BLT: The Perfect Summer Sandwich

At the height of growing season, one meal rises above the rest.

June 28, 2013

It's high noon during the dog days of summer, and all morning you've been in the garden. Now you're too depleted to contemplate making lunch. Still, you must eat. Nothing could be more simple and satisfying than a sandwich when you're seeking quick relief from heat and hunger, and few things fit the bill better than the classic American BLT.

"A BLT is the perfect combination of all the ingredients," extols William Marshall, a deli manager at Zingerman's Delicatessen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, a food retailer renowned for specialty food, customer service, and its bacon. "It's sweet and salty. It's hot and cold. You've got the mayo, so it's creamy. And it doesn't involve a lot of cooking."

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An edible bundle of complementary opposites, a BLT, or bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich, has everything going for it. Just a few ingredients join company between slices of bread and create something greater than its parts. A BLT's simplicity soothes even when lunch seems an impossible task.

What a BLT doesn't have is much time. While good bacon and bread, and even lettuce, are available year-round, decent tomatoes are here for but a few months. Summer is the time to slap together a BLT, when you can enjoy the incomparable delight of in-season tomatoes. They're best picked straight from your garden, but a farmers' market works, too.

The market should have everything else necessary to build a BLT: crisp lettuce, handmade bacon, toothsome white bread, and fresh eggs for whipping up tangy mayonnaise. While it's tempting to give in to convenience and schmear commercial mayo onto your sandwich, honor the integrity of the other ingredients by making your own. Use the extra as a silky dip for veggies, when you can bear no more than this for dinner on a hot, sticky night. Or just make yourself another BLT.

BLAT: Do as the Californians Do
In California, the classic is a BLAT, or bacon, lettuce, avocado, and tomato sandwich. Try it their way with just-ripe avocado slices added on to the stack.

VBLT: A Vegetarian BLT
Bacon is not for everyone, but the spirit of a BLT should be. To capture the salty crispness of the absent cured pork, try one or more of the following meatless suggestions:

  • Chopped pitted olives
  • Slices of shiitake mushrooms crisped in butter over high heat in a skillet
  • Diced preserved lemons
  • Salt-cured capers
  • Pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika) stirred into finished mayonnaise
  • Fried green tomatoes

 

 

Creating Your BLT
There's no need to get too fussy or creative with a BLT. By keeping it classic, you'll achieve that delectable harmony of textures and tastes. Select the best quality ingredients—with so few involved, this is very important—and keep in mind the following guidelines.

In Good Order

1. Work from the bottom up on your sandwich. Spread the mayo on both slices of the toasted bread to seal the bread and prevent tomato juice from making the slices soggy. It also makes the sandwich creamy and rich.

2. Next goes tomato, which bleeds its flavorful juices into the mayonnaise, heightening the flavor and moisture. A good in-season tomato will add the perfect amount of moisture and sweetness.

3. Then comes lettuce, a protective barrier between the juicy tomato and crisp bacon.

4. Finally, add the bacon—placed last so that it is still warm and crisp—a lovely temperature contrast with the cool tomato and lettuce.

Bread

  • Indulge in white bread as a foil for the flavorful fillings.
  • Toast the slices so that they can hold up to the juicy tomatoes.
  • Cut off the crusts, or not.
     

Bacon
Keep the bacon in a BLT. "If you take the bacon out and replace it with ham, you have a club sandwich," warns Marshall. That said, try any of the following for a variation on the typical BLT:

  • Prosciutto
  • Pancetta
  • Speck
  • Turkey bacon
  • Canadian bacon
     

Bacon tips from Zingerman's:

  • Upgrade bacon for a better BLT.
  • Buy bacon from a producer you know and trust.
  • Look for producers who have done a traditional wet cure or true dry cure and then actually physically smoked the bacon in a small batch for 24 to 72 hours. Tasting this type of bacon against commercial, presliced bacon is like night and day. You can't believe that they are the same product.
  • Be prepared to pay more upfront for high-quality bacon, but know that, after cooking, you are paying about the same as for commercial bacon. All meat decreases in weight with cooking, but to different degrees. According to a test done by La Quercia, makers of Tamworth Country Cured Bacon in Norwalk, Iowa, their bacon retains 77 percent of its original weight after cooking, while a leading premium applewood bacon shrinks to 43 percent.
  • Request that your bacon be cut to order, 2 to 3 millimeters in thickness.
  • Cook the bacon to whatever doneness you like, but it tastes better when it's a little less crispy. You should be able to bend the bacon without breaking it.
 

Lettuce

  • 'Iceberg' for tradition and a cool, crisp snap
  • Romaine hearts for greens that are more healthful but still crispy
  • Arugula for a peppery hint
  • Frisée (a variety of chicory) for novel texture and slightly bitter zing
     

Tomatoes
Use big, in-season, ripe tomatoes. Try these varieties:

  • Beefsteak, red or yellow
  • 'Black Pineapple'
  • 'Brandywine'
  • 'Cherokee Purple'
  • 'Cosmonaut Volkov'
  • 'Mr. Stripey'
  • 'Ramapo'
  • 'Supersonic'
     

Tomato tips:

  • Cover the entire surface of the bread with a single, thick slice from a sizeable tomato or a few slices from a smaller one.
  • Sprinkle a little salt onto the sliced tomatoes to draw out their juices and emphasize their sweetness.
     


Homemade Mayonnaise
While the bacon is frying and the bread toasting, devote 5 minutes' effort to making your own mayonnaise. You'll be rewarded with an airy and creamy spread and with the entitled feeling that you can slather generous spoonfuls onto your sandwich.

Spice Up Your Mayo

  • Substitute a flavorful oil, e.g., olive, walnut, sesame, or truffle oil.
  • Whisk in lime juice instead of lemon juice and add more when the mayonnaise is finished.
     

Try adding the following to finished mayonnaise:

  • Smashed and minced garlic
  • Finely minced fresh herbs
  • Pureed bitter leaf greens
  • Pesto
  • Harissa, or hot sauce
  • Curry powder or coriander
  • Extra Dijon mustard
  • Olive tapenade
  • Pureed roasted red peppers