Between fillings, condiments, toppings, and bread choices, there’s a nearly endless array of possible combinations when it comes to breakfast sandwiches. There’s even a variety of ways to heat them. You can get a breakfast sandwich panini-pressed, toasted, griddled, or oven-baked. But there is another tragically underrated, underutilized option for warming the perfect breakfast sandwich: steam. There's an awesome little spot called Parker's PGH near my house that specializes in steamed sandwiches, the best of which are indisputably from the breakfast menu. The owner tells me he fell in love with them while visiting Chicago, where steamwiches are wildly popular at places like Chicago Bagel Authority, and decided he'd be the first person to bring them to Pittsburgh.
After your sandwich is assembled with your choice of ingredients on a fresh local bagel, pretzel bun, or Italian roll, the whole thing goes into a giant stainless-steel steamer, where breakfast magic ensues. The bread gets hot, soft, and chewy. The lightly-fried egg becomes extra-tender. Meat and vegetables are made extra-juicy. And best of all, your cheese of choice gets gooey and melty AF.
I became so obsessed with the steamed sandwiches that I started looking into buying an industrial steamer, but quickly discovered that they’re both too expensive and too large for my kitchen. Then I realized I already had something that just might work: a bamboo steamer basket.
If you don’t own one of these, I can’t recommend them highly enough. They work well for steaming just about anything and you can easily get a nice one for under $20.
Here’s how to use one to make your own perfectly-steamed breakfast sandwiches:
Put just enough water into a large pot or a nonstick or unseasoned wok so the steamer basket can sit on top resting near the water, but not touching it. After bringing the water to a boil, turn it down to medium-low so it’s not roiling, but is still creating plenty of steam. Be sure to put down a piece of parchment paper or a few lettuce leaves before you put your sandwich in—this step is critical to prevent the bread from seriously sticking to the bamboo and to keep melted cheese from getting inextricably stuck all up in your nice, clean steamer. Put the lid on, and let your sandwich steam away for a good 5-10 minutes, depending on your personal preference (longer = chewier bread and meltier cheese), being careful not to let all of the water evaporate.
Just about any breakfast sandwich you can dream up will be made more delicious by steaming, but highly meltable cheeses and rich accoutrements lend themselves especially well to the process.
I always like to start with a golden-yolked local farm egg either lightly fried until just set or gently scrambled. Depending on the size of my bread choice, I also occasionally make a small omelet with whatever fillings I’m feeling, fold it into my bread, and top it with cheese before steaming the whole thing into a soft, melty pile of delight.
Here are a few of the best steamwich combos I’ve tried (all in addition to a glorious egg):
Caramelized shallots with ultra-meltable Gruyère and capers and on an a big, buttery croissant from a local French bakery
Fresh mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes, fresh basil, and balsamic glaze on soft Italian bread for a steamy breakfast caprese
Super-chivey Cotswold English cheddar with a thick round of my favorite juicy soy sausage with garlic aioli and hot sauce on a buttermilk biscuit
Stacked slices of pre-roasted eggplant and zucchini with a creamy Taleggio or brie on a crusty sourdough Italian roll
Sauteed baby kale and oyster mushrooms with garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and goat cheese on a generously-sized hunk of baguette
Soyrizo, cheddar, black beans, salsa, avocado, and cilantro on a sesame seed hoagie roll for a steamy breakfast torta
These are all vegetarian, but for carnivores, any of these would obviously also work with the addition of your favorite breakfast meats.
Steaming doesn’t have to rule out raw or crispy toppings, either. If there’s something you want on your sandwich that you’d rather not have steamy (fresh herbs, cucumber, raw greens, sprouts, crispy onion straws, etc.), you can always steam your sandwich open-faced and add your non-steamed toppings just before closing it up and devouring it.