The Nosey Chef doesn’t tend to shy away from something on account of the fact that it isn’t straightforward, and the history of this ubiquitous comestible is no exception. From hotel bars to casinos and beach clubs worldwide there is a good chance that the lunch/’lite bite’ menu of these establishments will offer a club sandwich. I have spent the last 7 months in the company of a group of professional colleagues, for some of whom, the club sandwich has become a regular choice at a number of places we have visited during this time. And, it was at their request that I took on the task of researching the origins of this classic sandwich.
The theories for club sandwich origination are wide and range from those based on the acronym ‘chicken and lettuce under bacon’ (CLUB) to the type of establishments which first popularised it – namely gambling clubs and casinos.
Indeed, it is the Saratoga Club House in Saratoga Springs, New York – now known as the Canfield Casino after the new owner Richard Canfield – which lays claim to the invention of the club sandwich in1894. Interestingly the same club also lays claim to inventing the potato chip; are we talking about the potato crisp chip or the chip chip? That in itself is an entire discussion in its own right.
However, it was another nine years, in 1903, before the first recorded recipe for the club sandwich appeared in Huntly-born Isabel Gordon Curtis’s book Good Housekeeping Every Day. I think it would therefore be reasonable to consider this as recipe zero, given that prior to this nothing was recorded. The Gordon Curtis recipe also appears to closely resemble popular iterations of today’s club sandwich.
The following year, in 1904, the club sandwich was further popularised at the Worlds Fair in Missouri – an event which also saw the emergence of a number of variations associated with different establishments. Amidst all of this I think it is safe to say that as far as ingredients go, toast is a given. There is chicken or turkey – with the latter being more common across the Pond. Tomato and bacon are ever-present, with or without mayonnaise.
The debate regarding the origin of the sandwich is not just confined to its ingredients. There is also debate regarding the number of layers – as few as one and as many as five. Some food historians propose that the two-deck sandwich is the original, having its origins in the double-deck ‘club’ cars of the early American railways.
The Canfield Casino can be found at 1 East Congress St, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866, USA.
- 3 slices white bread, medium toasted
- 1 tomato, sliced
- 3 leaves of iceberg lettuce cut to the the size of the toast
- 3–4 slices poached chicken or turkey
- 3–4 slices of streaky bacon, fried to crispy
- 1–2 tsp mayonnaise
Spread the toast with the mayonnaise.
Arrange the sandwich as follows: toast, chicken, tomatoes, toast, lettuce, bacon. Seasoning can be added if liked.
Cut in two diagonally and stabilise with a bamboo stick.
Serve with coleslaw and potato salad.
If there is one ingredient that gets constantly added to the base recipe, it is sliced boiled eggs. Dijon mustard often finds its way into the mayonnaise to make 'Dijonnaise.' The crusts are often trimmed.