101 ways with a baguette #4: The Jambon Beurre

??????????????????????????????? Now the French like to pour scorn on British food at every opportunity, turning their noses up at suggestions that it is actually quite good I think you’ll find, whilst extolling the virtues and sheer superiority of their home country’s equivalent. Yes yes, we know that French gastronomy takes some beating and that its worldwide reputation is as easy to bring down as it is the National Front party (ooh, political).

But you can forget your elaborate sauces and posh peasant food that takes blinking ages on the stove to get right (beef boring-yawn anyone?), there’s little the French enjoy more than a moment of sheer simplicity. The English might revel in a pair of teeth sunk enthusiastically in a cheese and pickle sandwich, but over here where it’s a case of ‘between two slices of bread’, only ham and butter will do.

You could be forgiven for thinking that to enjoy good food in Paris, you need to spend a fortune in an independent traiteur or delicatessen. Sure, you can pick up a nice basket-full of foie gras, caviar, vinegars that cost more per bottle than Chanel perfume, and bread with an eye-watering price tag. But one of the things I love about being in France is the unapologetic worship of the simplest foods on the pile.

The humble jambon beurre is nothing short of a national institution, revered almost as much as the baguette itself. It’s apparently eight times more popular than the hamburger, and those who have dined out in brasseries lately know just how ubiquitous those foreign imports are on every menu in town. And the growing national trend of the forsaking the traditional two-hour wine-lubricated lunch break in favour of desk-based dining, means that the sandwich is now the go-to midday choice, with the plain old ‘ham butter’ being the most popular choice.

But this isn’t a case of slapping the first piece of water-injected value brand ham into the margarine coated slot of a day old baguette. Even the simplest ingredients demand a connoisseur’s nose and to experience the humble dish at its very best some of that fancy AOC butter with salt in it goes down especially well, topped off with a slice of farmer’s market ham and a carefully chosen bio baguette.

And ta-da! A lunchtime luxury for a few euros that could knock a plate of foie gras right out of the park (baguettes as weapons and sports equipment coming up in a future 100 ways with a baguette post, I promise).