The show 30 Rock packed in a lot of food jokes over the years, but “Put potato chips on a sandwich!” isn’t one; it’s just good sense. The thin, crispy slices of fried potato add textural contrast, lots of salt, and sometimes more, depending on the flavor of your chip. (I’m a plain Lay’s girl myself.)
But potato chips aren’t the only form of spud that belongs between two slices of bread. Each potato configuration has something unique to offer and, while I don’t think there are any “wrong” answers when it comes to shoving spuds in a sandwich, I do have some preferences, thoughts, and suggestions.
For the breakfast sandwich: hash brown patties and waffled tots
Slipping an oblong hash brown patty inside a McMuffin is a bona fide breakfast hack, but there’s no reason you have to involve McDonald’s to have a starchier breakfast. Big boxes of frozen breakfast potato pucks can be purchased at your local restaurant supply store, but pretty much any grocery store (even Trader Joe’s) has them available in lesser quantities for pretty cheap.
These crispy patties keep your breakfast sandwich from being uni-textural while also soaking up yolk, a dual service that seems contradictory at first, but just works. If you don’t have patties, you can waffle a bunch of frozen tater tots together to create one that exactly matches the size and shape of your bread.
For meaty, greasy affairs: french fries or tater tots
I have never been to Primanti Brothers in Pittsburgh, but that’s only because I have never been to Pittsburgh. Someday I will go, and I will make Beth take me to get one of their french fry-filled sandwiches. Until that beautiful day, I will resign myself to putting french fries in every cheesy, griddled, meat-based sandwich I make at home.
Aside from the pure decadence of it all, the fries act as a kind of bonding material, uniting the melted cheese and the fatty meat into one delicious mass. They also capably soak up sauces, vinegars, and dressings, ensuring the flavor stays inside the sandwich until it gets to your mouth. Honestly, we owe french fries so much.
Tater tots can perform similar work, especially on sandwiches that already have orb-shaped fillings, like a meatball sub, or falafel pita, or saj. Tater tots may not be traditional in these settings, but you cannot claim they would be bad.
For cold cuts and deli sandwiches: Lay’s and Doritos
I’m not much of a turkey sandwich eater, but the combination of thinly-sliced roasted turkey, mayo, shredded lettuce, some sort of vinegary dressing, and Lay’s is transcendent. Some people prefer a more substantial kettle-cooked chip, but I like the how the thinner ones crush and crumble when you press the bread together, while still maintaining some of their texture. (Pringles can be a fun choice too.)
I like to keep it simple and salty, though there are moments when a flavored chip is the right call. I’m a huge fan of Doritos (both Nacho and Cooler Ranch) on a tuna salad sandwich—the MSG really makes this deli classic sing.
For open-faced sandwiches: mashed potatoes
Bread, hot shaved meat, mashed potatoes, and lots of gravy form a heavenly configuration, no matter what you call it. (There are a lot of regional versions of this dish, and all are precious in my eyes.)
In fact, I would say this is one of the best thing you can do with any kind of leftover roasted meat and mashed potatoes. Just make sure you use squishy white bread. It may not be structurally sound enough to pick up off the plate and eat as a sandwich, but this dish is best when it’s cushy and comforting.
What we can learn from the chip butty
The first time I had a chip butty (a British sandwich filled with thick UK-style fries—aka “chips”) , I was a little disappointed. Though it came with a few packets of HP sauce, the first few bites were dry as heck. (You have to add a lot of condiments.) The concept, however, is pretty sound: There’s no reason a potato can’t be the primary filling for any kind of sandwich, particularly if you want to cut back on meat. (Update: I have since been informed by someone who lives in the UK that HP sauce is not the correct sauce for the chip butty, and that there should have been lots of butter and ketchup involved. Honestly, this sounds great.)
A tater tot hero with lots of melted cheese and grilled onions would be delicious, as would a hash brown club with avocado, bacon, and tomato. One of the beautiful things about potatoes is how well they get along with everything. If you would put it on a sandwich, you can put it on a potato, and then you can put that potato in a sandwich.
Updated on 01/25/21 at 5:35 pm EST to include information about the proper dressing of a chip butty. I apologize for any offense. Please do not send me mean emails about the chip butty.