The hunt to find festive cheer between two slices

It may only be November but with the onslaught of newly launched tv ads, the countdown to Christmas has begun, in earnest. Although with the leaves still clinging on tightly to the trees, it barely looks autumnal outside and seems a bit early to be thinking about mince pies and cosy log fires. Nonetheless, pre-orders for Christmas foods and delivery slots have reportedly sold out at several leading supermarkets leading many people to panic buy for a meal more than a month away. Whether this mad rush to be ready in time for the holidays has been influenced by last year’s largely cancelled Covid Christmas or by today’s unrelenting shipping delays that now also threaten late presents as Brexit takes back control, there is no avoiding the chaos. But at least while you try to source the last remaining turkey in the UK you can enjoy the unveiling of festive cheer between two slices with the commencement of Christmas sandwich season.

You may remember that just like the Grinch, Covid stole every last crumb of joy of the 2020 Christmas sandwich season but it has returned again with a vengeance. In fact, it is now supersized. This season every supermarket, café and sandwich shop around has introduced an even larger festive range for sandwich connoisseurs making 2021 a bumper year for holiday sandwich choices. This year’s competition is as fierce as ever and early indications show that the retailers are following some definite sandwich trends. They can be largely summed up as being Vegan-licious, Percy Pig and Rogue-Outlier.

Vegan-licious is clearly the top sandwich theme of 2021 as most retailers have focused on expanding their vegetarian and vegan Christmas sandwich ranges far beyond the classic but lazy options of ‘brie and cranberry’ or ‘vegan ploughman’s with Christmas chutney’. Which is a relief because having more Christmas sandwich choices means that you are no longer forced to take your chances in vegan ‘cheese’ roulette. Although this doesn’t mean that you won’t still be taking a gamble on some of the other festive fare on offer.

This year, many retailers have put all their money and efforts on veganising the traditional turkey sandwich made with Christmas leftovers by creating some vegan turkey-like alternatives. Starting with Asda and Marks and Spencer, their vegan sandwiches contain processed soya ‘turkey’ substitutes which are added to the usual familiar festive filling ingredients such as cranberry sauce and roast veg in their respective Vegan ‘No Turkey’ wrap and Plant Kitchen No Turkey Feast sandwich. The jury is out on how successful the no-turkey is going down with flexitarian punters and if the figures are showing that there really is a market for vegans who want to chomp down on fake animal meat.

Marks and Spencer also offer a beef alternative Christmas sandwich using processed ‘no-beef’ slices in their No-Beef Welly. The ‘no-beef’ is layered with mushroom duxelle, pickled veg and mustard mayo. Of course, the elephant-shaped sandwich in the room is that it does not actually contain any pastry despite it being an essential ingredient of any bog-standard beef Wellington. The sandwich misnomer also thankfully, does not include any welly. But does the No-Beef No-Welly taste like Christmas?

Following M&S’s lead, Tesco has also tried to redefine the concept of a Christmas sandwich in their holiday Wicked Kitchen Turkey Cali Wrap. Tesco uses textured processed plant protein to make no-turkey tenders which are slathered with pesto mayo and wrapped with pickled red onions. Like the name, the wrap is very sunny Californian and not the least bit Christmassy. And eating it is only going to make you dream about summer holidays rather than conjure up images of snowy days and sleigh bells ringing.

Luckily, Tesco hasn’t completely lost the Christmas sandwich plot in their vegan sandwich range with their Plant Chef Root Veg & Chestnut Wrap. This festive wrap is made with roasted root vegetables, crunchy chestnuts and cranberry sauce and packed into a vibrant beetroot tortilla. Morrisons has also met the bar of sandwiching Christmas flavours with their Merry Vegan Vegetable sandwich made with parsnip houmous, pickled red cabbage and festive chutney. But for those who really want to push out the boat this year and celebrate Christmas in a sandwich, then look no further than to our last two contenders. Admittedly, this year Waitrose’s vegan sandwich option sounds more New Year’s Eve indulgent than yuletide. Even so, it’s likely that you still won’t mind tucking into their No Lobster Marie Rose Roll made with roasted king oyster mushroom, vegan Marie Rose sauce, semi-dried tomato, and lovage. However, all bets are on Sainsbury’s being crowned this year’s big vegan winner with their Rudolph’s Night Before Christmas Feast Sandwich. The Feast contains a fresh carrot and root vegetable patty, glazed carrot ribbons, umami caramelised carrot chutney and (drumroll, please) it comes in a star-shaped roll! How can you possibly top that?

Well, for the non-veggies, retailers have tried. Although you would be hard-pressed to not find a large variety of traditional Christmas turkey sandwiches from any outlet throughout Christmas sandwich season, this year you will also face an even larger selection of sandwiches from the second biggest theme. Percy Pig is absolutely massive this season and so, too, is eating him in the sandwich Battle of Pigs Under Blankets. Beginning with Tesco, their holiday Pigs Under Blankets sandwich is exactly what you would expect to find in a Meal-Deal favourite. It’s a no-nonsense sub roll stuffed with pork sausage, mayonnaise, sweetcure bacon, sage and onion stuffing and cranberry sauce with sage and dried fried onion. Morrisons’ Pigs Under Blankets Baguette is almost identical to Tesco’s basic sub because why reinvent the sandwich wheel? However, Morrisons has upped the stakes slightly by sandwiching the pigs in the superior bread choice of a fresh baguette. Classy. Waitrose, on the other hand, has followed tradition in their Christmas Pigs Under Blankets by sticking with the standard filling ingredients but as you would expect, they go even more upmarket by using cranberry and redcurrant chutney and sandwiching the pigs in malted bread. Marks and Spencer have seen Waitrose’s sandwich and raised the stakes again in another attempt to outdo their nemesis through their classic Pigs Under Blankets sandwich. M&S’s includes outdoor-bred pork sausage and bacon, gravy-style mayo, sage, port and red onion chutney and caramelised onions between slices of their malted bread.

However, in what some would call a very gutsy move, Sainsbury’s has met the likes of Waitrose and M&S in their bread choice and but have decided to forgo their upmarket ingredients and stick to the classics with one big exception. They have added even more Christmas flavour by sneaking some turkey into their Turkey & Pigs Under Blankets Christmas Sandwich. Which means that their sandwich will attract both turkey and sausage aficionados, alike. Genius.

Although some would say that by including a turkey outlier in their piggy sandwich Sainsbury’s should be kicked out of the Pigs Under Blankets competition. But in life you need to pick your battles carefully and there are much worse examples out there. In fact, this year’s final sandwich theme of Rogue-Outlier brings back many haunting memories of Sandwichgate 2015, when Tesco tried to pass off a chocolate and cherry mascarpone monstrosity as a Christmas sandwich causing a social media meltdown. Since then, no one has dared to make the mistake of combining Christmas ingredients in unorthodox mash-ups in a sandwich, at least commercially. It would be completely reckless and seen as a desperate cry for help. Instead, retailers have tried to bring in a new element to the competition by introducing some new holiday Rogue-Outliers to plant in the Christmas sandwich aisles. But the important distinction that sets these imposters apart is that they are not even Christmas sandwiches!

You would think that with this year’s success, Sainsbury’s could do no wrong in their Christmas sandwich spread. But look a bit closer among their Christmas selection and you will find a blatant Rogue-Outlier in the shape of Mince Pie Flavoured Porridge. What’s it even doing shelved next to rest of the Christmas sandwiches? Is it a breakfast? Is it a lunch? I’ll tell you what it isn’t and that’s a Christmas sandwich! Next up, we come to Pret a Manger who offer several Christmas sandwiches, paninis, baguettes and wraps this season. You would think that with this amount of variety they’ve got Christmas sandwich season covered. But it’s not enough for them because nestled innocently among their holiday sarnies is a very rogue Christmas stuffing Mac ‘n’ Cheese! Yes, you read that right. Christmas stuffing inside some Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Not a Christmas sandwich and obviously, just completely wrong.

Last but not least, this very controversial entry and Rogue-Outlier extraordinaire is brought to us this year by Heinz. Although technically it doesn’t sit alongside the Christmas sandwiches, it is still a rogue contender in this year’s sandwich stakes. Because thanks to Covid, many people still work from home at least part of the time. Heinz has come out with a limited edition Christmas Dinner Big Soup. And it really is exactly what it says on the tin, containing turkey, stuffing, chunky potatoes, brussels sprouts and even pigs in blankets. Even though it is not even a Christmas sandwich, it has been snatched up so quickly that despite customers being limited to purchasing 4 tins at a time, it has already sold out.

So there you have it, a quick glance at some of the best (and maybe worst) of 2021 Christmas sandwich season. But if you still have an appetite for even more festive cheer between two slices, there is a Christmas Sandwich Festival taking place in Covent Garden from 15-24 November.

In the meantime, without a turkey I cannot yet make a traditional sandwich so here is a recipe for another veggie option that makes great leftovers to sandwich with. This Festive chestnut and cranberry nut roast is so good you can eat it hot or cold.

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