Welcome to American Sandwiches Week, a celebration of the mighty sandwich through the lens of Americana.
Soup and sandwich combos are nothing new—hell, are there few pleasures quite like dipping a grilled cheese into tomato soup? Panera Bread Co. wouldn’t have a business model if we, as a culture, weren’t already down with dunking toasted bread stuffed with meat and/or cheese into any number of bisques and broths. However, there’s one flavor combo so ridiculous, so patently absurd, that I feel crazy advocating for it. But here I am, just a boy, standing in front of The Takeout’s audience, asking them to dip peanut butter sandwiches in their chili.
I first learned of this heretical combo growing up as a yet-to-be-city-fied farm boy in downstate Illinois. I attended the small but mighty Bushnell-Prairie City High School—there, the public school cafeteria served weekday lunches of previously frozen chicken nuggets, Maid-Rite sandwiches named after our school (we called them “B-PC Burgers”), and those polygonal fruit slushie things where you tore off the cardboard to slide the dessert into your mouth like it was granita Go-Gurt.
Still, those valiant lunch ladies did right by us on chili day: Our bowls of hot, meaty stew were perpetually paired with a peanut butter sandwich, cut diagonally for perfect dipping. We were a small school in an even smaller farm town, so we didn’t know such a combo was heresy outside of our tiny bubble. For us, it was a universally loved combo, a tasty pas de deux of savory and sweet that everyone at our school consumed with abandon.
Before you dismiss it outright as “hillbilly chow,” I implore you to test it for yourselves. It’s simple: Heat up a bowl of your favorite chili, then make a peanut butter sandwich. The peanut butter must be smooth, the bread toasted; don’t even think of bringing jelly into the equation. As for the chili, break out your favorite homemade recipe or, if you’re feeling lazy, get Wolf Brand Chili (no beans, please) for that awesome Frito Pie feeling. Then dip away. (In revisiting the combo for this piece, I made a sandwich with smooth natural peanut butter and sweet Hawaiian bread, but it might be best to get a sturdier bread that will stand up to the rich, tomatoey broth.)
The results are miraculous: The stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth gloppiness of the peanut butter is a shocking counter to the soupy, spicy umami of the chili, carried perfectly by the soaked bread surrounding it. Add to that the textural contrast of the thick peanut butter with the chunky meat and veg of the chili, surrounded by that warming stew, and you’ve got one of the guiltiest, next-level comfort food pleasures central Illinois had to offer.
Peanut butter and chili may sound like the craziest food combo you’ve ever heard, but it truly must be tasted to be believed. Maybe, like me, you’ll take one bite and be transported to the halls of your rural high school, when life was simple and chili day was the stuff of dreams.