I have never been to Paris, but I’m frequently told I should go. “Oh Marge, you’d love the food,” people say. Believe me, as soon as I can swing a trip, I’ll do it. But for now, I have to live vicariously through friends and family, drinking in their descriptions of winding, ivory-hued miles of sidewalk cafes, open-air markets, bistros alive with the sizzle of meat and tinkling of glassware, and boulangeries bursting with crackling baguettes. I can’t wait to see it for myself and fill in the blanks.
This summer, my sister Madeline took weeklong trip there to meet her boyfriend’s family for the first time. I wasn’t expecting to hear from her and was thrilled when she called from his apartment a few days into the trip.
“What have you been eating?” I prodded. “I haven’t had a meal I didn’t like,” she replied dreamily. “And there’s this ham sandwich, jambon crudite, that I want to eat every day for the rest of my life.” A simple sandwich made up of ham, lettuce, tomato and Dijon mayonnaise on a shattering baguette. When a sandwich is this basic, it’s all about the ingredients. Crusty, chewy, slightly acidic baguette slathered liberally with a mayonnaise and mustard blend; salty ham; bitter, hearty escarole; and thinly sliced, juicy tomato.
Since she’s been missing that sandwich lately, I decided to recreate it for her last week on a particularly dreary October night. All afternoon we texted back and forth excitedly.
“I went to La Boulangerie for the baguette during my lunch break!” I texted.
“I am going to get French red wine and something chocolate!” she wrote.
“I found these delish looking French olives for our appetizer!” I replied.
I waited until she came over to build the sandwich to make sure I got it just right.
I cut the whole baguette in half and began spreading it with Dijon mayo. “More mayonnaise?” I asked. “Yes,” she replied without so much as a second glance.
I carefully layered each of the toppings and placed the lid on the sandwich. “How big do you want yours?” I asked. “Just cut it in half,” she said. “Since the bread is so skinny they always give you a really long sandwich. I always ate the whole thing.”
I pulled plates out of the cabinet, Mad poured wine and sparkling water, I mixed a simple salad with shallot-Dijon vinaigrette. But something still seemed to be missing, until Mad told me what is probably the most crucial part of true jambon crudite.
“My favorite part about eating this sandwich was they’d put it in a little paper bag and you’d take it with you and eat it while you walked around Paris,” she said. “Romain sometimes didn’t want lunch, but I always did so we would just pick me up a sandwich and not have to worry about sitting down for a long lunch.”
I paused for a minute, remembering that I had gotten parchment paper bags from a food blogging event earlier in the year. Since I’m not a big fish en papillote type, the bags had gone largely unused. I pulled two out, folded them in half and stuffed the sandwiches inside. The plates went back in the cabinet.
“Marge! It looks just like jambon crudite!” Mad cried. We sat down to eat, eagerly taking up our parchment-wrapped sandwiches. The paper crinkled crisply as we peeled it back and took a bite.
“It tastes just right! The bag was such a great surprise,” said Mad, wiping mayo from the corner of her mouth. I beamed.
“I think they might put butter on the bread, too,” she added between bites. “I think I know why. It probably keeps the mayonnaise from seeping into the bread.”
Ah, à la prochaine, I thought. Next time.