“You’ve got lettuce and tomato. When are you going to put in a bacon plant?”
I would if I could.
It’s an ideal balance of flavors and textures — of acid to fat, salty to sweet, crisp to tender — proving that a dozen ingredients aren’t necessary to make an ideal dish. Sometimes it’s better to back off a little.
A BLT is a simple three-letter statement that, like SOS, needs no elaboration. However, people will try to mess around with it. They might add avocado, and another letter, turning it into a BLAT, which is what a flat tuba sounds like, not a sandwich.
I’ve come across some BLTs where the makers threw in herbs, which are unnecessary and chewy. Or raw onion. Seriously? Then you get a BLOT, a clash of flavors along with rather aromatic breath. Putting a BLT on a fluffy burger bun instead of sliced bread is like digging through the packing peanuts to retrieve the tiny item you ordered. The sandwich is about the filling, not the bread.
And I’ve had plenty of IDCBLTs — I-don’t-care sandwiches slapped together with insufficient bacon, limp lettuce and golf-ball-hard tomatoes. You have to be invested in the BLT, to love the details.
The beauty of a good BLT is its uncomplicated nature. However, still sandwiches run deep. With only five ingredients, every last one of them has got to be good.
Take a roast beef sandwich. Cheese, pickles and onions on top could camouflage meat that looks more like, well, camo. And if the chicken salad is good enough, you might not notice that the bread is less than fresh.
With a BLT, there’s nowhere to hide.
Let’s start with the bread. You don’t have to insist on organic-brick oven stuff, but it should be decent and fresh. Slices. Remember, the bread merely is the stage for the BLT show. White or whole wheat, your choice, but no chunks or seeds. Lightly toast the bread so that it holds up to the fillings.
Now we arrive at the always controversial topic of mayonnaise. I am a Duke’s girl and am not afraid to say so. I suspected that I was in for a good BLT recently when the restaurant menu specifically stated the use of Duke’s. I was not disappointed, despite a few extraneous and ignorable basil leaves. Cooks are always trying to get a hand in.
At home, I put mayo on both slices of the bread, enough to lightly cover them.
For the ingredients, first of all, have plenty of them. Load it on so that you can taste everything, but keep a balance of B and L and T. Yes, we all love the B part, but without enough L and T, the sandwich is just a weird pork slider.
How you layer ingredients on the bread is vital. It’s like building a house: Thought, planning and care result in an appealing structure; while haphazardly slapping materials together leads to mismatched paint in the bathroom and ugly recriminations.
The acid of the tomato is a perfect foil for the fat of the bacon, so I like to have those touching. Crisp lettuce provides a textural balance for the soft tomato. Because the bacon already has so much rich flavor, putting it next to the mayo is excessive. I want the lettuce (whole leaves, not shredded) to meet up with the mayo.
A BLT is an ensemble production, featuring the best summer tomatoes, but you do need ample bacon. I prefer about six slices of bacon with a good smoke flavor, fried crisp and well drained.
Here’s how I build a BLT: lettuce, tomato, bacon, then bacon, tomato, lettuce. All the bacon is in the middle, benefitting from the juicy tomato. Lightly salt the tomatoes before adding the bacon, because tomatoes always need salt.
I firmly believe in my layering method, but however you build your BLT, there’s only one way to eat it — with plenty of napkins.
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