Putting my new-found sourdough bread-making skills to use recently (see An Interview with Vanessa Kimbell), I knocked up a quick chicken and mayo sandwich one Saturday lunchtime and was struck – really struck – by how good it tasted, given that it contained so few ingredients. Counter-intuitively, this prompted me to buy a ready made supermarket chicken sandwich and compare it with the home made version.
First then, the home made sourdough bread ingredients: wheat flour, water, sea salt.
Versus the supermarket bread ingredients: wheat flour, calcium carbonate, iron, niacin (B3), thiamin (B1), water, malted wheat flakes, wheat bran, wheat gluten, yeast, malted barley flour, salt, spirit vinegar, rapeseed oil, emulsifiers (E471, E472e), flour treatment agent (E300).
Then the chicken filling: mine had chicken and only chicken, barbecued a month ago and retrieved from the freezer. The supermarket chicken (all 25% of it) contained chicken, salt and cornflour.
The extras: my home made sandwich filling also contained butter and mayonnaise, made from sunflower oil, eggs, salt, pepper and chives from the garden. I deliberately bought as plain a chicken mayo sandwich as I could, for the purposes of fair comparison, but the simple butter and mayo in my sandwich became the following in the supermarket version; water, rapeseed oil, cornflour, pasteurised egg yolk, salt, spirit vinegar, sugar, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, salt, black pepper. May also contain traces of sesame seeds.
So, my home made chicken and mayonnaise sandwich contained 10 ingredients, while the supermarket equivalent contained 32 ingredients. A couple of years ago this probably would have been about 132 ingredients, so there’s been a healthy improvement of sorts, in that some of the more unpleasant additives have been pared back under governmental and public pressure.
The disparity of ingredients still takes some digesting but, critically, how did the flavours compare? I can’t claim to be entirely unbiased in this, but the straightforward home made chicken sandwich tasted MONUMENTAL; sweet, smoky, gutsy, while the texture was a multi-layered smorgasbord of chewy, moist, toothsome and satisfying yumminess. Meanwhile, in the supermarket excuse for a sandwich there was no discernible flavour character AT ALL apart from dull sensations of sweet and savoury, and the texture was a miserable soggy pap of sponginess that was the same all the way through, regardless of whether you bit into chicken or bread.
Alice Waters once said, ‘How can you trust a nation whose bread is like wet kitchen paper?’ Indeed! And what can be said of those whose chicken sandwiches taste just as terrible? So here endeth the (ironic and slightly patronising) lesson: a simple sandwich made from scratch is a beautiful thing and will taste at least 600 billion times better than the pre-packed supermarket version, even if you use ingredients from the freezer.