Don’t let winter’s last gasp deceive you; the floating and fly fishing season is upon us.
We have to be especially mindful of the weather reports of course, but there are cutthroat trout stirring in the Flathead system, and if you’re willing to drive, skwalas will be hatching on the Bitterroot for the next few weeks on just about any day it isn’t snowing.
If we’re floating, we better have shore lunch ready, and for me that means shooter’s sandwiches. Frankly, we should call these things “angler’s sandwiches” as they’re perfect for packing in the cooler for a float trip.
The sandwich is the benchmark in utilitarian dining. Legend has it that it was created so John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich, could eat without having to take a break from his card game. A piece of meat was placed between two slices of bread and, voilà, a culinary institution was born.
The shooter’s sandwich is an even more practical version, devised to be eaten by a shooter holding a 12 gauge while in pursuit of the wily grouse. I’m not so sure about that, but it is a perfect nosh for float trips.
The parameters of the shooter sandwich are simple. Get yourself a crusty loaf of bread, a pain au levain from Ceres is perfect. Cut off the top and hollow out the crumb of the bottom. Fill it with duxelles, some sautéed shallots, and a grilled steak or two, put the top back on, wrap it in parchment paper and squish it.
Yes, squish it. A proper shooter’s sandwich is pressed overnight under a heavy pan or stack of books. Something with some heft, but not too heavy. You want to make the sandwich nice and compact, but if you go overboard with the weight, the duxelles will squish out.
Duxelles is that delicious paste made from finely chopped mushrooms. The food processor is the right tool for this job. Include some shallots, maybe a bit of garlic, some thyme and parsley, and of course salt and pepper. Sauté, then deglaze with some sherry. Add some cream for richness and reduce it down until the liquid is mostly gone.
While most recipes call for the steak to go into the sandwich whole, I prefer to cut it thin and shingle the slices. Unless it is especially tender, a whole steak can be difficult to bite through. You’re liable to pull the entire piece of meat out with your first bite.
Mustard and horseradish are traditional accompaniments. I go light if I add them at all, as they can overwhelm the sandwich. I do like to add roasted pepper in mine. Sautéed greens, like broccoli rabe, are good too, but extract as much moisture as possible from any vegetables you add to your shooter’s sandwich – wring them out in paper towels if necessary. The meat juices are all the sauce you need.
There’s some debate about refrigerating your shooter’s sandwich during the overnight pressing. I’m the kind of cook who leaves pasta out all day so I can munch on it at room temperature, like a proper Sicilian. I’m generally annoyed with the American tendency to freak out about any food that isn’t immediately refrigerated. Still, I do my shooter’s sandwich pressing in the ice box.
I don’t think you’ll die, however, if you press the sandwich at room temperature. It’s also unlikely you’ll contract a food borne illness, but I still recommend the cold-press technique for safety’s sake.
That does mean you need refrigerator-safe weights, so dusty, old hardcover books are out. A cast iron skillet and a large can of tomatoes should suffice.
A shooter’s sandwich is delicious any month of the year. Include it along with your favorite skwala patterns on your next float trip, or in your March Madness spread.
Guns aren’t required, unless Duke fans show up.