How to eat toasties life and style the guardian can you make bacon in oven

Welcome to the latest how to eat – the series examining how best to enjoy britain’s favourite foods – which, this month, with a hat-tip to real bread week, is trying to isolate exemplary performance in the field of toasties.

The toastie is a food that has undergone a significant makeover in recent years, as a new generation of street food traders has brought a US-grilled-cheese-panache to this often poorly treated item. But is it better the breville you know? Or are you embracing the concurrent trend that has seen top restaurants, from london’s berners tavern to york’s skosh, lend a luxurious edge to the humble toastie? What is a toastie?

Whether using an all-encompassing breville, an ordinary sandwich press or going manual with a frying pan or griddle, there are two key things that identify the toastie. First, it must be buttered on the outside, so it develops a crisp, golden exterior.


Second, it must be compressed in some way, by hinged lid, cast-iron weight or a suitable kitchen utensil, so that bread and filling are welded together.Your toastie

What a toastie fundamentally is not is a sandwich served on toasted slices of bread, ciabatta roll or in a gum-lacerating grilled baguette. All of those fall under the very different banner of “toasted sandwiches”, which are distinct again from open-sandwiches finished under the grill and the croque monsieur. A note on preparation

As ever, HTE gives way on such matters to felicity cloake. However, HTE would urge you to keep an open mind. Traditionalists will no doubt rally against the £6 grilled cheese sandwich as an outrider of gentrification. But as long as we are all using a sturdy white bread (going brown and worthy will ruin any toastie), surely we can acknowledge that, dependent on time and mood, there is a place for the classic breville toastie (cheap white sliced; the fillings comforting in their naive simplicity), and, as an occasional treat, those hefty sourdough creations, their interiors molten with multiple artisan cheeses and home-fermented pickles.Sandwich maker it is like league two and champion’s league football. It is possible to enjoy both, while conceding there is a huge gulf in skill, quality and expenditure. Fillings

The breville, they say, makes work for idle hands. Which may explain why, like pizza, the toastie finds itself augmented in so many unsuitable ways. As HTE has been stressing for six years now – to the blithe indifference of the british public – just because it is feasible to use outrageously stupid combinations of ingredients in a dish, it does not mean you should.

To an extent, this is a simple matter of practicality. For instance, unless you like licking rogan josh off your wrists, sloppier fillings, such as last night’s curry, will only work in a sandwich maker that hermetically seals toasties shut. But it is also an issue of basic good taste, if not self-respect. The fact that the monte cristo exists – an unholy french toast/ ham and cheese mash-up, sprinkled with icing sugar and served with jam – does not mean you need to eat it.Does mean

Likewise, no one ever argued that melting a snickers to a gritty glop in a sandwich maker is the ideal way to eat a) snickers or b) a toastie. Eating well is often a matter of restraint. Doing less, not more. Stifling your “creative” urge. Or certainly, after one bite, consigning your appalling experiment to the dustbin of history.

Anything that recklessly crosses the sweet-savoury streams (eg cheese and pineapple, brie and fig jam) potentially enjoyable when cold, such combinations take on a sticky, sharply contrasting intensity when heated.

Macaroni cheese such a bland, carb-on-carb fest feels wickedly transgressive for the first three bites, and a grim slog thereafter. The same applies, in a toastie, to cheesy chips and fish fingers.

Salt beef and pastrami sound good, but unless incredibly tender, they often leave you wrestling with and tearing at your, now, structurally unsound sandwich.

Tuna and cheese, aka, the tuna melt like george michael and aretha franklin, these two are exceptional individually, but a rather cheesy, OTT double-act.Your toastie

Sliced tomato it is a cliche to complain that sandwich makers super-heat slices of tomato to a temperature that will strip the roof of your mouth. But it is true. Despite that prior knowledge, it is impossible for anyone to sensibly leave said toastie to cool down for a couple of minutes (much less fork it to let the steam escape). Therefore, avoid.

Lettuce and other leaves rocket and radicchio struggle to make a convincing case for themselves as cold salad ingredients. Much less when you find them lurking all hot and wilted in a toastie.

Spaghetti hoops this is the unholy trinity. Hoops are, simultaneously, a carb-on-carbuncle (thank you!), largely liquid (therefore, scaldingly hot) and, consequently, entirely unmanageable to eat, even if sealed in a breville pocket. Good fillings

Cheese, beans, ham and almost any variation and combination in that sphere (eg, chorizo and mozzarella) note: with the obvious exception of cheeses that refuse to melt (eg halloumi) and blue cheeses, which turn into a mess of obnoxious, belligerent flavours when heated.Your toastie

Chickpea or potato-based curries can be mashed into an evenly distributed paste, and whose spiciness somehow prevents a curried toastie running into the carb-overload buffers.

Note: putting a little red onion, spring onion and a few herbs in your toastie is not just preferable, but often essential (see below). Sauces, seasonings, sides

Good toastie ingredients can be plotted on axes marked savoury/greasy, so you certainly need something in or near your toastie to take the edge off it. You need an inflection, something that enlivens and punctuates that filling, so it does not become overwhelming.

This addition can be served in (mustard), on the side (gherkin) or as a dipping condiment for your toastie (hot sauce). But it must not be sweet (caramelised onion, cranberry sauce, BBQ etc), itself predominantly savoury (eg soy) or too creamy (eg remoulade). Those qualities will only compound the issue of your toastie being too rich, too filling, too much.Does mean weirdly, a dense fug of garlic in a hot sandwich is also an unwelcome intensifier.

Instead, this supporting actor must be hot (eg chillies, harissa, sriracha mayo, a spiced chutney or jam), or pack a sharp, vinegary kick (tomato sauce, worcestershire sauce, sauerkraut and other pickled and fermented vegetables, an invigorating non-creamy slaw). Other sides

There are sides that add another dimension to the toastie and sides – chips and crisps, mainly – which are used to unimaginatively bulk out this “meal”. There is a case to be made for the addition of a side salad, as a palate cleanser. But given how poor most UK side salads are (undressed hedge clippings scattered with scrappy chunks of raw onion and fridge-cold tomato), and how tedious toggling between a toastie and salad can be, that case is not strong.

The tendency to serve soup and a toastie as a combo is curious. Presuming you are going to dunk your toastie (if not, why serve them together?), then pairing a cheese toastie with tomato soup makes sense.Does mean but the other soups it is commonly partnered with (broccoli, french onion, pumpkin and so on), are far less obviously complementary. And, depending on their texture (any dipping soup needs to be thick and smooth), less suitable in other ways, too.

The self-contained toastie, one judiciously laced with its own spiky counterpoint, and served without any sides, is, in many ways, the perfect toastie. Serving

Unsealed toasties must be sliced in half, so that you can easily grip that half to prevent any ingredients dropping out of the bottom. Ideally, those ingredients (eg. Mushrooms, bacon, gherkin …), should be chopped through the sandwich, rather than left in large inelegant pieces, to prevent such slippage.

Do not be tempted to slice the sandwich into fat fingers. Particularly if you have a lot of very runny melted cheese in play, those fingers can soon become an ugly, unnavigable pile of gluey, stringy cheese.

Lunch, tea and horrendously drunk at 4am in the deluded, if delicious, hope that carbs and saturated fats will save you from the spiritual and physical torment of tomorrow morning.Sandwich maker they won’t. Drink

Tea, red or white wine (filling dependent), maybe even cava or, if you have too much money, champagne (those bubbles are useful in scrubbing the palate). Otherwise, go for bitter pale ale, something clean, zesty and direct enough that it can go head-to-head with your toastie, without causing a flavour pile-up.