Lately I've been making this sandwich over and over again. I don't know why. It's nothing that unusual: ham, bread, sometimes cheese. I've made it with the shrink-wrapped lunchmeat from my corner bodega; I've made it with thinly sliced Bayonne ham from the charcuterie.
The secret is in this invention I've taken to calling pickle butter. I don't think I invented it; I think I read about it somewhere. But it's sort of transformed the way I make a ham sandwich.
Usually, I put mayo on a sandwich. And I stand by this principle when making turkey. There's nothing like the tang of mayo against a mild turkey breast, complemented with sweet sliced tomato and crunchy lettuce, perhaps even an avocado to lend richness.
But the taste of ham is distinct enough that you start simplifying.
Pickles go with ham. Cornichons, the little French pickles, go even better (Though they look similar, these taste nothing like the little gherkin pickles you mostly find in American supermarkets, which are sour and sugary and don't appeal much. The French seem to flavor them differently. Since "cornichon" is French for "gherkin", buy anything with that name.)
But pickles don't do very well on a sandwich, and cornichons do even worse. They're not designed for sandwiches; they won't stay in.
Enter pickle butter. You take a few tablespoons of unsalted butter and mix it in a small bowl until softened. This is called "creaming" the butter. One that's done, you throw in some minced chives, salt, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. And as many minced cornichons as the butter can bear.
The result gets painted on the bread--ideally, a baguette--and stays there. Ham layered on top, cheese if you wish. Then, the bread.
It's like a charcuterie plate--rich, salty meat; toothsome, chewy bread; and the piquant palate cleanser pickle--transplanted onto a sandwich.