James P. Dewan
Chicago Tribune

Today, finally, just what you’ve all been waiting for: a philosophical treatise on breakfast sandwiches. Hoo, boy.

Few things in life are as satisfyingly American as a weekend plate of bacon and eggs. Let’s turn that Sunday morning staple into something stupendous you can hold in your hand. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the breakfast sandwich.

Now, this may seem obvious, but a sandwich is not a beef stew. Nor is it a spicy Thai soup or a succulent goat curry. What sets the sandwich apart is the fact that the ingredients in those other dishes are cooked together, consequently losing their individuality as they become subsumed into the whole.

In a sandwich, however, all the ingredients are stacked atop each other. They don’t interact at all until they’re removed by the force of your gnashing teeth. As such, what you’re getting is not the unified flavor melange of your soups and stews and curries; it’s individual flavors tasted side by side.

Pair that thought with this: In a given dish, the more ingredients, the less the importance of any one. Breakfast sammies have relatively few ingredients, which is why, for a truly excellent experience, every ingredient has to be as close to perfect as possible. Otherwise, your sandwich suffers the fate of the chain with one weak link.

Let’s take a look, then, at the basic components of the breakfast sandwich:

Bread: The bread is what allows you to eat with your hands while remaining relatively unsullied. English muffin is my personal fave, but any good quality bread will work. Or think exotic: Indian flatbreads, tortillas, biscuits or cornbread. Even French toast or waffles, for that matter. Regardless, bread should be toasted and hot.

Eggs: One per sandwich fits nicely. The biggest decision is how to cook it. An omelet or scramble is easiest to position on a sandwich. An over-hard (with a broken, solid yolk) also works, though you may have to do some folding to get it to fit. Over easy eggs are marvelous because the warm, liquid yolk makes a golden sauce of nearly otherworldly deliciousness. Beware: If you place a whole over-easy egg on a sandwich, your first bite just may splat the ruptured yolk down the front of your freshly laundered jammies. Thus, I suggest puncturing the yolk after cooking, so that when the sandwich is assembled, the yolk spreads slowly and evenly rather than explosively and comically.

Meat: Make sure any carnivorous treats are properly cooked and hot. Crisp bacon is obvious. For sausage, patties work best, though if you slice links lengthwise, the flattened sides let the pieces rest in comfortable permanence without the threat of one slithering at first bite out the side of the sandwich and onto the floor, only to disappear immediately into the slobbering maw of your drooling pooch. Cold cuts work, too. Just warm them briefly in a hot pan before building your sandwich.

Cheese: Grated or thinly sliced, cheese is wonderful when warm and melty. My advice? When your egg is three-quarters done, lay cheese on top and cover the pan to melt, then scoop onto the sandwich. Alternately, construct the entire sandwich, complete with cheese. All other ingredients should be warm or hot. Place the sandwich in a buttered saute pan, cover it and warm over medium heat until the cheese melts, about a minute.

Vegetables: Refried or mashed beans are great. So are fresh veggies like tomato, onion or avocado, as long as they are perfectly ripe. Be sure to season with a little salt to enhance their flavor.

Spreads: Butter or mayo, of course, even mustard if you’re using ham. Flavor your mayo with creamed garlic, or minced chipotle or other hot sauces for a Latin flavor profile. Or go Asian with Japanese miso or Korean condiments like gochujang (spicy red chili paste) or ssamjang (fermented bean paste).

A few ideas to get you started:

• Flour tortilla warmed over an open flame. Warm refried beans (or black beans). Scrambled egg. Fresh onion dice. Mexican cheese such as anejo or queso fresco or Mexican crema (substitute sour cream). Salsa or pico de gallo. Minced cilantro.

• Toasted English muffin. Butter (optional). Crispy bacon. Over hard egg (broken yolk). Cheddar or smoked Gouda cheese.

• Toasted wheat bread. Ssamjang (a spicy Korean sauce) mayo. Kimchee omelet. Barbecued pork or chicken.

• French toast. Maple syrup. Breakfast sausage. Over easy egg (puncture yolk before positioning top piece of bread). Fruit preserves.