured black olives, chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil
Photos by Eric Moran