The Classic French Sandwich That's Literally Just Ham And Butter

There's more to French food than just haute cuisine. Although a surplus of ingredients and fancy techniques can yield culinary masterpieces, according to Escoffier, a handful of high-quality ingredients can function just the same. Highlighting wholesome ingredients and letting flavor speak for itself, the French jambon-beurre or Parisien (per Vice) is the ultimate expression of "less is more."

Like the perfect piece of buttered toast or basic fried egg, nothing beats a sandwich that's frill-free. At its core, the jambon-beurre is made with only three ingredients: bread, butter, and ham. However, not just any bread, butter, or ham should be used — quality is key. Following a recipe shared by NYT Cooking, a proper Parisien should be made by slicing an artisanal French baguette (ideally, freshly baked or toasted) lengthwise, and spreading a thick layer of high-fat, salted French butter onto the bread, followed by a few layers of silky Jambon de Paris, a French-style, wet-cured ham.

Although you could take some creative liberties and add a swipe of zesty mustard or a couple of crunchy cornichons, purists will insist the sandwich doesn't need anything else. However, given its seeming lack of complexity, it's fair to wonder why the jambon-beurre has remained one of France's must-try dishes.

A historically delicious and fuss-free nibble

The jambon-beurre is widely accessible in France, whether you stop by a boulangerie, café, street vendors, or even buy the proper ingredients to make one at home. With over 1.2 billion sandwiches sold in 2018 alone (via the BBC), the Parisien has proven to have staying power over the years. But, what exactly makes this simply stuffed baguette so special?

If nothing more, the sandwich is delicious. A perfect balance of taste and textures, Saveur explains that mildly sweet and creamy butter compliments the salty, umami-riddled cured ham, all while being embraced in a soft and yeasty perfectly baked baguette that crackles between your teeth with each bite. If it sounds like the stuff of poetry, that's because it is edible poetry.

In addition to its rich and complex flavors, the ham-and-buttered-bread sandwich is also easy and quick to both make and eat. According to The French Life, a version of the three-ingredient sandwich was a typical lunch for the working class as it provided nourishment in an easy-to-travel format. With the passage of time, industrialization and competition from fast food joints have threatened the status of jambon-beurre, but Vice explains that many remain captivated by the classic, partly due to childhood nostalgia and partly due to its place in the country's culinary heritage.