It’s BLT Time at the Beach
Summer is wrapping up. The crickets are sneaking into the house and the sweet autumn clematis is in full bloom. Farm stands and grocery stores are chock full of the beautiful red fruit, locally grown in all shapes and sizes. With such abundance, you might say we’re experiencing “peak tomato.”
I don’t know about you, but this is when I start jonesing for a BLT. The simple combination of bacon, lettuce, and tomato on toasted white bread is one of late summer’s great pleasures. Of course, I’d like to recount a wonderful story about how I came to appreciate the BLT, but I don’t have one. Sort of like the history of the BLT, it just kind of happened.
Some food scholars believe the BLT evolved from the club sandwich, which originated in resorts and country clubs in the latter half of the 19th century. Remove a slice of bread and the turkey or ham and you have a poor man’s version of the club sandwich.
Once sliced bread was invented in the 1920s, sandwiches in general became easier to make and more popular to eat. The rapid expansion of supermarkets after WWII meant ingredients like lettuce and tomato were available year-round. By 1958, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise advertised their product as “traditional on bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches.”
As with the origin of the sandwich, the name BLT isn’t well documented either. Etymologists and linguists who study slang and jargon suggest it was simply that, verbal shorthand used by lunch counter waiters and waitresses to call the sandwich. It was catchy and easy to remember so it entered the familiar language. A survey of historic newspapers and magazines say reference for BLT sandwiches were appearing in print in the 50s and 60s. Today, it’s one of the top ten most popular sandwiches in America.
The beauty of the BLT is in its simplicity. Yet, there’s no shortage of chefs—and writers—who futz with the ratios of bacon, lettuce, and tomato and make bold pronouncements about what constitutes the perfect sandwich. Some insist on beefsteak tomatoes. Others wax poetically about artisanal smokehouse bacon or pontificate on which lettuce brings the best flavor and texture to the sandwich. Still others insist on adding extra ingredients to the BLT. If a BLT contains salmon is it still a BLT?
As you might imagine, I make a damn fine BLT or else I wouldn’t be writing about it.
I start with a big tomato, one that fills my hand and feels good when I heft it. Its not scientific, but I just know when its right. And, it shouldn’t be perfect. I believe the best tomatoes for sandwiches are the seconds you find at a farm stand where you get a half dozen for a dollar. But it can’t be mealy. I slice it thick and use a paper towel to dry the slices then add a few crystals of kosher salt.
The bacon should be crispy but not so much that it crumbles. Grocery store brand is fine. When it comes to lettuce, I’m not picky. Any simple green lettuce will do but it must be crisp.
The real secret to a sublime BLT is the bread. Simple white bread works best. Toast it lightly because you still want it to be flexible enough to slightly mold to the ingredients and thereby keep the full sandwich together.
A proper BLT also needs mayonnaise. Southerners will insist on Duke’s Mayonnaise. Personally, I’m not picky about the type because I’m more concerned with the amount of mayonnaise. When you squeeze the sandwich you should see the mayonnaise come right up to the edge of the sandwich. But, it should never drop. That would be too much.
And finally, I like to pair my BLT with a dry French rose.
If this sounds too complicated, there are a trio of good BLT options here in Rehoboth.
Grub on Rehoboth Avenue turns out the best BLT in town, in my humble opinion. The white bread is toasted just right, the ingredients are plentiful but none of them overpower the others. They either use homemade mayonnaise or they use Duke’s. I’ve asked but they refuse to divulge their secret. The interesting thing with Grub is that even though different people make the sandwiches, they always turn out good. To use a good college football metaphor, they have a good system in place. In fact, I think of them as the Crimson Tide of BLTs. (Sorry Auburn friends.)
Arenas, between Baltimore Avenue and Rehoboth Avenue, serves up a classic BLT on toasted white bread. The tomatoes were fresh. The meat, while plentiful, was a tad limp for my taste.
Lori’s on Baltimore Avenue serves a BLT on a French baguette. Now, I love a baguette, just I’m a traditionalist when it comes to a BLT. A baguette doesn’t hold the sandwich together the way I think it ought to, especially with shredded bacon. Lori’s sandwich is tasty that’s for sure, but it’s a tad messy. Or maybe I’m just a bit sloppy.
So there you have it. I’m sure it’s more than you ever expected to know about this simple but delicious sandwich. Bon apetit.