Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
Which Came First?
There are some questions in life that might never be answered. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Why are there no B batteries? Why isn't phonetic spelled the way it sounds? And, in creating the bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich (otherwise lovingly known as the BLT), what is most important—the smokey pork, the crisp leaf lettuce, the sweet ripe tomato, the creamy mayonnaise, or is it the foundation, the lightly toasted white bread, that deserves top billing?
Let's take a look at each component, determine how to achieve the very best of each, and, thereby, create the perfect BLT. The whole could be even greater than the sum of its parts.
Bacon receives top-billing in this sandwich, and with good reason. Who can deny the allure of sweet-salty, crisply cooked pork belly? Keep in mind, however, that bigger is not always better. Save your thick-sliced bacon for something else. You don't want big chews of bacon here—crisp and crackly is the way to go.
And, I have another revelation for you. Frying will not give you the crispest, crackly-est bacon on the planet. To achieve true bacon nirvana, you need to bake those fatty strips in the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil (makes for easier cleanup), arrange your porcine pieces in a single layer (barely touching, not overlapping) and bake in a 425-degree oven for 15-20 minutes.
What's the Best Lettuce for a BLT?
Our chef-like instincts (don't all of us secretly long to become a Master Chef?) would lead us to search the refrigerator crisper for home-grown spinach or perhaps a handful of bitter arugula. You must resist the urge to go all arty on the "L" of the BLT. For this most perfect of sandwiches, there is only one green that will do. Bibb lettuce, the tender inner leaves are crunchy but tender and possess a sweetness that compliments and doesn't overwhelm the other flavors.
From where did the idea originate that the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was an apple? Let's review the story.
We are told in Genesis that Adam and Eve are living the perfect life in Eden. They may eat fruit from any tree except one, "the tree of the knowledge of good and evil." Guess what? They eat the forbidden fruit and are expelled from paradise.
The original Hebrew says only "fruit," but in latter-day Western art, ranging from serious religious paintings to about a million cartoons, the item in question is invariably depicted as an apple. I don't think so. My vote is that it was a tomato.
Think about it. On a summer day, is there anything more fragrant, sweet, or (dare I say) Heavenly than a plump ripe tomato warmed by the sun? If you have grown your own tomatoes, or are fortunate enough to be the BFF of someone else who does, I'm sure you'll agree with me.
The surest way to create a BLT failure is to use a substandard tomato. I'm not suggesting that you need to purchase an heirloom tomato for $4.99 per pound, but vine-ripened tomatoes are far superior to tomatoes that are picked green and then gassed with ethylene to artificially ripen them. If you have a craving for a BLT in the dead of winter, you might have no choice, but seriously, the best BLT will come off a summer-ripened fresh tomato. Run, don't walk to your nearest farmers' market.
Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato (BLT) Sandwich
Not whole-grain, dill rye, or artisanal sprouted wheat. Sandwich bread with a tender crumb is what you need. I like to use my homemade white bread. Slice it thick and toast it gently.
- 5 1/2 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 packages active dry yeast (not quick-rise or bread machine)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups warm water (110 to 120 degrees F.)
- In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour, yeast, and salt. Add warm water. Beat at low speed of electric mixer for 30 seconds, scraping the sides of the bowl.
- Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can with a spoon. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and begin to knead. At first, the dough will appear ragged, but as you continue to knead it will become smooth and elastic. Total kneading time will be about 8 to 10 minutes.
- When you have finished kneading, place the dough in a large, lightly greased mixing bowl. Turn the dough over in the bowl so that the entire ball of dough is greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm place, away from drafts.
- Let the dough sit in this cozy safe place until doubled in size, about 1 hour. One way to test if the dough has risen enough is to lightly and quickly press two fingertips into the dough about 1/2 inch. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step.
- Punch down the dough by pushing your fist into the center of the dough. Pull the edges of the dough to the center, and then place the dough on a lightly floured surface. It will be smooth and bubbles will be visible under the surface.
- Divide the dough in half. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. (This is to allow the gluten strands to relax so that the dough is easier to shape).
- Lightly flour your hands and the top of the dough. Pick up the dough with both hands, thumbs on top, and fingertips underneath. Use your thumbs to smooth the surface of the dough, moving from top to the underside. Rotate the dough and repeat 3 or 4 times until you have a round of dough that is perfectly smooth on top.
- Place the dough smooth side up on a greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise until doubled in size (about 45 minutes).
- While the dough is rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
- When your dough is risen and ready to place in the oven, score the top with a sharp blade. The purpose of this is two-fold—it creates a decorative top and (more importantly) releases the pressure inside of the dough so that it expands evenly while baking.
- Bake in a 375-degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Not sure the bread has baked long enough? Turn a loaf over and tap with your index finger. If it sounds "hollow," your bread is done. You can also use an instant-read thermometer. The internal temperature of the bread should be 190 degrees F.
- Immediately after you take your loaves from the oven, remove them from the baking sheet and place on a wire rack to cool. If they remain on the baking sheet the bottoms will steam and become soggy. Setting the finished loaves on an elevated cooling rack allows for air circulation and ensures that the crust will remain "crusty."
Homemade Mayonnaise Recipe
I hate to end on a controversial note, but the schmeer on the bread has caused heated debate (almost as intense as the discussion of whether or not clam chowder should contain tomatoes or if chili should have beans).
I was born and raised on the West Coast and the only mayo we've ever known is Best Foods. East of the Rockies are those who will accept nothing other than Miracle Whip. They are not synonymous, nor are they interchangeable. I won't judge. Use your favorite, and God bless you.
But... if you have two minutes, you can make your own and it will be amazing. Here's what to do.
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- Place the egg yolks, salt, and lemon juice in the bowl of a blender. Process until the egg yolk and juice are well-combined, and the yolks begin to turn a lighter shade of yellow.
- Remove the fill cap (central portion of the lid). Place the olive oil in a glass measuring cup with a lip suitable for pouring. With the blender running, begin adding the oil to the yolk/lemon juice mixture.
- Start with just one drop at a time and increase to a steady but very slow stream as the oil is absorbed.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can you add mustard to a BLT sandwich?
Answer: That's an interesting question. Hmmm, I think many people would find that to be an interesting and tasty addition. I must admit a bit of personal bias; I've never been much of a mustard fan but I have a friend who dips french fries into the stuff like others use ketchup. Are you thinking yellow, Dijon, or grainy brown mustard? (Oops, you're supposed to asking the questions not me). Thanks for an interesting and helpful addition to this article. I appreciate it.
Question: Do you butter the toast prior to spreading the mayo when making a BLT?
Answer: I do not, simply because the mayo contributes enough flavor and fat. The bread is just lightly toasted, not hard and crisp. However, that is my personal preference.
© 2019 Linda Lum