There used to be a cocktail bar in the basement of the Ritz Hotel – was it the original Rivoli Bar? It’s a casino now, sadly. Sic transit and all of that. But in those days when the bar was a bar, I would go to there and have either caviar or foie gras sandwiches and half a bottle of champagne for lunch. 5 pounds. Nothing fancy . Just two slices of the cheapest, most aerated white bread with a great dollop of shiny, black Beluga or a slap of foie gras the texture of cold butter, but richer between them. With the crusts cut off naturally. It made perfect sense.
These days we sneer at bread made by the notorious Chorleywood process, but it was the last word in bread making when it was first developed by the British Baking Industries Association Laboratory in Chorleywood in 1961. It was the Smart Bread of the era. It allowed the inclusion of lower protein wheats and, using the method, you could make a loaf from flour to slice in three and a half hours. It promised an infinite number of identical slices. It was chic. It was egalitarian. It was dependable. It was cheap. We loved it. By 2009, 80% of the bread in this country was made using the CWP. It’s difficult to get accurate figures for today, but there’s no reason to believe that it’s much less.
Now, it represents everything most despised about the food industry. It’s denatured. It’s tasteless. It’s boring. It’s not good for you (which isn’t the same as saying it’s bad for you). And it’s cheap.
It’s given away to the sliced white de nos jours, sourdough. It used to be ciabatta but now it’s sourdough. Sourdough here, sourdough there, everywhere bloody sourdough. Sourdough is everything that CWP bread is not. It has flavour. It has texture. It has a crust, dammit. It’s artisan. It’s good for you. And it’s expensive.
I have nothing against sourdough bread or ciabatta or breads made with wild yeasts, but there are certain dishes for which the bog standard sliced white has to be the number one choice. Tasteless flannel has its place in this world.
The sausage sarnie (see photo), for example, can only be made with soft white bread that moulds itself around the sausages (2), sliced in half lengthways, to form that satisfying, gob-filling unity. English mustard, of course. None of your French, German or American rubbish. And as for tomato or brown sauce, never. They interfere with the purity of the experience.
I have argued in an earlier incarnation of this blog that sliced white makes the best soldiers for dipping into a soft-boiled egg. Sourdough? Heavens no. Too forceful. Too chewy.
You can’t in all seriousness use sourdough for fried bread, either. I will allow potato bread and soda farl for an Ulster Fry, but, really, only Mother’s Pride or its equivalent will soak up the bacon fat and come to the right level of crispness. And that highest order of breakfast sandwiches, the fried egg and bacon sarnie, reaches it’s apogee when made with fried sliced white, rashers like a puppy’s tongue, a fried egg with liquid yolk and a crisp d=frill to the white and brown sauce for the fruity tang,
And as for those divine sandwiches in the bar in the Ritz, any bread other than sliced white bread would have been completely inappropriate. The collision between the rare and immensely expensive fillings and the cheapest and commonest of breads. was integral to its attractions, and the insistent flavour of sourdough (or rye or other potent breads) would have clashed with the subtle, elusive, delicate pleasure of the caviar or foie gras. The bread was a vehicle, not an ingredient. The more devoid of character and quality, the better.
You can’t get shiny, black Beluga caviar from the wild any more. Foie gras is on its way out. Please God, Chorleywood’s finest doesn’t go the same way.