After Visiting Paris, I Can’t Stop Putting Butter on My Sandwiches
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There are far worse problems to have than being a hungry tourist in Paris. However, after six hours of walking the city, fueled only by the remnants of my morning croissant and too much caffeine, my May 2023 girls’ trip had taken a turn from delightful to dire. Low on energy, patience, and the joie de vivre I was trying so hard to embody, I knew I had to act fast.
Inside the Rue du Bac location of Maison Eric Kayser, one of Paris’ most ubiquitous boulangerie chains, I stared down display case after display case of carby bonnes bouches. I’m not proud to admit this, but I was so hungry, I didn’t even bother reading the name of the sandwiches. I quickly pointed to a baguette and said, “That one, s’il vous plaît.”
Once I took a bite, my hunger dissipated — and my curiosity spiked. The crusty bread and salty French ham tasted familiarly piquant, but something else lurked in this sandwich, something creamy and ever-so-slightly sweet. Was it some sort of soft cheese? I took another investigative taste. No, it was butter! Thick, chilled butter that filled every nook and cranny of the baguette. With each bite, I became more intrigued.
Was this a special kind of snack, or do the French usually put butter on their sandwiches? The answer, which I discovered from Google the moment I found a strong-enough WiFi signal, was the latter. What I’d gleefully devoured was in fact one of the country’s most iconic sandwiches, the jambon-beurre (literally meaning “ham butter” in French). But it’s not just ham that gets the butter treatment; many baguette sandwiches come smeared with the condiment. It makes sense: Bread and butter are French staples, so why not add some meat and call it a meal?
I was so enchanted by this culinary revelation, I couldn’t let it go even after I returned home.
Why I Love Putting Butter on My Sandwiches
I’m a mayonnaise girl through and through (I even use it for my grilled cheeses), so I never thought butter would replace mayo on my sandwiches. Surprisingly, in the weeks since my return from Paris, I’ve begun crafting some of my sandwiches à la française.
For me, the two condiments aren’t interchangeable — mayo is tangy and wet, while butter is rich and silky — so what I spread depends on what I’m in the mood for. If I want something comforting and familiar, especially if I want to add cheese, veggies, and even potato chips, I’ll still reach for Hellmann’s. But if I want something simpler, lighter, and more elevated, I’m putting butter on my sandwich.
Of course, so much of what makes French food great is the quality of its ingredients. Even the butter is held to a higher standard: While American butter legally must contain at least 80% butterfat, the minimum fat content for French butter is 82% — and if you’ve ever compared the different fat percentages of dairy milk, you know how much of a difference that 2% can make.
It took me a couple of recon missions, but I finally found French butter at my nearby Whole Foods. The brand I found, Isigny Ste Mère, is a French dairy co-op from the Isigny region, where quality butter has been made for centuries. While the brand’s salted butter recently went viral on TikTok for its sheer deliciousness, I find the unsalted version better suited to sandwiches that typically feature already-salty meats.
How to Make a Sandwich with Butter
I’ve tried a few different butter-smeared sandwich combos since my Paris trip — turkey on wheat, prosciutto on focaccia — but the one I keep going back to is that classic jambon-beurre.
All it requires is a French-style baguette, a few slices of ham (if you can’t find French-style ham, any kind of unsmoked ham will do), and the shining-star ingredient, butter. For a 4- to 6-inch-long sandwich, you’ll need about 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of butter to cover both halves of your baguette. (Yes, it’s a lot of butter; yes, it’s worth it.) Top one half of your baguette with ham slices, cover it with the other buttered half, and voilà! You have a sandwich that will instantly transport you the streets of Paris — and cure your hanger.