Betsy Graham, President of The Junior League of Tampa, was kind enough to offer her own special insight into a beloved Tampa recipe, the Hamwich. As a former Cookbook Chair and Executive Liaison to the New Cookbook Development Committee for Capture the Coast, she authored the new version which we are happy to present here.
One of my first experiences with The Junior League of Tampa involved a Hamwich. A fairly recent transplant from the Northeast to Tampa, I attended the Holiday Boutique at Junior League of Tampa Headquarters in December, 1999. As I didn’t know that many people, I gravitated towards the food table in the center of the main room. That’s where I first encountered the delectable, impossible-to-eat-just-one, two-bite sandwich known as the “Hamwich”. I later learned this crowd-pleasing creation was a staple of Holiday Boutique and any League function, church reception, or cocktail party in Tampa.
Fast forward 10 years, and I found myself assisting with development of the 4th Volume of the Culinary Collection, Capture the Coast. We knew that we wanted to produce an updated version of the Hamwich as the original “Ham-Wiches” recipe in The Gasparilla Cookbook was not the Hamwich of recent years. In fact, I remember my excitement when I first learned that the Hamwich recipe existed in Gasparilla, only to feel great disappointment when I looked up the recipe and read through the ingredient list:
1/3 cup butter, melted
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 small chopped onion
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
6 hamburger buns
6 slices ham
6 slices Swiss or American cheese
A hamburger bun!? I think not. One of the keys to the modern Hamwich is the roll. Most Hamwich aficionados would agree that the ideal Hamwich is made with a pan of Publix small dinner rolls. Unfortunately, those rolls are only available around the holidays, and Hamwiches are good all year round. A worthy substitute is the Sister Schubert frozen yeast dinner roll, and that is the roll around which the Capture the Coast recipe is based.
Once the roll was selected, it was merely a matter of determining the appropriate balance of ham and Swiss cheese (best shaved and shredded, respectively), butter/mustard/poppy seed mix (now containing a dash of Worcestershire sauce for enhanced flavor), and onion. We consulted with a few “Hamwich experts” in the League only to find that opinions differed as to how to make the perfect Hamwich. Some like more sauce, some less. Some even prefer the Hamwich without onion…the variations go on. After a few experiments, we landed on the ingredient measures found in the Capture the Coast recipe. We also decided to portion the recipe for one pan of rolls, perfect for a small function, and easily multiplied for a crowd.
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 teaspoons mustard
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
1/3 cup chopped onion
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 (16-ounce) package frozen dinner rolls
1/3 pound shaved ham
2/3 cup shredded Swiss cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix the butter, mustard, poppy seeds, onion and Worcestershire sauce in a bowl. Remove the rolls in one piece from the foil pan and cut into halves horizontally. Replace the bottom half in the foil pan and spread evenly with the poppy seed mixture. Layer the ham and cheese over the bottom half of the rolls. Replace the top half of the rolls cut side down over the cheese. Cut into individual servings. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until light brown. The rolls may be frozen before baking.