big President Bill Fuller, August 2018Right now, if you garden, you are harvesting a lot of tomatoes, corn, beans, herbs, blackberries, peaches, etc. It is a great time of year to eat, for sure, and a fun time to cook. Two things I like to eat at this time of year are BLT Sandwiches and huge salads filled with fresh raw vegetables.
BLT Sandwiches and their Ilk
While we like to consider the BLT to be a winsome expression of summer’s bounty accented with bacon, I believe that there are some very useful rules to make the BLT experience the best it can be.
- Use good bread. Whether it is white or all grain, make sure it is tasty. Also, make sure the bread is sturdy. Once it gets slathered with mayo and soaks in the juices from the tomatoes, you need a little backbone to get you to the end of the sandwich.
- Toast the bread. It offers some excellent texture. Additionally, it helps to slow the soggy-factor. If you want to be really cool, toast the bread on ONE SIDE. I like to toast the side that gets the mayo and goes inside, to give the bread the additional structure and durability while leaving the outside untoasted to also allow the pleasure of soft, delicious bread and a gentle bite.
- The bacon must be crispy. One of the failings in any sandwich is when the maker does not consider the “pull-out factor”. This is when there is an ingredient in the sandwich that might be difficult to bite through and as you take a bite and pull the sandwich out of your mouth, the un-bitten-through ingredient (often onion rings or tough meats) act to dismantle the sandwich from the inside, causing it to erupt in your hand. Chewy bacon totally acts this way inside a BLT causing tomato/mayo emulsion to fall down the front of your shirt.
- Also, crispy bacon is a perfect foil for a juicy tomato.
- Crispy lettuce is best. In descending order, my favorites are iceberg, Little Gem Romaine, standard romaine hearts, Bibb lettuce, red leaf lettuce, and full-sized arugula. A lettuce needs to add structure and stability, crisp juiciness, and a little flavor.
- The sliced tomato should be very ripe and have never seen refrigeration. Refrigeration ruins a good tomato.
- There is an order to erecting a proper BLT for optimal eating pleasure.
- Both breads must have mayo.
- Starting from the bottom you should add any ingredient that is denser, heavier, or more stable. Lunchmeats, cheese, hummus, etc. These will not seep through the bottom slice of bread (as will the juices from the tomatoes) and will provide stability.
- Next is the lettuce. This rule is to provide a barrier for differentiation between whatever meaty, rich ingredient is on the bottom and the next ingredient, which is the crispy bacon.
- Always add one more slice of crispy bacon than your initial placement. Trust me, you never put too much bacon on during the first run.
- Tomato slices are next. Cut them thick, a half an inch isn’t crazy at all. Use one or two big, beautiful slices and spread them out so every little bite has tomato. Save the trimmings and ends for salad, sauce, whatever. Tomato on the top layer serves a couple of functions. First, it allows the tomato juices to commingle directly with the mayonnaise on the bread. (BTW, I just typed mayonnaise correctly the first time in that sentence! Killing it!) Secondly, being on top of all the other ingredients allows them to be bathed in the tomato goodness. And the distance from the tomato to the bottom slice with various absorbers in between helps prevent some sogging out.
- Top with second slice of toasted (at least on the inside) well-mayo-ed bread.
- Secure the sandwich with picks if moving any distance from the place of assembly. Once your sandwich topples, you will never get it back to the beautiful perfection of first assembly.
- Finally, eat it now. Once cut, those tomatoes bleed. Don’t let your sandwich become a fork-necessary item. If you do, you have ruined summer.
I love a big chopped salad. This is a great time of year for them, when the vegetables are all fresh and delicious and totally at our fingertips. As with all foods, I have some important rules.
- A chopped salad, by definition, is made of a lot of ingredients that have been chopped (diced, sliced, shredded, crumbled, etc.). EATING A CHOPPED SALAD SHOULD NOT ENTAIL USING A KNIFE. In fact, some purists believe that a chopped salad should be able to be eaten with a large dinner spoon.
- The lettuce needs to be romaine or iceberg. No other lettuce dices so nicely. Napa cabbage is also a delicious possibility, but some people are weird about that. Romaine is my favorite. To dice romaine, you lay the head on the cutting board parallel to the edge of the table. Using a chef knife, also parallel to the edge of the table, cut through the lettuce, leaving it attached at the base, multiple times with cuts about 3/8” apart. When complete, roll head 90° and perform the same cuts on the second side. Finally, leaving the lettuce parallel, turn chef knife perpendicular to the lettuce and cut it into little squares, all about 3/8” on a side.
- 1/2” is fine.
- Dice all other vegetables into pieces of similar size. The more the better. Raw corn is delicious in chopped salads, don’t be afraid of it.
- Pick a cheese. The cheese is best if soft and crumbly/creamy. I like this kind of cheese because when you mix all the ingredients together it adds a creamy thickness to the mixture.
- Place the romaine in a large bowl and arrange the other ingredients atop in whatever geometrical or non-geometrical arrangement pleases you. Place any warm or hot grilled protein or vegetables (sliced and/or diced, of course). Top this with cheese.
- When it is time to serve, present the lovely arranged salad, pour dressing over it, and mix it well with two salad implements or a good pair of tongs in front of your guests.
See these rules in action on Pittsburgh Today Live.Recipes: