I remember a time when “Hockey Night in Hartford” was as regular an occurrence as a UConn basketball team winning a championship. I remember a time when Peter Karmanos could walk the streets of Hartford without fear. I remember when the “XL Center” was still called the “Civic Center.” It was the best of times, it was the worst of teams, but through all of the playoff failures, we loved our Whalers.
Now, the Hartford Whalers took a lot of things with them when they left for Raleigh (including my heart, but that’s another story), but for me, the second most important thing lost was what my father and I came to call “The Whalers Sandwich.”
When the AHL Hartford Wolfpack held a tribute night in 2006 where they retired the numbers of three Whalers greats – Kevin Dineen, Ulf Samuelsson, and Ron Francis – my father and I planned to eat these heavenly sandwiches at the legendary food court in the basement of the Civic Center. When we got there, we were greeted by a horrific and depressing sight – the food court was gone, and so were our sandwiches.
Rather than grieve for our sandwiches as we had done for our team, we struck up the “Brass Bonanza,” brainstormed and vowed to recreate at least half of what had gone missing in Hartford. After several attempts, we finally got it right.
So, my fellow Whalers fans, I take the time to share with you the secrets of the Whalers Sandwich.
This recipe serves about four people, depending on the type of roll.
You’re gonna need:
- 4-5 thin-sliced chicken breasts.
- 1 Jar of roasted red peppers
- McCormick’s Cajun spice
- Romaine hearts
- ½ lb of deli-sliced provolone cheese
- Light Caesar dressing (the oil-based, not the creamy kind – trust me, we’ve made that mistake)
- 4 grinder rolls (The fresher the better. I got mine from the local bakery.)
- Tri-Colored Pasta Salad (You can either make it yourself, or most supermarkets and delis have it behind the glass counter.)
Here’s what you gotta do:
1. Use your good judgment to slice your chicken so it fits on your rolls. For example, I had four fat pieces of thin-sliced breast, so I made eight skinny pieces of thin-sliced breast.
2. Coat your chicken with the Cajun spice. If you like it robust and flavorful, really shake it on there. If you prefer a less spicy sandwich, don’t use too much. I trust you on this one.
3. Throw your chicken on the grill at about medium heat. Be careful though, these puppies cook pretty quickly.
4. While the chicken’s cooking, slice your rolls and place a good slice of romaine lettuce lengthwise on the top half of each sandwich-to-be. This is why I like the romaine hearts – one leaf fits perfectly on a grinder roll.
5. Go check on your chicken. Odds are it’s time to flip it.
6. Crack open that jar of roasted peppers. I usually buy whole peppers, but the smaller, stringier kind work just as well. Drain them, but don’t rinse ‘em. Throw some peppers on top of the romaine leaves.
7. Grab your provolone slices because it’s time to check the grill again. If your chicken’s done, flip it over one more time and then drape your breasts with provolone. I find that by breaking the circular slices into half-circles usually helps cover the chicken without losing cheese to the grill as it melts. Turn the grill down to a low heat.
8. Give the cheese a few minutes to melt, then grab the chicken slices and bring them inside.
9. Cover the bottom of the grinder rolls with the Caesar dressing before you put your chicken slices on. Don’t use too much or your sandwiches will get really soggy really quickly. About two tablespoons per grinder should do it.
10. Put your chicken on the grinder.
11. Combine the two halves to create the whole.
12. Slice in half. Serve with a scoop of tri-colored pasta salad.
13. Turn on your videotape of the Hartford Whaler’s last game (I know you’ve got one too) and enjoy.
BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
What about the beer, you say? Well I’ve got a great little number. Hockey players are always getting hurt, right? That’s why this sandwich needs a medical professional – a nurse, to be exact.
Straight outta downtown Hartford comes City Steam Brewery’s Naughty Nurse Amber Ale. This little lady will cure any malady you’ve got, whether it’s a full mouth full of sandwich or a 5-alarm fire on your taste buds from all that Cajun spice. And anyway, I’d be beside myself if I didn’t pair a Hartford-inspired meal with a Hartford beer, right?
Why does this beer go so well with this meal?
Well, ladies and gents, as I’ve said, the Naughty Nurse Amber Ale has a nice calming effect on the panic of Cajun flavor. I really have to say that Amber Ales are some of my favorite beers because they’re so versatile. There’s a subtle caramel flavor in City Steam’s brew which really enhances the intensity of the sandwich’s Caesar dressing and the roasted red peppers, which can be overwhelming if one doesn’t use good judgment.