Home grown sandwiches fall into two categories: the ones you make in the hungry heat of the moment, like pulling stuff straight out of the refrigerator in the middle of the night, and those you make on purpose—sandwiches that take planning and work. That’s where the BLT falls.
Setting out to make a good BLT means dividing the sandwich into its individual components and then paying attention to each one. A good sandwich has layered flavors and textures so every ingredient matters.
La Colombe BLT/Simplified
Spread mayo on one side of both pieces of bread. Lay out one slice (mayo side up), layer with lettuce, then sliced tomato, then bacon, closing with the second piece of bread (mayo side down). Using the heel of your hand, press down lightly on the sandwich to compress it and cut in half.
La Colombe BLT/From the ground up
Layer 1: Good quality bread, lightly toasted on each side.
Using toast is the easiest way to add texture to a sandwich. But the bread must be lightly rather than crispy toasted, so the slices are still flexible enough to “bend” rather than crack (when you apply pressure to grip the sandwich), spilling out the filling. It’s also super easy to alter the final flavor of the sandwich by switching out the breads: golden eggy challah, sliced white Pullman, or we used a seven grain, letting the rich, slightly nutty flavor offset the saltiness of the bacon.
Layer 2: Mayonnaise
Making mayonnaise is a good old-school kitchen skill to master for no other reason than the homemade version tastes better. Much better. It isn’t really hard to make mayonnaise. You need patience, a strong whisking wrist, and a little respect for the science of what you’re doing, called an emulsification, that is combining ingredients than don’t normally mix (like oil and lemon juice) in a process that—shorthand description—suspends minute droplets of one liquid throughout the other. This is helped along by adding the oil in a slow steady stream, particularly in the first part of the process, while keeping up a brisk continuous whisking action for a satiny texture.
Recipe: Lemon and Basil Mayo
Makes: Plenty for 4 sandwiches
1 very fresh whole egg yolk
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
Good sized pinch of cayenne
1 1/2 Tablespoon lemon juice (which you will use in two additions)
1 teaspoon pulverized garlic (we used a mortar and pestle)
3/4 cup neutral flavored oil (we used grape seed)
1/2 cup flavorful olive oil
2 teaspoons coarse salt
4 basil leaves, rolled and finely cut on the diagonal, called “chiffonade”
Whisk together the egg yolk, mustard, cayenne and half the lemon juice until well incorporated. (With a little aeration from your whisk, this mixture should pull together, lightening in color and making it easier to begin the oil emulsification.) Stir in the pulverized garlic.
In a slow steady stream, drizzle in the grape seed oil while whisking to emulsify. When the emulsification is set and stabile, without separation, add the salt and olive oil with remaining lemon juice, whisking well until the mixture is smooth. This second addition of lemon juice really smoothes things out, and it helps to dissolve the salt in the juice before adding, so that the mayonnaise is evenly seasoned and doesn’t look speckled. (It would eventually smooth out but that means more whisking.) Use a plastic spatula or spoon to fold in basil, otherwise the fine strands will get caught in the whisk.
Layer 3: Lettuce
You want a soft lettuce with a bit of a rib (so it won’t flatten out in the sandwich), like the thick leaves of Boston or Bibb, its smaller variety. Both are butterhead lettuces and form loose heads that can trap soil. Separate the leaves (try to use those that are relatively the same size as your bread slice), rinse under gently running warm water and dry well. (Dry lettuce is critical to good sandwich making.) I have my own technique: wrap damp leaves loosely in a clean kitchen towel, gather and twist the ends closed, and whip it around, letting centrifugal force shake out the excess water which then sprays around the kitchen, annotating my dog like holy water.
Layer 4: Tomatoes
Simple rule: Big tomatoes that are ripe all the way though in season, getting smaller and smaller (better chance of through and through ripeness) as the weather gets colder until all that’s left is oval-shaped Roma or “plum” tomatoes. Repeat when new season arrives.
Layer 5: Bacon
Here’s where the sandwich really gets good. Generally speaking, pork bellies (from the underside of the pig) plus curing over smoking divided by slicing equals bacon. But as one of Americas last great regional foods, bacon varies from smokehouse to smokehouse with different degrees of saltiness and sweetness according to cure. And that’s only part of the flavor equation. Bacon also has regional characteristics, and different geographies make for different smokes, from New England corncob and maple syrup to mid-western apple trees and the hickory wood of the south. So when you choose your bacon, you change your sandwich.
You can also use vary the thickness of bacon. In this case, I used my Berkel slicer for thicker slices. But sometimes I do them really thin and then stack them up, layers and layers of crunchy slices like a salty and smoky mille-feuille.
On the side: If you want to serve eggs alongside or even in the sandwich, crack them right into the hot bacon fat that is left in the pan and cook as desired. I have this little square pan I love to use and added a little piece of bacon to render some fat for the eggs.