The Real Thing

See the RecipeTodd Coleman

A grandfather devises the perfect open-face sandwich

According to a 2006 court ruling in Worcester, Massachusetts, the city where I was born, a sandwich consists of two slices of bread and a filling. I come from a people who view the matter differently. In Russian, my parents' native tongue, the word for sandwich is butyerbrod, which literally means bread with butter. Butyerbrod connotes a single slice of bread topped with butter and some cheese, meat, or fish. Thus an outlaw by breeding, I prefer to eat my sandwiches open-faced.

Growing up, one of my favorite open-face sandwiches was topped with pickled chicken, a garlicky roulade of dark and white meat bound in yellow chicken skin, the creation of my maternal grandfather, Pinkhus Gurevich. see the recipe My grandmother would serve the roll in dark and light mosaic slices on a china dish, along with a plate of challah and wheat bread. I would reach for one or two pickled chicken slices, lay them on a piece of bread, and go right back for more. Between the members of my extended family, the spread would diminish rapidly.

I'd always assumed that this homemade deli meat was a food my grandfather had brought with him from Riga, Latvia. Though my cousins dubbed it kruglinkaya kurochka (KROO-gleen-ka-ya KOO-rech-ka), "round little chicken," on account of its shape when sliced, my mother called it pickled chicken because her father cured the meat in allspice, bay leaf, garlic, and salt—the same seasonings he'd used back in the old country to pickle tongue and brisket. Recently, when I called my grandfather in Massachusetts to get the recipe, I found out it wasn't a Latvian tradition at all: Disappointed with the bland deli meats he'd encountered in America, my grandfather had improvised his own. "The cold cuts you buy at the store have no taste, so you use mustard," he told me. "With this, you don't need mustard." It's true. The sign of good kruglinkaya kurochka is enough garlic to ward off a legion of vampires. It's the ideal meat for an open-face sandwich, needing nothing but one unadorned slice of bread to convey it cleanly from plate to mouth.