The Perfect Cucumber Sandwich
Yes, we really will consider the best way to make this simple summer sandwich. I make no apologies for the fact, because, when done right, this simple classic really is fabulous.
The whole point about cucumber sandwiches is that, unless done really well, they can be really dull.
Peeling is mandatory, in case some pesky fibre creeps in and ruin the refined taste, remove the seeds and allow some of the moister to seep out by laying the slices on a piece of kitchen roll. You can also sprinkle a small amount of salt over the cucumber pieces to help but take care not to over salt.
A soft white, the softer the better, is the order of the day – this is definitely not the place for chewy sourdough or wholesome wholemeal. It should almost melt in your mouth once you cut the crusts off, but not quite.
Although a school of thought concedes you could use mayonnaise instead, there doesn’t seem much point: butter and cucumbers are a winning combination. As any experienced sandwich maker will know, it also acts as a handy seal between filling and crumb, protecting the latter from any dampness that threatens to make it soggy.
Some use salted butter, but most people specify unsalted, with good reason, this is one place where its creamy sweetness comes into its own in contrast to the salty, refreshing slices of cucumber.
No further salt required, obviously, after treating the cucumber, but pepper is very welcome. White pepper is preferable here: it delivers the same spicy hit as black pepper, but without the accompanying aromatics, which compete with the cucumber for flavour.
Some use chopped mint in the sandwiches, which seems to be a popular choice in the States. It is an excellent partner for cucumber – I’d say together they sum up the taste of a British summer – but again, too dominant here.
Soft cheese is a timeless accompaniment and works well with the crunch of the cucumber.
Quarters v triangles v fingers is quite a debate, the only thing to say is that fingers, the most time-consuming and dainty of the lot, are the most suitable here. Press the sandwiches down firmly as you cut: it will make them neater. And where a cucumber sandwich is concerned, neatness is really rather important.
The perfect cucumber sandwiches
1/2 cucumber, peeled
6 thin slices of good white bread
Unsalted butter, at room temperature
Cut the cucumber into slices as thin as you can make them, and put in a colander or sieve. Sprinkle lightly with salt (don’t go overboard) and leave for 20 minutes. Taste to check you haven’t oversalted them: you can rinse them at this point if so.
Lay out a few pieces of kitchen paper on the work surface, place the cucumber slices on them, and pat dry with more paper.
Lay out the bread and butter each slice generously. Arrange the cucumber on half the slices, overlapping each round, and sprinkle with ground white pepper. Top with the remaining slices.
Pressing down firmly, cut the crusts off, and then cut into neat fingers, triangles or quarters of roughly equal sizes. Serve immediately, with good tea.
Cucumber sandwiches: are you a fan, or are they a silly Victorian affectation that deserves to go the way of the top hat and the whalebone corset? And if not, what do you like to do with this most refreshing of summer crops?