When the kids start to get hungry on a long road trip and the next (good) exit is miles away, or when a ravenous crowd piles into a beach house but the grill hasn’t even been lit, the guy who packed a container full of finger sandwiches is suddenly everyone’s favorite. Perfectly portioned for on-the-go eating, these staple Southern salads are quick to make, easy to pack and sure to please a crowd of any age. MB asked four local cooks for their perfect finger sandwich spreads. With summer weekends now on the horizon, there’s
no better time to plan a trip and pack the cooler. As the old saying goes,
“Have sandwich, will travel.”
Jessica Rae Barnhill’s Mexican Tuna Salad
Before Jessica Rae Barnhill placed the fan-favorite Mexican tuna salad on the menu at Rae’s Kitchen, she enjoyed the family recipe in a few of her mom’s restaurants. “We developed it for the [Rae’s Kitchen] menu, but my mom had been making it for many years before Rae’s,” she says. With a couple of Barnhill’s tweaks for the Fairhope restaurant, the salad is a popular item on the lunch menu, served as a regular sandwich or a warm tuna melt with Swiss cheese and jalapeno jelly. Customers also love to grab a tub from the cooler. The addition of cilantro, onion and tomato jazzes up the recipe, and a splash of lime juice adds a delicate brightness. “It’s just really flavorful,” she says. “And it’s so light.” A forever summer staple in Barnhill’s own family, the Mexican tuna salad goes well in sandwiches for boat days or packed in the car on road trips, served with crackers as a dip for the beach and added on top of salads for a low-prep summertime dinner. “It’s just so easy.”
Rae’s Kitchen Mexican Tuna Salad
Makes 10 sandwiches
3 12-ounce cans white albacore tuna in water
1 Roma tomato, diced
1/4 red onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped (about 1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon Lawry’s seasoned salt
1 tablespoon coarse black pepper
Juice of 2 limes (about 1/2 cup)
1/2 cup heavy-duty mayonnaise
20 slices white bread
1. Drain tuna and, using your hands, squeeze out any excess juice. Transfer to a mixing bowl and crumble with the tines of a fork until tuna is in even pieces.
2. Add diced tomato, onion, cilantro, red pepper, Lawry’s seasoning and black pepper.
3. Add lime juice into the mixing bowl. Blend in the mayonnaise and mix, adding additional mayonnaise as needed.
4. Serve as a sandwich on white bread or as a dip with crackers of your choice.
Mimi Fowlkes’ Pimento Cheese
Mimi Fowlkes loves spending time in the kitchen of her Government Street condo. One of her favorite things to make is her pimento cheese, which she’s been experimenting with since she was a teenager. “I call it ‘College Cheese’ because I first made it alongside my suitemate in college,” she says. With a few tweaks throughout the years (Fowlkes likes it with just a bit more spice), it’s the first recipe she makes for a big event, be it a celebration or a crisis. She may bring accompanying fried chicken if the occasion warrants. Regardless, pimento cheese is always there. “It may not be the time for fried chicken, but it’s always the time for pimento cheese,” she says. Fowlkes has her recipe down to a science, with each ingredient tested for best taste and texture. The pimento cheese makes frequent appearances in sandwiches on beach trips and in insulated bowls on hot, poolside days. She even heats it in the winter and mixes it in scrambled eggs and grits the next day. “The stuff is super versatile.”
Mimi’s Pimento Cheese
Makes 8 sandwiches
2 ounces or a scant 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
7-ounce jar diced pimentos
8 ounces extra sharp cheddar cheese*
8 ounces Vermont white cheddar cheese
3 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 sweet white onion, hand grated (measures 2 tablespoons with its juice)
4 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise**
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon grated cayenne pepper
16 slices white bread, such as Pepperidge Farm sliced sandwich bread
Optional appetizer topping:
6 tablespoons red pepper jelly
8 pieces thinly sliced bacon, cooked and crumbled
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place chopped pecans on a sheetpan and put in oven until toasted, about 10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to toast evenly.
2. Drain pimentos over the sink using a fine colander, carefully pressing out the liquid. Place in a bowl and set aside.
3. In a large bowl, grate the cheddar cheeses using the large holes of a hand grater.
4. Fold in cream cheese and pimentos just until combined. Do not combine pimentos with mayonnaise, they will turn mayonnaise pink. Set aside.
5. In a separate smaller bowl, combine onion with juices, mayonnaise, sugar, pecans and cayenne pepper.
6. Fold mixture into the large bowl of cheese until combined. Retain texture, don’t overmix.
7. Chill 4 hours or overnight.
To serve as an appetizer:
1. Heat the pepper jelly in the microwave for 30 seconds, or until melted.
2. Stir bacon into the pepper jelly.
3. When ready to serve, spoon cheese into a serving bowl or spread onto a platter. Pour the jelly mixture on top and garnish with chives. Serve with crackers, celery sticks or cucumber slices.
To serve as a sandwich:
1. Spread jelly-bacon mixture onto one slice of bread and pimento cheese on the other slice.
2. Close and slice. Roll the sides in chopped pecans, if desired.
* Mimi prefers Cracker Barrel cheeses, and always keep them well chilled until grating so they hold their texture.
** Mimi uses Duke’s mayonnaise.
Julie Moore’s Chicken Salad
Born and raised in Mobile, Julie Moore has fond memories of helping her grandmother in the kitchen. Her grandmother was a gifted cook and eating her chicken salad was a core childhood memory. Although the craving for chicken salad rubbed off on Moore, the love of cooking didn’t quite follow. “I don’t like to cook, I have never liked to cook, I never will like to cook,” the now-retired former co-owner of Claude Moore Jeweler proclaims. But, as an adult, she decided she’d like to make Nana’s chicken salad. The problem was, Nana didn’t write down a recipe. She simply followed her intuition and came out with a perfect dish every time. So, Moore set to work, testing out different recipes and ratios until her chicken salad tasted like Nana’s. She eventually wrote out the measurements at the request of a family friend. The simple chicken salad is a must on hot days spent at the family’s river house on Fowl River. It is customizable to personal taste, with some of Moore’s family adding pecans or Vidalia onions. “It’s easy to make, so I don’t have to spend a whole lot of time in the kitchen doing it,” she laughs.
Julie’s Chicken Salad
Makes 8 sandwiches
3 large boneless chicken breasts
2/3 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
1 teaspoon celery salt
3/4 cup mayonnaise
16 slices white bread
1. Fill pot with water and place on high heat. Once water comes to a boil, add chicken breasts and reduce to a low simmer. Cook until tender and no longer pink in the center, about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from pot and place on a cutting board to cool.
2. In a food processor, add chopped celery and onion. Pulse until finely chopped. Remove vegetables to a large bowl and set aside.
3. Once chicken has cooled, cut meat into chunks and place one chicken breast at a time in the food processor, pulsing until meat is finely chopped and no large chunks remain. Remove each processed breast to the vegetable bowl while you repeat with the next.
4. Once all chicken is combined with vegetables, add celery salt and mayonnaise and stir to combine.
5. Serve immediately as a dip or on sandwich bread, or refrigerate for an hour to develop flavors.
Cheryl Fields’ Egg Salad
Cheryl Fields always liked egg salad growing up and discovered a love of cooking for others when she got older. The staple she enjoyed when she was little became a lunchtime favorite for her own daughters growing up. “It’s something I threw together to make sandwiches for my girls when they were little,” she says. “They liked it, so we just made it.” She now makes it for her five grandkids in Mobile when they come to visit her in Midtown or brings it to one of her daughter’s houses for a pool day. Before she wrote down specific measurements, Fields’ egg salad recipe was equal parts memory and intuition. Her sandwiches suit just about any situation — cut into quarters, insert a toothpick, and they are the perfect lunch for bridge. Pack them in a reusable container, and they pair flawlessly with the sandy coasts and clear water of a summer beach visit, which she embarks on whenever she gets a chance. She keeps the recipe basic but isn’t afraid to occasionally add capers or pickled jalapenos to jazz it up. “You can really do anything to it that you want to,” she says.
Makes 8 sandwiches
10 large hard-boiled eggs
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 teaspoons yellow mustard
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Salt, to taste
16 slices white bread
1. In a bowl, chop eggs or mash with the tines of a fork until evenly crumbled.
2. Add all other ingredients to the bowl and mix.
3. Spread filling onto bread and serve.
** Jazz it up: This basic egg salad recipe can be easily customized to your preference. Add some spice with pickled jalapenos and a dash of cayenne, lighten it up with chopped pickles and capers or stir in green onions and herbs.
- Cut it out: To make finger sandwiches, cut bread into rectangles or triangles and serve with the crusts off. You can get creative with a cookie cutter to make more fun shapes.
- Good to know: Prep your bread For sog-free sandwiches. Spread a thin layer of butter or mayonnaise on the slice before filling, creating a barrier between the bread and filling for fresh sandwiches every time.
- Easy travel: Layer sandwiches with sheets of wax paper to minimize mess and pack in reusable containers for easy stacking in the cooler.
- Keep covered: Cover the sandwiches with a damp paper towel to help keep the bread moist and soft until ready to serve.