My grandfather (my mom’s dad) used to make these sandwiches, but it took me a while to reconstruct what might have gone into them because they had become sort of mythic in my head. Some sort of spiced meat product–I looked at Spanish chorizo in the market for about 5 minutes before deciding it wasn’t right. Lettuce–right, lettuce? crunchy? But definitely onions–my grandfather taught me to like onions on hamburgers and I remember bits of them falling out of these sandwiches when he made them.

These are definitely falling apart sandwiches, with bits of meat the size of your thumb-tip plopping out whenever you move the plate (these bits of meat are great with a potato chip). I initially thought that was a design flaw, but it’s how my grandfather made the sandwich too so I’m fine with it. After deciding linguica was my meat, I had to find it. In New England this is no big deal. Your computer is probably resting on a case of linguica right now. But in LA our spiced meat products are mostly Mexican, or Salvodoran, and I was worried I wouldn’t find it out here. Chowhound to the rescue–they sell some at Ralph’s (or at least the one at Cloverfield and Olympic, if you want to pick some up–the brand is Silva OF COURSE). Here, look at this wikipedia entry on linguica. Southeastern MA has made the big times!

For the sake of experimentation I used watercress instead of a crunchier lettuce product. You could use romaine, or iceberg, if you crave a little more snap. But basically, once you’ve found the linguica, caramelized it, and rendered some of its bright orange fat, you’re home free.

Linguica Tortas
makes 2 big sandwiches

6-7 oz. smoked linguica (fully cooked)
2 sandwich rolls (I used ciabatta–kaiser would be fine)
2 slices sweet onion
1 small bunch watercress
1 T olive oil
1 t balsamic vinegar
1/4 t kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

About the bread–if the idea of a self-destructing sandwich sends you into a cleaning frenzy, you might try one of those more oblong hoagie rolls and slice it 3/4 of the way through. That way the sandwich innards have fewer means of escape. Also, seek out a sweet onion instead of a more pungent yellow one.

Heat a large skillet over high heat and brush or spray it with olive oil (you don’t need much because the linguica will render its fat soon). Cut the linguica in half the long way, and then cut each of these halves in half again the long way. Now you have four long skinny linguicas. Slice them into 1 cm pieces. Add them to the skillet and made sure each piece is getting some attention from the pan. Toss the linguica around every 2 minutes for 8-10 minutes, turning the heat down to medium after you see a little caramelization (about 2 minutes).

Meanwhile, slice your rolls in half and warm them for a few minutes in a 350 oven. Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Using a pastry brush or spoon, apply the vinaigrette to the inside of each roll.

Now for assembly. You’re going to make the sandwiches, wrap them up, and then press them for 10 minutes. So get some plastic wrap in place before you start. Evenly divide the linguica between the two sandwiches, spooning it onto the bread. Then the onion rings, as many as you like. Finally, a handful of watercress, molded into submission and held in place while the top piece of bread is slapped over it. (Note that this is not how I did it in the picture–I learned from my mistakes.) Gingerly transport the whole thing to the waiting sheet of plastic wrap and swaddle it tightly. Once it’s wrapped, press it down with your palm (don’t be afraid), and then stack a couple plates on top of the sandwich for good measure. Repeat with the second sandwich. Now these are ready for transport, or you can open them up, slice, and serve.