Monday, July 30, 2012

Flank Steak Sandwich

From Days Gone By, Part 5

I'm always hearing about the power of food, and how it can not only connect people together, but also keep memories alive.  I used to think all of that was utter b.s., but since I am now on the cusp of being twenty years of age, (which, in my mind, feels like the worst birthday behind forty), I have been thinking back about being a carefree (and careless) kid and have realized that in fact, most of my vivid childhood memories have all revolved around food.

Outside of the kickball field, lunch was one of the more competitive parts of elementary school.  It was all about who had the best lunch and whether you could jip someone into trading for your food.  Bartering was usually over Doritos or cookies, but at times kids would even swap whole sandwiches.  When you first think of a sandwich in Vietnamese cuisine, one's mind automatically thinks of the nirvana that is Banh Mi, a delight that I relished growing up eating.  However, I went to a private school in a less than diverse area, filled with sheltered kids who thought that no matter what part of Asia you were from, your cuisine solely consisted of orange chicken and fried rice.  

(Just for kicks, I remember word for word a conversation I had in seventh grade.

           Me: My parents own a restaurant
           Classmate: What kind?
           Me: A vietnamese one.
           Classmate: Oh sweet, so you have like fried rice and egg rolls?
           Me: *mental facepalm*)

I knew that if I dared bring a banh mi sandwich to school, the aroma of pungent pate, pickled carrots, and salty headcheese and gio would immediately attract unwanted (and most likely negative) attention.  Thus, growing up everyday my mom packed me a sandwich consisting of untoasted wonder bread, kraft miracle whip, iceberg lettuce, and a couple slices of foster farms turkey, cut in half diagonally, and then wrapped in foil.  It was honestly the most boring sandwich you could possibly come up with, and after years of eating that sandwich every single day it was a struggle trying to finish it.  While everyone always looked forward to lunch to see what surprises awaited in their lunch box, I became totally indifferent to it, knowing that I would always have a water bottle, a bag of cut up apples, and that damn sandwich.  By third or fourth grade after repeatedly taking home uneaten sandwiches, I "graciously" asked my mom if I could start making my own lunches from that point on. 

Now, please don't get me wrong.  Did having what I thought an inferior lunch make me dislike my mom?  Of course not, but it definitely did make me strive to build a better lunch bag. 

As a kid I didn't think having a competent lunch would even be an issue, but this was a private elementary school in an affluent area, where I felt that every action that everyone did was a way to show off.  I would constantly look with envy at flaunting kids whose lunches seemed never ending.  Even worse was that there were some stay at home moms (nothing against them personally) who showed up in a tracksuit everyday to hand deliver food (from god damn restaurants no less) to their eagerly awaiting child.  I distinctly remembering an incident where one mom brought an entire pizza, and suddenly the boy no one liked for one day was making new friends left and right... and I, ashamedly, was one of them. 

I will say though that I did beat everyone at one thing, and that was the use of a brown paper bag.  While everyone in first to third grade carried around hulking igloos and metal crates, I slyly pulled a brown package from my backpack, knowing that I was cooler and more mature than them.  By 6th grade, brown paper bags was a sign you made it into junior high, and everyone had them.  Of course, there were people with eco-unfriendly plastic bags, but that was because it was a plastic bag from a sushi bar, as their moms had just hand delivered that day's lunch.

Because the brown paper lunch bag started becoming so ubiquitous in the classroom, there were bound to be some mix ups.  One day in fourth grade, I opened my bag and low and behold, was a pack of gushers.  On the inside I weeped with joy, and gleefully I started peering through the bag to see if there were any other surprises.  Once I saw the lack of a tin foiled wrapped sandwich and an uncharacteristic bottle of Sunny Delight, I made the sad, devastating, realization.  I begrudgingly rushed back into the classroom, to see the teacher showing the contents of my lunch (which that day was the infamous bland turkey sandwich, a cut up apple, and a water bottle) to a forlorn and obviously disappointed girl, trying to convince her to make do with it.  Once I mixup was cleared, the girl happily waltzed to the lunch tables, and I followed after her, my hopes and excitement shattered. 

As a result of all of these shenanigans, I began diligently waking up early to make my own sandwiches.  Over the years they were as simple as the summer sandwich, to something as elaborate as a baguette filled with leftover steak au poivre I had made for dinner the night before, complete with cognac peppercorn cream sauce instead of mayo.  The best part was eating it in front of jealous eyes, and as a sick and twisted form of unnecessary revenge after all those years of eating mediocre sandwiches, openly relishing every bite.

However making these sandwiches proved to be time consuming and a draining activity in the morning, and by 8th grade the novelty of having a unique sandwich wore off.  I began resorting to taking a minute and thirty seconds to microwave a hot pocket each day, which was much easier and faster, and in my mind tasted just as good.

Come high school, I went through the hellhole that was zero period each morning, leaving me even less time to make my own lunch.  While I often ate what was actually extremely delicious cafeteria food such as chicken tenders, french fries, barbecue pizza, and mexican burrito bowls, most of that food was expensive and let's face it, pretty fattening.  Thus, in the sheerest form of irony, my lunches (still made by me) for the most part consisted of a sandwich (this time with bread modernized to grocery store wheat), turkey, mayo, lettuce, and sometimes some tomato.  Completely unremarkable, but easy to put together, and the money I saved sometimes went towards buying warm cookies in the cafeteria. 

 this would've come in handy 10 years ago

So, in short, after roughly twelve years of bringing bag lunches to school, I have learned one very important lesson.  Just f*cking pack a peanut butter and jelly and call it a day.

one year ago:  Vanilla Pudding, Blueberry Crumb Cake, Vegetable Cream Cheese, Oeufs en Cocotte (for a crowd)

Flank Steak Sandwich

leftover grilled flank steak
olive oil
a crusty demi-baguette 
bleu cheese
pecorino romano
red leaf lettuce
roma or cherry tomatoes

sauteed red onions
red onion, sliced thinly
pinch of red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
a teaspoon or two of sugar
tablespoon or two of worcestershire sauce
a couple dashes of soy sauce

garlic mayo
minced garlic
black pepper
worcestershire sauce
tabasco sauce
minced parsley

Heat a pan with the olive oil over high heat.  Sear the flank steak until browned.

Meanwhile, over medium high heat saute the red onion in butter.  Season with salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and add a couple pinches of sugar to help with the browning process.  As the onions brown, add a 1/4 cup of water periodically in order to deglaze the pan and speed up the softening process.  When the onions are almost tender, add the worcestershire, and cook until reduced down.

For the garlic mayo, mix all of the ingredients together.

To assemble, cut the baguette in half lengthwise, and broil in the oven until golden.  Smear both sides generously with the mayo, and on one side layer the steak and bleu cheese, and on th eother the sauteed onions and pecorino.  Put back under the broiler until melty.  Top steak side with tomatoes and lettuce, and place the top on.


  1. I remember those parents who would hand deliver lunches to their kids - what a bunch of weirdos, man. My mother stayed at home, but she had 3 kids and more to do than play delivery boy to her 10 year old. I have to admit, I was jealous at the time, though!

    1. This sums up my thoughts and experience exactly!

  2. "ew what is that", "that looks gross" are things classmates use to say about my lunch. so i told my mom to make me white bread deli-meat sandwiches. 2 weeks went by and i told my mom to stop, i'll just bring what i used to bring. "look what he's eating", "it stinks", i didn't care anymore because i was eating a delicious lunch.

    1. I definitely wish I was less stuck up about fitting in when I was back in elementary school- looks like you didn't have that problem at all :)