Just like hard-boiled eggs, baked beans on toast, or digestive biscuits, the bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich is such an everyday item that it’s easy to forget it exists. While “bubble wrap” and broccoli coffee grab the headlines, the BLT occupies an unfazed middle ground of mass consumption, widely consumed but rarely given much attention. The BLT just is. However, this month’s How to Eat topic is suddenly in the news.
Firstly, the Brexit secretary, Dominic “adequate food” Raab, tried to reassure the public that, after Brexit, there would be no disruption to the food supply. Britain could still make its beloved BLT, he told reporters (#sunlituplands). It was a curious sandwich for Raab to stake his reputation on, given that the BLT originates from the US (was this a coded hint to Trump for a trade deal?). And that, unsurprisingly, a man from Danepak came out to say that no one could really guarantee anything after Brexit, and in the event of a no deal, bacon prices are likely to skyrocket.
Raab then had to suffer a second humiliation when a new Warburton poll suggested that instead of the BLT being a national go-to, it’s now a fading ’90s relic. Despite ranking fifth in a poll of Britain’s favorite sandwiches to rival Bird’s Eye in 2016, it has recently been reported that the BLT has been usurped by “cosmopolitan” fillings such as brie and cranberry, and “pork shredded super modern.”
This will be news to anyone who considers pulled pork to be a bit 2015, and brie and lingonberries to be 1995 stuffing. But the nation has spoken. If the BLT is on the slide (once, it was also Tony Blair’s carefully triangulated focus-group sandwich), perhaps it just needs some loving and tender dictatorial re-examination of how it should be rendered at its most perfect.
When defining what the BLT is, it is important to also stipulate what it is not. Not a potential party canapé. There is no need to reinterpret it as a cue. Every time someone writes a recipe for a BLT salad without a bun, a 200-year-old seed culture dies.
If you want to experiment with adding new flavors to a BLT, there’s already a vehicle for that. It’s called the club sandwich, which, in its haughty second layer, anything goes, lets anything hang out, allows you to add chicken, avocado, cheese, pesto, a fried egg, or any of the numerous other unsuitable add-ons that, for sheer boredom, people suggest adding to this already perfect sandwich. If you need hot sauce on a BLT, then, quite simply, you need to quit.
The BLT should always have hot ingredients, but can three slices of toast be acceptable? Photography: Alamy Stock Photo
Hot or cold?
Hot. Butter, mayonnaise, tomatoes and lettuce need to be taken out of the fridge well in advance. Not only to ensure they deliver maximum flavor (note: in the fridge, the volatile compounds that give tomatoes their oomph go into a kind of cryogenically suspended inertia), but so that, as they’re sandwiched between hot bacon and golden toast, all the ingredients quickly reach a cohesive warmth. An array of now easily melted fats, from mayonnaise, bacon, and butter, should bind the sandwich together like a nearly fluid emollient. Does your BLT drip down your wrists? That’s a good thing.
For this reason, and many others, the BLT supermarket chiller is an abomination: as cold and lifeless as the automated factory production line from which it sprang. In life, nobody wants cold bacon.
Low fat, zero pleasure
Sandwich makers apparently know that, in the third week of January, after a period of dieting and self-denial, BLT sales skyrocket. That says a lot about the essential appeal of this sandwich. It’s a treat. An indulgence. One that, even in the onomatopoeia of its acronym, BLT, unapologetically implies something meaty. Any attempt to “lighten up” the BLT—swapping butter for avocado, low-fat mayo, turkey bacon, etc.—irrevocably erodes it. If what you want is low in calories, you are facing the wrong sandwich.
Beyond the aural-sensory crunch that sharpens the anticipation of toasted bread (note: not toast, but lightly toasted bread), the BLT should offer several distinct but complementary layers, with bacon leading the charge. Ingredient ratios are key. For example, too much bread will dampen bacon, to which tomato, lettuce, and mayonnaise should offer accents and inflections, rather than directly competing flavors. Think of this first and foremost as a medium bacon sandwich.
The BLT should assert its savory cured pork character in a way that lingers, as the sweet tartness of the tomatoes, the cool, slightly vegetal bitterness of the lettuce, and the creamy flavor of the mayonnaise play along its edges. Everything must come together in one bite that, simultaneously umami, sour, sweet, salty, meaty and clean, does many seemingly contradictory things at once in such a way that they reinforce each other.
Bread White slices or, at most, a very lightly malted bread (nothing darker or more dignified), of the best quality you can find or afford. A long-proven traditional white bread, soft and strong, is ideal; but a decent supermarket sliced white bread will work just fine. Key points: Slices should be no more than 1.5cm thick, and they shouldn’t go through any specialty baguette, sourdough boule, or rye cul-de-sac. You need a simple, square loaf with a relatively light but durable texture, and one that is not riddled with holes through which juices will drip too easily.
Steer clear of the iceberg lettuce and opt for a little gem instead. Photography: Alamy Stock Photo
Bacon Most BLT recipes suggest smoking, which, if the bacon is low-quality, is a good idea to inject some flavor (although it’s often bullish and inelegant). But if you can get your hands on some dry-cured Gloucester Old Spot slices or the like, let that pure porcine flavor shine through.
The alleged gastronomic schism between those who prefer striped bacon (cooked to shattering stiffness) and back bacon on their BLT is a heated media controversy. There is a simple solution to this apparent dilemma: use both. Use two or three layers of bacon (depending on its thickness), in which the back bacon, with its big neck of fat almost melting, and streaky and browned hard, its fat as crisp as Frazzles bacon, are interspersed to offer a variety of bacon. sensations Under no circumstances cut or crumble bacon. Their slices must be left intact.
Tomato Cut into slices no more than 0.5 cm thick. You need a meatier tomato so its juices don’t soak the bread (often bland steak is an option, but experiment). Season the slices with salt and pepper to bring out their flavour.
Lettuce Forget the flabby, watery iceberg; spritzy baby gem is the way to go. Do not, under any circumstances, start adding arugula, soft salad leaves, or other unwanted foliage; this is not a salad sandwich.
Mayonnaise The fancier, thicker, and/or homemade versions can be too rich and assertive. They can create a gooey BLT. Instead, spread a modest amount of the relatively restrained Hellmann’s on each piece of bread, over a layer of (salty, always salty) butter. Hellmann’s has been advertised in Life magazine as the “traditional” mayonnaise for a BLT since 1958, albeit with a recipe that’s wrong in almost every detail.
The convention of cutting sandwiches into triangular halves is prissy presentation nonsense. Aesthetically, chefs like it because those angles can be artfully arranged on the plate, just as sandwich vendors like to present the public with two wide open mouths. But, gastronomically, it doesn’t make sense. It’s nearly impossible to fill any sandwich to the brim, so those pointy tips on each diagonally cut sandwich half are invariably devoid of filling, or at least make it impossible to take a big, satisfying bite like you would from the middle. . Sandwiches should always be cut into two rectangular halves to allow for easy entry, whichever way you take them.
Coffee: the perfect liquid accompaniment. Photography: Alamy Stock Photo
French fries or coleslaw are nice but ultimately unnecessary accompaniments. The BLT does not need such supports. But remember that this is supposed to be a “dirty” gift. Serve it with a big piece of salad (when do you eat it: first, second, next?) and you consume 87% of the joy of this meal. This is also not a sandwich to serve with soup. Unlike a grilled cheese sandwich, it contains too many unsecured ingredients for it to function as a ladle.
Weekend Brunch – The BLT is a bit busy (and full of salads) for breakfast, and conversely a bit one-dimensional at lunch. But, in that weekend bridge area, where you have the time and inclination to prepare a belter, it is perfect. Simple but not too simple, this super-charged bacon delivers a lineup of familiar flavor with just enough complexity to make you appetizingly think, like an up-and-coming movie trailer, about the more grown-up meals you’ll eat after noon.
In its creamy sweetness, richness and bitterness, the coffee mirrors the flavors of the BLT from an angle. They overlap in a deliciously satisfying way. They are natural partners.
So BLT, how do you eat yours?