Whether it’s a Cuban sandwich or Croque Monsieur, a grilled ham and cheese sandwich checks all the boxes for deliciousness. But there’s another sandwich that’s usually as delicious and lesser-known in America — the bikini sandwich of Spain.
And if you’re wondering about the name, your suspicions are correct — the bikini sandwich (or bikini) is named after the swimsuit. The reasoning? The name’s origins stem from how the colors of melted ham and cheese resemble the contrasting colors of a bikini swimsuit. In Spain, this sandwich is trendy in beach areas, particularly Catalonia, and is enjoyed mainly as a light meal or snack.
To learn all about this tasty sandwich, we interviewed Chef Laila Bazahm of El Raval, a Spanish restaurant in Austin, Texas. At El Raval, they have a more traditional version filled with jamon, cured guanciale, morcilla, and diazabal cheese, but they also have an understanding that adds an upgraded flair to tradition. Bazahm’s Bikini De Steak Al Carbon is full of New York strip steak, 18-month jamon Serrano, aged Manchego cheese, and truffles.
- 2 slices brioche or other white bread
- 1/3 pound dry-aged New York strip steak
- Unsalted butter as needed
- 2 tablespoons truffle paste
- 2 slices Idiazabal cheese (if unavailable, double the Manchego)
- 3 slices Manchego cheese
- 4 slices Jamon Serrano
- 1 clove garlic whole
- Spread butter and truffle paste on the bread.
- Layer cheeses and Jamon Serrano evenly on one slice of bread.
- In a medium-sized pan, sear the steak until a crust forms for about 2 minutes over medium-high heat, basting with butter and garlic.
- Place the steak on top of the Jamon and cheese and cover with the other slice to form a sandwich.
- In the same pan, brown the sandwich with butter, pressing it like a panini until the cheese melts, about 5 minutes.
- Cut into triangles for serving.
Of course, if you don’t have access to truffles (or don’t have steak on hand), the bikini sandwich is just as delicious without those upgrades. In Spain, bikini sandwiches come in variations, and versions containing turkey, bacon, and various condiments are common. Bazahm recommends combining the Jamon Serrano with Emmental or cheddar for a simpler but still tasty sandwich.
But if you want to make the El Raval steak and decadent truffle version, Bazahm has some tips on ingredients. “The best bread to use for bikini sandwiches is a brioche or shokupan (Japanese bread),” explained Bazahm. “I also use Rodolphe Meunière’s butter and some truffle shavings to elevate the sandwich. If you can get 100% Jamon Iberico de Bellota.”
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