Cooking

The Great American Sandwich

Fry your bread in mayo and other tips on building a better BLT
How to Build a Better BLT Sandwich
Now this is a BLT | Photo: Tasting Table

You don't need a recipe to make a BLT.

The name itself is a self-evident roadmap to the points of its triangle. (Just don't forget the bread and mayonnaise, essentials without which the BLT is just a weird salad.)

Then again, not all BLTs are created equal.

Some are better. Like the one pictured here.

What makes this one superior?

Well, for one: It is has not been overly tinkered with.

As the great sandwichologist Albert Einstein once observed, "Things should be made as simple as possible but not simpler."

The key is to do everything necessary to coax its elements to collective greatness without getting in the way of the simplicity of their expressions.

In other words: Don't be a goofball. Do not stick a lobster on it or sous-vide your bacon or whatever. Resist the urge to innovate. There is no "I" in BLT.

What there is is great ingredients, gently tweaked or just cared for and intelligently assembled.

White Pullman bread (1) sliced by you (not pre-) to a genial thickness somewhere between ¼- and ½-inch thick. Batard is an acceptable alternative. You want something that is not obnoxiously thick, but not so brittle that it pokes you in the mouth. And you want it to fry up nicely. Because you are not toasting it. You're frying it. In mayonnaise. Fry the bread on one side so there's a crisp exterior and a nice pillowy interior that can soak up a bit of tomato juice—and more of that mayo.

About that mayonnaise (2): Use store-bought, something good made with real egg yolks if you can find it. Doctor it up with a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of lemon zest and nothing more.

You can buy a tomato (3) year-round, but really you should be making this now when the summer fruit is singing. Consider a Brandywine or Cherokee purple variety or whatever calls to you at the market. Cut along its equator using a serrated knife. Make ¼-inch slices. Salt early to draw out some juice then dry out on paper towels.

We love thick-cut bacon (4)—just not here. Thin bacon makes for a feathery, light bacony presence on the sandwich. Go to a good butcher and ask them to slice their slab of quality, applewood-smoked bacon about as thinly as they can. Cook it in the oven until it's uniformly crisp but hasn't gone brittle and dry.

Iceberg is the classic, but it's watery and distracting. Sure, you could go fancy with arugula or mizuna, but why bother? Butterhead lettuce (5)—or its variants, Boston or Bibb—lays flat, tastes good and works well. The key here is to wash your greens and then dry them well. The worst thing that can happen to a sandwich is wet greens.

A note on assembly: You want lettuce touching one piece of bread and tomato touching the other. Bacon is cossetted between the two, alternating give with crispness and crunch. A great sandwich is well-balanced: Adjust the number of tomato slices and bacon to the size of your bread and do not overstack.

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