BLT re­de­fined

One of the sum­mer’s sim­ple plea­sures gets a fla­vor boost.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - JOSEPH HER­NAN­DEZ Recipe adapted from Soup Nights by Betty Ros­bot­tom

The BLT with its sym­phony of crunchy, sa­vory, salty and juicy is high art.

The blue­print is baked into the name, a tri­umvi­rate of ba­con, let­tuce and tomato that yields an unas­sail­able clas­sic, if done cor­rectly. The key, though, is not skimp­ing on the qual­ity of in­gre­di­ents — a sand­wich this sim­ple is a del­i­cate bal­ance, and us­ing any ol’ ba­con, let­tuce or tomato will taste of medi­ocrity and wasted po­ten­tial.

Food cul­ture these days may fool you into be­liev­ing that ba­con is the star here — our coun­try is breath­less for ba­con-wrapped any­thing — but don’t be bam­boo­zled. Toma­toes, those fla­vor-packed ephe­meral globes of sweet­ness and acid­ity, are the true high­light of a BLT. Juicy, meaty, pi­quant toma­toes are proof that God loves us. Un­for­tu­nately, we don’t all have ac­cess to per­fectly ripe home­grown toma­toes, so seek out the best you can, wher­ever that may be.

OK, fine, I lied: Ba­con is the Thelma to tomato’s Louise, or Fred As­taire to Gin­ger Rogers. In tan­dem, ba­con and tomato dance a life-af­firm­ing pas de deux of sa­vory/sweet, salty/ juicy, crispy/ten­der. To cut cor­ners here would be to dash all your ef­forts in find­ing the best tomato — don’t give up now. Avoid, if pos­si­ble, store­brand packs of ba­con, which of­ten taste briny without much else go­ing for them. They’re fine in a pinch, but com­pared with less-pro­cessed ver­sions, are only salty, rather than a com­plex bal­ance of salty, smoky and porky.

Opt for thick cut, dry-cured ba­con — thicker ba­con adds sub­stan­tial bite to this sand­wich, while the dry-cure method im­parts deeper fla­vors com­pared with liq­uid-in­jected va­ri­eties. Also con­sider wood-smoked ba­con, which con­trib­utes a com­ple­men­tary smok­i­ness.

Whether you like tooth­some, chewy strips or some­thing more shat­ter­ingly crisp is up to you. Trust your heart.

Though sandwiched be­tween B and T, let­tuce brings a game of its own. Fresh ro­maine or ice­berg va­ri­eties are cru­cial here, slightly sweet in their own way but, more im­por­tant, a tex­tu­ral go-be­tween for ba­con and tomato. Per­fectly ser­vice­able in leaf form, the let­tuce when shred­ded does dou­ble duty, of­fer­ing up crunch and tex­ture while also cre­at­ing a layer of nooks and cran­nies to catch er­rant juices drip­ping from the tomato.

Of course, all three com­po­nents need a home. Bread is a mat­ter of pref­er­ence. Just be sure it’s slightly toasted and shel­lacked with a creamy may­on­naise or sand­wich spread.

Clas­sic BLT: For each sand­wich, toast 2 slices sand­wich bread. Spread one side of each slice with about a tea­spoon (or more) of may­on­naise. Top one slice with 2 large slices of tomato, 2 to 4 strips of cooked ba­con and 1 to 2 leaves of let­tuce (shred­ded if de­sired), close sand­wich with re­main­ing slice, may­on­naise side down.

Up­grade the hum­ble BLT with lus­cious chunks of lob­ster. You won’t be dis­ap­pointed.

Lob­ster BLTs

¼ cup good-qual­ity (not re­duced-fat) may­on­naise

1 tea­spoon grated le­mon zest 2 tea­spoons le­mon juice

1 tea­spoon chopped tar­ragon

4 slices good qual­ity sour­dough bread,

lightly toasted

6 ounces lob­ster meat, cut into ½ -inch

pieces, (see note)

1 green onion, white and light-green

parts, chopped 2 leaves Bos­ton or green leaf let­tuce 2 slices thick-cut ba­con, fried un­til

crisp, drained, crum­bled coarsely 1 to 2 medium toma­toes, sliced Kosher salt and ground black pep­per

In a medium bowl, whisk to­gether the may­on­naise, le­mon zest and juice, and tar­ragon. Use 3 to 4 tea­spoons of this mix­ture to spread thinly on one side of each of the 4 toasted bread slices. Add the lob­ster and green onion to the re­main­ing may­on­naise; mix well.

Place a let­tuce leaf on each of 2 bread slices. Mound half of the lob­ster salad atop each leaf; sprin­kle with the ba­con. Top each sand­wich with 2 to 3 tomato slices; salt and pep­per them well. Cover sand­wiches with re­main­ing bread slices, mayo sides down. Halve sand­wiches and serve.

Makes 2 sand­wiches.

Note: One pound of lob­ster will yield 3 to 4 ounces cooked meat. Some fish mar­kets and gro­cery stores sell cooked lob­ster meat. If you pur­chase frozen cooked lob­ster, de­frost in the re­frig­er­a­tor overnight, and pat it dry with pa­per tow­els.

Caramelized ba­con and av­o­cado give this BLT an added punch of fla­vor.

Caramelized Ba­con and Av­o­cado Sand­wich

6 to 8 slices ba­con

Brown sugar

Crushed red pep­per

1 loaf crusty bread such as baguette or

whole clove roasted gar­lic, split

May­on­naise OR Mir­a­cle Whip, to taste 1 large tomato, sliced 1 av­o­cado, pit­ted, peeled and sliced Leaf let­tuce such as ice­berg or ro­maine

Heat oven to 350 de­grees. Line a rimmed bak­ing sheet with parch­ment pa­per.

Lay ba­con flat on parch­ment­lined bak­ing sheet. Sprin­kle ba­con with brown sugar and red pep­per. Bake un­til crisp, about 20 min­utes (longer for thick ba­con). Trans­fer ba­con to pa­per tow­els to drain and cool slightly.

If de­sired, toast bread. Spread cut sides with may­on­naise. On the bot­tom half, layer tomato, av­o­cado, ba­con and let­tuce. Cover with top half and press lightly. Cut into por­tions.

Makes 4 serv­ings. Recipe adapted from Ba­con: A Love Story by Heather Lauer

The ba­con-in­fused vodka method here comes from the book The Bloody Mary by Brian Bar­tels. To gar­nish the drinks, we’ve added a skew­ered BLT, one that subs arugula pesto for the let­tuce. For the cock­tail it­self, we’ve opted for a mix or your fa­vorite recipe.

Ba­con-In­fused Bloody Marys With BLT Gar­nish

4 strips ba­con 1 ta­ble­spoon black

pep­per­corns

1 bot­tle (750 mL) vodka Bloody Mary mix or your

fa­vorite recipe Skew­ered BLTs, (recipe

fol­lows)

In a skil­let, cook the ba­con over medium-low heat, about 10 min­utes. Flip the ba­con and cook the other side un­til crispy, about 5 min­utes more. Re­move the ba­con, and re­serve it for the drink gar­nish. Let the ba­con fat cool in the pan for a few min­utes, then trans­fer it to a con­tainer.

Com­bine 2 ta­ble­spoons of the ba­con fat and the black pep­per­corns in a large seal­able con­tainer (or 2 can­ning jars) with the vodka. Seal and re­frig­er­ate 6 hours to al­low the fla­vors to in­te­grate. Trans­fer to the freezer; freeze, 30 to 60 min­utes. The fat cap will look like hard­ened wax cur­dling on top of the sur­face. Skim off the fat cap with a big spoon and dis­card. Let the in­fused vodka come to room tem­per­a­ture, then pass it through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheese­cloth or a cof­fee fil­ter. Store in a sealed con­tainer and re­frig­er­ate up to 3 months.

Pro­ceed with your fa­vorite Bloody Mary recipe, us­ing the ba­con-in­fused vodka as your spirit base and gar­nish­ing with the skew­ered BLTs.

Makes 12 drinks.

These tiny sand­wiches are spread with arugula pesto, de­vel­oped in the Tribune test kitchen by Mark Gra­ham.

Skew­ered BLTs

8 ounces pine nuts 5 ounces arugula

2 ½ ounces freshly grated parme­san cheese 1 clove gar­lic 6 ta­ble­spoons olive oil 4 slices bread, lightly toasted 4 strips cooked ba­con Grape or cherry toma­toes

In a food pro­ces­sor, com­bine the pine nuts, arugula, parme­san and gar­lic; pulse un­til smooth, scrap­ing down the sides of the bowl as needed. With the mo­tor run­ning, add enough of the oil to form a thick paste. This pesto should be thicker than what you’d use on pasta. Re­frig­er­ate un­til the pesto has the tex­ture of but­ter, about 30 min­utes.

For the mini sand­wiches, spread a gen­er­ous amount of pesto over one side of the bread. Top 2 slices of bread with the ba­con; cover with the re­main­ing slices, pesto side down. Slice the sand­wiches into bite-size squares. Thread on long skew­ers, with a grape or cherry tomato on top and bot­tom. Slide the skew­ers into the drinks without dunk­ing the sand­wiches, and serve.

Chicago Tribune/TNS/MICHAEL TERCHA

The Clas­sic BLT de­pends on high qual­ity in­gre­di­ents to reach its full po­ten­tial, and don’t be stingy with the mayo.

Chicago Tribune/TNS/MICHAEL TERCHA

Lob­ster BLTs trans­form the hum­ble sand­wich into some­thing spe­cial.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette file photo

Caramelized ba­con and slices of av­o­cado dress up al­most-clas­sic BLT.

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