Tom Colicchio's Sauce Tip To Balance Sandwiches With Heavy Ingredients

Tom Colicchio knows a thing or two about sandwiches. Years before he gained fame as a judge on Bravo-TV's hit show, "Top Chef," the award-winning chef, author, and television personality was turning heads with his simple approach to the art of sandwich-making. It's a philosophy that has served him well. Two years after opening his first restaurant, New York City's Craft, in 2001, Colicchio partnered with Chef Sisha Ortuzar, to open Wichcraft. Colicchio and Ortuzar grew the widely acclaimed sandwich-centric eatery to 15 locations before shuttering the business in 2022 — a casualty of the global pandemic that rooted the restaurant industry. During its heyday, Colicchio shared a few of his signature sandwich-making tips with Delish: "Think of balancing flavors. If all the ingredients you are using are rich or heavy, consider using a little vinegar or some spicy peppers as a flavor accent."

It's a philosophy Colicchio has long embraced. Consider this take on a simple grilled cheese sandwich. The creation Colicchio demonstrated on "The Today Show" in 2007 is an updated version of an age-old classic. Colicchio upped the ante by bringing in the earthy flavors of rye bread and the umami tones of warm caramelized onions to balance the rich character of the cheese. He spread the onions between two layers of cheese and then popped the stack into a panini press. About that stack? The placement of the caramelized onions between the cheese was by no means random. This brings us to another Colicchio caveat on the art of sandwich-making: architectural integrity.

Build a better sandwich

"The architecture of a sandwich is as important as what you put in it," Colicchio told the Longview News-Journal in 2017. "I think there's an actual science behind building the better sandwich." To that end, the James Beard Award-winning chef suggests starting with dry and heavy ingredients, like cheese. Next up: Fresh toppings like lettuce and tomato. Finally, spread condiments on the inside of the top slice of bread before crowning your creation. What about messy ingredients like roasted vegetables and relishes? Colicchio advises lightly toasting the inner-facing side of each bread slice prior to initiating the build. That's right. Something as simple as a light toast on the inside of the bread will stave off the sog factor just long enough to enjoy the stack without dripping condiments. Another method? Opt for heavier breads like ciabatta.

Above all else, Colicchio — a lifelong fan of the liverwurst and onion sandwiches he grew up eating — says up-and-coming sandwich masters should trust their instincts. "Create and customize sandwiches to fit your and your family's palettes, not what the latest trends tell you to eat," he told the Longview News-Journal. "At the same time, don't be afraid to experiment. One of the best things about sandwiches is the endless potential to create something new and delicious. If an experiment doesn't work out, you can always try again tomorrow."