MAY IT PLEASE THE PALATE: Improving the BLT

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There is a brief window of time in Michigan when you can actually get a delicious, sun-ripened tomato. That is during our fourth season, “unbearably humid.” (That’s the one right after “relentless rain.”)

There are so many things to do with these juicy fruits, besides throwing them at certain opposing counsel. One can’t-miss presentation is the bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich, or BLT.

Traditionally this involves nothing more than sliced bacon and tomato on toasted white bread, with iceberg lettuce and mayonnaise. But without disrespecting the original, there are some amazing variations on this proven winner.

Bread - White sandwich bread, like Pullman style, is the norm. I’ve seen sourdough, brioche, and French bread, and I’m sure there are many others. While it is usually toasted, some folks like to fry the bread in the bacon fat or even in mayonnaise.    Bacon – I use thick Applewood smoked bacon, fried over low heat on aluminum foil on my indoor oven grilltop. Some like to bake it in the oven on parchment paper. I’ve even seen it cross-hatched, designed to form a square of solid bacon to perfectly fit the bread. That would sort of freak me out.

Lettuce – It’s nice to see unfairly maligned iceberg lettuce making a bit of a comeback, but I suggest leaf or butter lettuce, or better yet – big pieces of grown-up spinach. (Note about baby spinach: bundle it up with your baby carrots and leave it at the doorstep of the Salvation Army. These are babies you want to abandon.)

Tomato – Nothing fancy here, get some hefty beefsteaks or heirlooms and slice ‘em thick. Some people like to fry tomato slices in the bacon grease, but some people get carried away frying all sorts of things, like cheese and candy bars and bubblegum and butter sticks and beer and koolaid and scorpions. So don’t fry the tomato, OK?

Mayonnaise – Normally I never use anything except Hellmann’s, but my most recent taste of it seemed a bit off. Sure enough, there are some deeply analytical articles – and lots of complaining loyalists – to indicate that something may be changing (remember “New Coke?”). Nevertheless, until I find something better, or take the time to make my own (which isn’t that hard), Hellmann’s it is.

Many variations of BLT’s involve spiking the mayo. One of my favorites was mixing it with mashed avocado and a touch of wasabi. Chef Emeril mixes his with avocado and a chipotle-adobo sauce; Rachel Ray with garlic, chili powder and lime. Flavoring it with chopped, grilled scallions, or fresh basil (a soulmate of tomato), are other suggestions.

More cowbell – Not content to leave well enough alone, there are lots of other items people have laid on their BLT. Cheese is one, such as a smoked gouda or creamy goat cheese (always a favorite with crispy bacon). Another is to put slices of avocado (instead of mashing it with the mayonnaise). For my most recent BLT, I roasted some jalapeno slices briefly with the bacon and arranged those on the sandwich. I’ve also experimented with different kind of pickle slices.

Perhaps the most brilliant suggestion to improve the BLT is to add a fried egg. A little sloppy, perhaps, but who doesn’t like that yellow yolk running sensuously into the crevices of the sandwich? Oh my, yes!
Finally there’s one last addition to the BLT that is quite innovative. Fry up a ground beef patty and put it under the bacon. Sure it changes the character of the sandwich, but like the BLT, I hear it’s a proven winner.