The Pimento Cheese Sandwich
The Masters in your living room, den, man-cave or Masters social (not party which would seems too pedestrian for a tournament that calls its fans patrons. Fete, soiree and reception were in the running; however, decidedly unacceptable are bash, wingding and shebang - not to be confused with she bangs or shboom for that matter).
It's the Masters!
Difficulty level ranges from peasy to lemon-squeezy. It's easy. It's been laid out for you with instructions and pictures below and on the following pages.
Want a quick and easy way to make watching the Masters even better? It seems impossible but can be done by adding a taste of Augusta by serving up pimento cheese sandwiches. It will be the next best thing to being there.
It's easy and we did all the work testing out a bunch of recipes.
There is something about the pimento sandwich at the Masters that makes it special. If you've been to the Masters and had one, it can evoke euphoric memories of creamy deliciousness on a crisp spring day teamed up with a cold beer. If you've never had a pimento cheese sandwich, it can feel mysterious and oddly unattainable like cold fusion, the perfect swing or finding the g-spot.
Either way, we attempted to recreate the Augusta pimento sandwich here as well as consider a few variations. Before you freak out, it is not blasphemous to try some variations inspired by the pimento sandwich. After all, Tiger has shown us that the journey of the unattainable can be spectacular (in respect of both the swing and the ladies).
TheTeeSheet's Clubhouse Kitchen did some exhaustive testing for you and has come up with some winners and some things to avoid if possible.
WHAT'S A PIMENTO SANDWICH?
First, it is important to realize there is nothing fancy about a pimento sandwich. It is not highbrow food. Not to diminish it, but it's really just a processed cheese and mayo sandwich on factory sliced white bread. People properly marvel at the low prices of the sandwich (and all the concessions) at Augusta in comparison to other sporting events. In the case of the pimento sandwich, the $1.50 price still provides a big margin for the seller. Let's face it, the ingredients are cheap and they do not exactly use food stylists to assemble these babies.
Let's be honest: it ain't pretty. You are at the concession stand of a golf tournament, not suddenly finding yourself with reservations at The French Laundry and scarfing down some Elysian Fields Farm lamb saddle with ricotta tortellini, summer squash, garlic confit, spanish capers and a play of salsa verde (yes, that's a thing).
At the Masters, it's the golf course that is beautiful and precious, not the food. The food is comfort food. The pimento cheese sandwich feels and tastes familiar even if you've never had one before.
Satisfying eating can be more than the ingredients and execution. Context plays a role. It’s what makes a hot dog great at a baseball game, a slice of greasy cheese pizza on the streets of New York delicious, Belgian chip Haagen Dazs in the French Quarter on the streets of Paris feel so cosmopolitan (well, I was young at the time and ultimately discovered Haagen Dazs if from the Bronx), and even salty stale popcorn taste good at the movies.
In the case of the pimento sandwich, any golfer automatically thinks of the Masters. You don't need to even be a golfer to make the connection: the real arbiter of human consciousness (ironically, it's a computer server at Google) tells us the same thing:
Context is meaningful when it comes to how delicious something tastes: both time and place. Time in terms of childhood memories is a big factor. This is why grilled cheese and Campbell’s tomato soup taste so good (and presumably is the only explanation for Vegemite/Marmite to some people – if you don't know what that is, don’t try it. Simply trust everyone who is not from Australia, New Zealand and England). Place can also be significant such as the aforementioned hot dogs at the ballpark, popcorn at the movie theatre and the greasy slice of pizza on the streets of New York.
When it comes to the pimento sandwich – it reflects both time and place. The place is The Masters and Augusta National, arguably the most beautiful golf course in the world. The time is a better time. The Masters is about tradition and history and although we may roll our eyes at the piano music and flowery contrived language, we fall for it every year. From the television coverage, the patrons, mandatory polite behavior, the price of the sandwich – The Masters harkens back to a time in which people, media, players and mistresses were more civil. Whether that time actually existed or not is not the point. The Masters tries to take us to that real, imaginary or fictional time, and feel what it is like to be engulfed by it. It must be the reason a processed cheese/mayo on white bread sandwich can taste so good. As a friend pointed out from his trip to the Masters last year, it also helps if you're starving.
The best pimento sandwich you can make (with our help here) will simply taste better on Sunday afternoon in front of the TV watching the Masters. We've done it.
OUR TEST KITCHEN APPROACH
Let’s separate the idea of the pimento sandwich from the flavor. In terms of flavor and ingredients, we have a pretty good idea because we only need to look at the ingredients listed on the actual Augusta wrapper.
We considered a couple of points upon reviewing the standard ingredients to the Masters pimento sandwich. For our purposes, these are the primary ingredients (we split up the elements of the cheese for the purposes of this list as we will see it practical when we make it):
This is not about being healthy. We're not talking a northeast liberal-effete kale, arugula and parsley pesto sandwich on focaccia. It's a cheese and mayo white-bread sandwich (for many of us, the first time we heard of a mayonnaise sandwich was from someone in a black leather jacket, not a green one).
A closer look at the ingredients for the white bread on the label suggests that it is standard sliced white bread. The ingredients list is not far off from Wonder Bread. Ultimately, the softest white sliced bread (or potato bread we discovered) works best.
The mayonnaise looks like pretty standard mass produced store-bought mayonnaise. It’s not Miracle Whip (which is tangier and has some more spices) or even Kraft mayonnaise that tends to have more spices. It is more akin to Hellman’s mayonnaise but I’m sure a lot of standard store-bought mayonnaise brands will be sufficient. In fact, our local ShopRite brand "real mayonnaise" has an ingredient list which approximates the mayonnaise in the Masters pimento sandwich very closely. It also does not appear to be Southern classic Duke's mayonnaise because the acid in the Masters mayonnaise is lemon juice while Duke's uses distilled and cider vinegar. Any of these should be fine.
Pimentos. What about the pimentos? What are pimentos? If you're not from the American south, you might think they are the little red things in your green olives. You'd be right. A pimento is essentially a mild version of the chili pepper. Pimentos have the lowest rating you can get on the Scoville rating of peppers (a sort of Richter scale for pepper hotness but the damage is limited to your mouth). Bell Peppers come in at zero and pimentos come in between 100-500 (original Tabasco Sauce is 2500-5000, a habanero chili is over 100,000 and if you are interested in occupying Wall St. instead of walking Magnolia Lane, police pepper spray exceeds 2,000,000 on the Scoville scale which made this casually equivalent to about, say 150,000 concentrated pimento sandwiches). This scale from chilipatchusa.com gives you an idea of where the mild pimento sits in the rough and tumble world of chilies.
The point is the pimento is not spicy. It is more there to add the reddish color and a bit of acidity and a bit of sweet. If you can’t find them on your local grocery story shelf, you can add red peppers from a jar (roasted is fine) and a dash of Frank’s Red hot or two to provide the a little heat. Red Hot on the Scoville scale is about 450 so its heat level is more like a pimento than Tabasco. I also find Red Hot a bit sweeter si it's more inline with what we are trying to get at. Tabasco is also probably fine if that is all you have handy. Even though you don't add much, the hot sauce turned out to be very helpful.
Cheese. You can be a cheese snob but keep in mind the first goal is to try to replicate The Masters version. I understand there are thousands of delicious cheeses (including those that relate to time and place) and many classic recipes on how to make proper pimento cheese in the South. The one at the Masters appears to use processed American and processed Swiss cheese. This should be pretty easy to get at the deli counter of your local supermarket. White or yellow American cheese is fine but pick yellow -- it gives the color more akin to the real thing. American cheese (it is not technically cheese and by definition is processed) does not have a particularly strong flavor - some say none. But it tends to be crumbly and creamier (more than the Swiss) which is key to the sandwich and the creamy texture. Processed swiss cheese tends to be a bit waxier so you can shred it pretty fine. In this case, it is better to buy a chunk of processed swiss and shred it yourself. If your shredder gives you big pieces (i.e. half-almond size or bigger), you can chop them a bit finer on the cutting board with your knife. Tip: it is easier to shred the cheese just out of the refrigerator while it is cold so it will clump less. Also, once shredded, don't let it get too warm on the counter because the shredded pieces will start to stick together. Shred once you are ready to make the spread. For the American cheese as much, if you buy some sliced thin from your grocery deli-counter, it will be easy to chop up small. The super-processed stuff like Velveeta or Kraft Singles are a little too soft for this sandwich so if you don't have American yellow cheese handy, a mild cheddar will be fine. We ultimately used processed American sliced thin by the supermarket deli and then diced finely at home before preparation.
That's the context . Let's get started. We tried to break down our experiments as follows:
The results and recipes are on the following pages.