I don’t consider myself to be a food snob. Sure, after years of cooking in high end restaurants I can extol the virtues of foie gras, debate whether American or New Zealand lamb is superior, or lose myself in discussions of the world’s greatest cheeses, but I also love to debate the best fat to meat ratio of a properly made burger, lose myself to the comfort of great diner food, and swap secrets to making the best chili. I think yellow mustard has its rightful place as a condiment of choice, I like salads made of iceberg lettuce, but worst of all, late at night I sometimes succumb to the call of the frozen pizza. Good luck finding any food snob that will admit to those infractions!
That being said, years of being a chef have left their mark on me and occasionally a bit of snobbery shows through. A case in point is the BLT. How can a BLT, a staple of diner food, be associated with food snobbery? This lowly sandwich is rife with chances for snobbery in my opinion. First off, as far as I am concerned there are only about 2 1/2 months, a year, when BLT’s should be eaten. The most important cornerstone of a BLT is the tomato and that tomato must be ripened on the vine, and by that I don’t mean those semi tasteless “vine ripe” tomatoes found in grocery stores. Those things are only a small step above the regular tomatoes. So here comes the most important lesson in BLT making-if you have to buy your tomato from the store to make a BLT then forget it. A BLT should only be made with locally grown tomatoes that truly come to you ripened on the vine, whether that tomato was grown in your garden or bought at the local farmers market, it doesn’t matter as long as that tomato wasn’t sent half way across the country. Most areas only have about a 2-2 1/2 month window in which tomatoes are ripe. I would rather wait through most of the year to eat a BLT made with sun ripened tomatoes than waste my time eating a BLT made with tasteless, acidic tomatoes with the texture of cardboard.
Next in importance is the bacon. While I will admit I have made good BLTs with the standard store brand bacon, you will find that seeking out good quality bacon will vastly improve your sandwich. First off look for thicker cut bacon. It has much better texture and more of a punch than the paper thin store bought kind. Secondly bacon made the traditional way, as opposed to large production bacon, is so much more flavorful. This is because the bacon is slowly cured and smoked instead of being injected with a brine and liquid smoke flavoring. Trust me, paying a little extra for top quality bacon makes a world of difference.
Lettuce also plays role in the making of a great BLT. As I mentioned above, I am not opposed to iceberg lettuce, but not in this application. It just doesn’t have enough flavor to stand up to the bacon and tomato, and believe it or not, I feel it provides too much crispy crunch. Instead look for another relatively neutrally flavored lettuce such as Red or Green Leaf, Oak Leaf, or Romaine Lettuce, but stay away from the more bitter flavored mesclun mixes.
As for bread, this is where my snobbery slips. In my opinion the best bread for a BLT is plain old sliced white bread. I’m sure there will be many that disagree with me, but it’s my blog, so leave me a comment! The bread should be lightly toasted. This helps the bread hold together as the tomatoes start to release the wonderful juices, but please don’t over toast it. The perfectly toasted bread for a BLT is crispy on the outside but still retains plenty of its moist crumb inside. Homemade white bread is best, and country style loaves work well also, as long as the crumb isn't too open, but I find a good sourdough to just distract from the stars of the sandwich and I most definitely stay away from anything resembling a whole grain or multi-grain bread.
Lastly, we come to mayonnaise. I have found that the better store brands work well (please no Miracle Whip!) but if you have gone to all the trouble to source out these other wonderful items why not take that one extra step and make your own. Not only is it easy, but again it will elevate your BLT from being good to making it great. Below is a recipe that you can use. Trust me, it is much easier than you think. People seem to have this misconception that making mayo is hard, but it is actually very easy. It just requires a little bit of patience when pouring in the oil.
1 each Egg yolk
1 tsp. Mustard (dijon, or brown work best, but use yellow if that’s all you have)
2 tsp. Vinegar (cider, white wine, or red wine are the best for this application though you can experiment with others for other uses)
1 pinch Salt
6 ounces Vegetable Oil
1/2 each Lemon
Whisk together the egg yolk, mustard, vinegar and salt. While whisking rapidly, slowly pour in the oil, a little at a time and waiting until all the oil has been whisked in before adding more. Once all the oil has been whisked in squeeze in a bit of lemon juice, adding enough to just help balance out the flavor. It shouldn’t be too lemony.
I know this seems like a lot of information just for a BLT, but I think if you try it the way I suggest you will see how glorious this, often thought of as second rate, sandwich can truly be.
I'm sure that there are others that have opinions that differ from mine. I'd love to hear them.