Between a rock and a hot plate

The modern mom finds comfort in pressed sandwiches

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Pressed duck sandwich (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune / April 27, 2010)

The modern mom cares for her children, incessantly. And for her parents, intermittently. Sometimes she tends to both child and parent, at home and abroad, at the same time.

The sociologist likens her condition to that of a sandwich. Not a sandwich in the sense of easy and easily portable. A sandwich in the sense of squeezed from two sides.

She feels no kinship with the picnic-ready lobster roll, all seafaring and buoyant. She finds herself fascinated by the layered, slathered, grilled contraption that owes its crust to time served between a rock and a hot place. She is a pressed sandwich. Perhaps an oppressed sandwich. Occasionally a depressed sandwich.

And yet, impressive.

Consider the exterior. The ordinary PB&J or egg salad on whole wheat goes soft and squishy in the housing. Not so the grilled cheese, panino, Cuban or pressed smoked duck with arugula and Manchego. Such a sandwich may initially rely on the tender roll or sliced white. But as soon as it's called up for service, it takes heat from the griddle, grill or skillet while enduring the weight of the press, brick, pot or heavy hand. It comes out of the pan golden brown, cheese crusted, nearly charred. And all the better for it.

Inside, the pressed sandwich is warmer than its cold compatriot. It's empathetic. And good company. Even in pressing circumstances.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor.

Pressed sandwich

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

1 small (1/2 pound) smoked duck breast, see note

1 handful baby arugula

1 tablespoon chopped red onion

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 pound Manchego (or other soft sheep's milk) cheese

1 (24-inch) baguette

2 tablespoons cherry preserves

1 Render: Pull fat off the duck breast; chop finely. Cast fatty bits into a large cast-iron skillet set over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring regularly, until fat coats pan and bits have turned crunchy brown, 10 minutes. Set pan aside.

2 Season: Scoop crunchy bits into a bowl. Toss with arugula, red onion and salt and pepper to taste.

3 Slice: Carve duck meat into eight thin slices. Slice cheese into eight thin strips. Cut baguette into four 6-inch lengths. Slice each in half horizontally. Open and pull out much of the bread's soft middle (save it for crumb duty).

4 Compose: Spread bread sparingly with cherry preserves. Layer onto the bottom halves: cheese, duck, arugula mix, duck, cheese. Top with cherry-spread tops. Squish.

5 Grill: Heat duck-fat coated skillet over medium-high heat. Add sandwiches. Weigh them down with another skillet, a full tea kettle or other heavy object. Toast until bread is crispy and cheese melted, 2 minutes per side. Slice sandwiches in half on the diagonal.

Provenance: Shamelessly adapted from

Note: Often stocked in the sausage section. French importer D'Artagnan's version can be found at many markets and online. Otherwise, substitute smoked turkey breast and use olive oil for duck fat.
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