Some things are greater than the sum of their parts. You only need to look at the Leeds United team that finally got promoted in 2019/20 – some decent individuals, but probably not the collective you’d imagine would eventually run away with the title.
The same is true of food. In fact, there is no better example than the festive baguette.
When you think about it, it shouldn’t really work. There are better meats for a sandwich than turkey, pigs in blankets don’t necessarily fit (physically and aesthetically), gravy and cranberry sauce make for a messy and wet eat.
And yet it does, as the recent surge in popularity demonstrates. Not only do most sandwich shops, chippies and cafes now offer their own take on the festive baguette, but their arrival is as eagerly awaited as the John Lewis advert.
This feels like a fairly recent phenomenon to me. Yes, you’ve been able to get a Christmas sandwich for sometime, and many sandwich shops offered a hot baguette option, but they weren’t as big a thing. In fact, I think it’s probably only in the last couple of years that they’ve moved from being a menu choice to a ‘thing’.
This year’s launch has coincided with the start of the second national lockdown. That’s probably a deliberate choice by caterers quick to spot a trend, recognising we need some cheer in our lives.
They’re proving popular. Egremont’s Noah’s Plaice sold out of its full festive menu mere hours after launch, and Whitehaven’s Sandwich Man sold 250 of his baguettes in a week.
The pimping of the baguettes was inevitable. Options available this year include a side of roast potatoes and gravy (the Park Head, Thornhill), battered pigs in blankets (Noah’s Plaice) and brussel sprouts bringing some welcome colour (Number 11, Whitehaven).
So what, and who makes a good festive baguette?
While they’re a simple product, there are a few key things that help make a good one:
- Moist meat – turkey can be famously dry. The trick to keeping the meat moist is to heat it in the gravy.
- Structural integrity – the baguette has to do a lot of leg work on your baguette. While warm and soft might seem like the right answer, you need it to be crisp so it stays in tact as you tear through it.
- The additions – pigs in blankets (or ‘best-thing-about-Christmasses’ as I know them) are key, but they need to be right. Overcooking them makes them too crisp and too hard to eat. You also need the right amount of stuffing – enough to bring a softer, herby flavour; but not so much to overwhelm.
- Temperature – this is a hot sandwich. Anything else is an imposter, and frankly isn’t worth bothering with.
The increase in popularity, means that it’s easier than ever to get a good baguette. I’d suggest avoiding the chains. Their efforts will be mass produced, and that probably means an inferior product, lacking in filling. I’m looking at you, Greggs. Your pigs under blankets aren’t doing it!
Noah’s Plaice in Egremont does a mean baguette and the fact they serve it with some very decent chippy-chips is no bad thing. They batter and deep fry their pigs in blankets and stuffing balls, and that enhances things. This ensures the pigs in blankets stay moist. The batter is light and crisp too.
Taste in the Market Place in Whitehaven has done a great baguette since they opened. They’re all about moist turkey and a crispy baguette. You can understand why they have a queue each year.
I’m told the Park Head ones are great – certainly the roast potatoes would be an incentive.
Given he’s sold 250 in a week, Sandwich Man’s baguettes look worth a try too. The pictures on Instagram show a fresh, well presented sandwich, packed with tasty fillings.
Give them a go and let me know what you think.