The genius of the sandwich is multifaceted. First, no utensils are required. This applies not only to consuming the meal but to transporting it as well. Wrap it in a napkin and you’ve got lunch and your lap covered. Second, you are able to disperse the ingredients between pieces of bread to fairly accurately provide a calculated and consistent taste in each bite. This is nearly impossible to accomplish on a plate without baking the ingredients of a meal together as in a quiche or lasagna (and even then they usually fall apart). A dumpling? A pasty? You might conjecture. Each arguably a different road to the center of Sandwichville!
Next, the combination of contents is infinite: cured meats, aged cheeses, fresh greens, roasted vegetables, tomatoes, onions, and condiments galore. There are sandwiches made of leftovers that are better than the meal itself!
Then there are the signature sandwiches that took the medium from newfangled convenience to art form: Porchetta, Pastrami on Rye, the French Dip, the Tuna Melt, the Cubano, the Club, the Cheeseburger, and (the prize of the Midwest) the BLT. I’m not going to try to explain why this simple combination reigns supreme—it just does. My roommate moved in, nearly four years ago, a vegetarian; today she eats BLTs. No other meat, mind you, just BLTs. This is but one example of a profound truth.
I’ve had other BLTs, in restaurants, that give The Classic a run for its money. However these suped-up rivals with their custom ingredients are another animal, so to speak. A fine example haunts me, palate and soul, for the 51 weeks a year I spend away from it: the Fried Green Tomato BLT at A Slice of Life in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. I couldn’t possibly overstate the genius of this sandwich. It is one of the great miracles of food, but it’s nothing to aim for at home. Here is my method for assembling the best BLT one can make from ingredients available in any American supermarket—The Classic BLT.
WHAT WILL I NEED?
A non-stick or cast iron skillet, a large plate, paper towels, a wooden spatula, a legume cleaver or Chef’s knife, a butter knife, plenty of napkins.
GROCERY LIST:Bread Bacon Lettuce Tomatoes Hellmann’s Real Mayonnaise
A WORD ON MAYONNAISE: In the US mayonnaise is not exactly a staple of the daily diet and therefore not usually worth the trouble of making home batches. Unfortunately most Americans understand mayonnaise to be interchangeable with Miracle Whip (which is not, by the way, one of the great miracles of food). Miracle Whip is to real mayonnaise what Reddi-Wip is to crème fraîche. Hellmann’s (to extend the comparison) is freshly whipped heavy cream—not quite the same thing, but far from adding insult to injury.
It doesn’t hurt that the recipe, as well as the concept of ready-made mayonnaise in a jar, originated at a delicatessen on New York City’s Upper West Side. For real, “Bring out the Hellmann’s and bring out the BEST!”
As with any recipe, the quality of the finished product rests on its ingredients. Technically any combination of the B the L and the T will qualify. I prefer crispy smoked bacon, crunchy Boston lettuce, and a nicely ripened vine tomato thinly sliced. And I chose a par-baked baguette freshly warmed in my oven for the bread. Toasted enriched white bread from the store will do in a pinch. Choose well and indulge your preferences.
Frying your bacon is the first step. I like to let mine rest on paper towel once it’s cooked to absorb to excess grease, if you believe such a thing exists. Next wash your lettuce and slice your tomato. Last, though certainly not least, warm or toast your bread. Texture is everything!
Layer a bed of lettuce on the bottom piece of bread, but no mayonnaise yet (otherwise your foundation will become slippery). Fan out your tomato slices on top of the lettuce. I like to salt and pepper the tomatoes at this point. Next arrange your bacon as evenly as you can atop the tomatoes. Now apply mayonnaise liberally to the underside of the top piece of bread (bacon, if crispy, won’t slide around as easily as lettuce might) and place it on top of the stack. Et voilà! Prêt-a-manger!
Depending on your appetite for bacon, you may have to apply force evenly to compress the height of your BLT to an approachable level. The Classic can be a meal in itself or you can indulge further with a side of potato salad or coleslaw. (I like a few cornichons on the plate; then again I always like a few cornichons!) The only challenge, in my experience, is getting all of the BLT in my mouth and not on my shirt. Good luck with that.