If you’re planning to serve a proper English tea to Mom on Mother’s Day, you really must include cucumber sandwiches—I think there may be a law! The premise of a cucumber sandwich is to nestle the thinnest possible slices of cucumber between two thin slices of bread. The sandwich must be constructed so as to allow the eater to enjoy it without having slices of cucumber squidge out and land in their lap. This is easily accomplished with some planning. Here’s what you need:
Bread: The traditional sandwich is made with thinly sliced white bread—I recommend Pepperidge Farms Very Thin Sliced white. Thinly sliced wheat bread works as well; rye will overpower the flavor of cucumbers.
Bread spread: The traditional spread is unsalted butter (salted butter is fine). Other possibilities are cream cheese and Boursin or other soft spreadable cheese; these may anchor the cucumber slices more firmly than butter. Cucumbers are mostly water and no matter how well you blot them, they can still be fairly moist. A layer of butter on both slices of bread will protect against soggy sandwiches.
Cucumber: I use English (Burpless) cucumbers. These tend to be milder than regular supermarket cukes. If you’re growing your own and can pick them at the prime of ripeness, those would be even better. I peel the cucumbers that go into my sandwiches because most commercial cukes in the US are waxed. On one hand, leaving the peels on can be pretty in a sandwich; on the other hand, peels can be hard to chew and detract from ease of eating. Your call.
Method: The best method for acquiring paper-thin slices of cucumber is to use a gadget called a mandolin, a manual slicer that has an adjustable blade. You can try using a food processor, but you probably won’t be able to slice them thinly enough; same goes for your box grater. Don’t have a mandolin? Try using a potato peeler—you won’t get round slices, but you will get thin slices that you can use for sandwiches. Whichever way you choose to slice them, you will need to blot the cucumbers well with lots of paper towels. This may take more than one round of blotting. The drier the slices, the more likely they are to stay put when you’ve made your sandwiches.
Spread a thin layer of butter (or your choice of spread) on each slice of bread. Place cucumber slices on bread, overlapping them to cover the bread. Sprinkle cukes with salt and white pepper (if you have it). Place another buttered slice on top and press lightly. At this point, you can chill the sandwiches until it’s time to serve them—wrap them in plastic wrap, place in a rigid container, cover with a moist paper towel and cover the container. This will keep sandwiches fresh for several hours. When you’re ready to serve, cut the crusts off each sandwich and then cut the sandwich into desired shape (rectangles or triangles). Arrange on plates and serve.
Before I got a mandolin, I often used a recipe I found in The National Trust and West Country Tourist Board’s Book of Afternoon Tea (out of print). I figured, hey! It’s a British book, so it counts as British Cucumber Sandwiches, right? In this method, the cucumbers are peeled, the seeds scooped out with a spoon and the remaining flesh grated on the coarser blades of a box grater. This method requires lots of blotting, but the shreds stay on the bread quite well. Follow the directions above for sliced cucumber sandwiches. There’s no difference in taste—just a bit difference in texture.