Deli men, like fate and the distant stars, cause me profound frustration. They are agents as beyond my control as any cosmic force, working indifferently, just a few feet away where I can’t get at them. The deli man does everything wrong. He shoves cold lumps of hard butter on toast, if he bothers to toast the bread at all. He slaps the greasy bacon down on umelted, waxy cheese. He takes a sandwich with a crisp roll and wraps it up in five layers of wax paper, foil, and plastic. (They love to wrap things up. Wrapping things up is the high point of the deli man’s routine.). How often I have seethed impotently at the deli case, glowering mutely, as the man worked away, as if he had a mind of his own. I wanted Total Control! And instead my desires were as irrelevant, as far he was concerned, as the desires of the wrapped hams and rectangular cheeses in the case that separated us.
So, I’ve made a decision to liberate myself from the tyranny of the deli men. I am going to make my own bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches. I hate that it’s come to this. The ability to buy a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich, along with a cup of coffee and the NY Post, always struck me as one of the defining features of my civilization. In the big, isolated, depressing houses of suburbia, they have huge refrigerators filled with Brown and Serve sandwiches and frozen Lender’s Bagels, but here you could walk a few steps and conjure up a heavenly breakfast sandwich out of the urban ether. But it can’t be terrible. It can’t have unmelted cheese. OK, I am getting carried away.
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The point is that the sandwich isn’t an easy or a convenient one to make. You have a cup with eggs mixed up in them, a fork dripping with sticky yolk, a plate covered with greasy paper napkins, no place to lay down your spatula, itself a greasy and unwieldy tool. And that is to say nothing of two pans (one for bacon, one for eggs), a box of eggs that you left laying out, slices of American cheese, which you first have to separate and painstakingly peel, before laying them, too late, on the egg - and so on. The place is a disaster area. I haven’t even gotten to the roll or bagel or toast, with its serrated knife, its crumbles, its stiff butter on its plastic boat. It’s just overwhelming. The cockpit of a Boeing 767 would be no more intimidating when I’m hungry, hung over, and impatient to eat.
So how do you do it easily, with a minimum of physical cacophany? Here’s how.
- Lay six to eight slices of bacon in a backing pan, and put the pan in a 375-degree oven
- Start making coffee. You’ll need it. It will also help to occupy you while you wait for the bacon to cook.
- Put out a cutting board. Lay a slice of cheese there. Put a plate with paper towels on one burner and a pan on the other. Get out a spatula.
- But a bagel or bread in the oven with the bacon. If you have a toaster, toast it. If you don’t want to bother toasting it, congratulations! You have what it takes to be a New York deli man.
- Break one egg in a coffee cup. Beat it up; thrown the fork in the sink.
- Drink your coffee. Pull your bread. You’re almost there!
- When the bacon is ready, which is to say firm but not brittle, set the pan down on one or both of the back burners. Transfer the bacon to that little plate with the paper towel. Break it up into pieces. Wash your hands. (Do you see how complicated this is? Even I am getting overhelmed as I write it. )
- Drizzle a spoon of the bacon fat on a pan, and heat the pan to medium. If you have some kind of problem with bacon fat, you can use butter.
- Drip a little egg into the hot fat. If it starts to sizzle and coagulate, add the rest, slowly, so that it doesn’t spill out and cover the whole pan. Ideally, you’d like it to say sandwich-sized. When you’re done pouring, put the cup in the sink.
- Salt and pepper the egg as it cooks, if you want. Once it’s pretty much set, with grody-looking uncooked yolk on top, flip it.
- The second it is flipped, lay the cheese on top. Pile all the bacon on top of it. Some will fall off. That’s OK. That’s your dessert.
- You might want to drizzle some bacon fat on the bagel at this point. Or maybe even blot it wholesale.
- With your spatula, lift the egg/cheese/bacon pile onto the bread. Replace pieces of bacon that fell out. Press the sandwich down hard with your flat palm to compress the contents. Consume.
- Repeat as needed.
I want you to pin this routine on your refrigerator. When you have done it as many times as I have, it will have become an effortless habit, like despising the deli man, or driving in city traffic.