Podcast #42: Bacon, Lettuce and TomatoCAST


Back by popular demand and Saveur.com is our Ultimate BLT post from 2007!

My dear friend Christine Nunn, who helped me with this project has since opened her own restaurant in Fair Lawn, New Jersey — Picnic, The Restaurant, where you can get the Ultimate BLT as an appetizer for a limited time or while summer Jersey tomatoes run out!

Click Here To Listen to the Bacon, Lettuce and TomatoCAST!

Click Here for a Hi-Res Slide Show with More Photos!

Related OTB Post: No Bacon? “P”, L and T

Ah, the BLT. In many ways, it is the ultimate and perfect expression of the sandwich, simple and yet one of the best possible sandwiches that you can eat. Still, the perfect BLT can be elusive, as most restaurants and people do not take the exacting level of care in order to construct the best BLT possible. Skimp on any of the ingredients, or use a component that is substandard in any way, and the entire sandwich fails.

In order to build the Ultimate BLT, one must be committed in Zen-like fashion to go to great lengths to source pristine ingredients. Indeed, an entire afternoon could be spent in trying to get all the right components, at considerable expense. It is neither a cheap nor an efficient affair, but it is well worth the effort.

To build the Ultimate BLT, I collaborated with CIA-trained chef Christine Nunn of Picnic Caterers in Emerson, New Jersey, who came up with some great ideas, sourced some fantastic bread and tomatoes for us and assembled the incredible sandwiches you’re about to see.

Do you want to see how the Ultimate BLT is constructed? Click on the “Read the rest of this entry” link below for more.

Jersey Tomatoes at the Englewood Farmers Market

The quality of the tomato is often overlooked in a BLT sandwich. They must be at the optimal level of ripeness, and ideally a BLT should only be eaten during the summertime, when local and fresh tomatoes are in season. Optimally it should be a tomato that you’ve grown in your own garden, but if you can’t do that, go to a farmers market or a farmstand, or a produce store. Avoid tomatoes from supermarkets, as they are picked underripe in order to be shipped and are never as good.

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Great local tomatoes can be found all over the country during the months of July, August and September, but in my opinion the very best tomatoes are grown in New Jersey, the Garden State. New Jersey has invested tremendous amounts of time and effort in perfecting the very best tomato hybrids, which seem to have been created for the express purpose of making BLT sandwiches. These tomatoes were found at the Farmers Market on Fridays in Englewood, a close suburb of New York City.

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Lettuce and salad greens are often considered to be the least important part of a BLT sandwich, but I would beg to differ on that. Lettuce is absolutely critical to the success of the sandwich, as it adds the crispness and freshness that you need to contrast with the juiciness of the tomato and the fattiness of the bacon.

The type of lettuce you get is not nearly as important as the actual freshness of the lettuce itself. Boston, Butter, Romaine and even Iceberg are good choices, as are field or Mesclun greens. Red Lettuces are great to use as well. If you can use a variety of lettuces in a BLT sandwich, that’s even better.

Home Grown Lettuce and Tomatoes

Here is one of our morning harvests of lettuce and tomatoes, straight from our garden. The green tomatoes are perfectly ripe. You don’t typically find ripe green varieties of tomatoes in farmers markets, so you might want to consider growing your own.

Home Grown Jersey and Heirloom Tomatoes

Jersey and Heirloom garden grown tomatoes, freshly sliced for BLTs.

Heirloom and Jersey Homegrown Lettuce and Tomato BLT

BLT, the breakfast of champions.

Bacon at Kocher's

You’ll want to buy the very best bacon you can possibly afford. Like lettuce, its importance is often ignored, and people tend to buy bacon at the supermarket and purchase mass-market brands, none of which are good to use on the Ultimate BLT. You’ll want to seek out the independently owned butcher shops that specialize in pork products, such as Pork Stores or German-style butchers. Short of that you can mail order super premium bacons, by seeking out companies like Grateful Palate (who has a wonderful bacon of the month club), Niman Ranch or Nueske’s. As with the Tomatoes and Lettuce, you should also be able to purchase good bacon at a local farmer’s market, which can be great one-stop shops for BLT fixin’s.

Double Smoked Bacon at Kochers

Double Smoked Bacon at Kochers

Because we wanted to make our BLT an all New Jersey affair, I decided to shop for my bacon locally at Kocher’s Continental Meats in Ridgefield. New Jersey has a number of notable German-style butchers which are known for their pork products, hence the term “Pork Store”.

Kocher’s bacon is probably one of the best bacons I have ever had, and I like the fact that you can buy entire whole slabs of it and have their butcher custom slice it to whatever thickness you want. The bacon above is a double smoked, German-style bacon, one of two types of bacon that Kocher’s produces. I prefer a thicker cut of bacon to be used on a BLT, so I had the butcher slice it real thick.

Double Thick, Double Smoked Bacon Strip

Kocher’s Bacon sliced nice and thick.

Side of Bacon

I recently had some phenomenal bacon from Nueske’s at Porter House New York in Manhattan’s Time Warner Center. We actually took the bulk of this home and made some pretty mean late-night BLTs with it.

Tomato Mise en Place for BLTs

There are several mindsets about what sort of mayonnaise to use on a BLT sandwich. It’s my opinion that using a made from scratch mayo using fresh eggs, lemon juice and vegetable oil has the wrong flavor and consistency for use on a BLT sandwich than a high-quality, commercially produced mayonnaise.

I grew up on Hellman’s, so that’s what I use. It’s what I think mayo should taste like. It may sound like the antithesis to all the other fresh ingredients we are using here, but Hellman’s is actually a very high quality and consistent product, and food service professionals and restaurants swear by it. As to Miracle Whip — fuhgeddaboutit.

Balthazar Breads for BLTs

Here we have three different breads that we’re going to use on our BLTs — an Italian Olive Bread, a Whole Wheat Multigrain, and a White Sourdough Bread. As with the other ingredients, freshness and quality is paramount.

All of these were purchased from Balthazar Bakery. Although Balthazar is known as a New York City company with its Manhattan-based restaurants, the bakery which supplies its restaurants — and many others in New York City — is based in Englewood, New Jersey. You can actually go to its retail outlet attached to the bakery and shop there.

The first sandwich is the odd man out, but still counts as a great BLT. We’re using an Italian Olive Bread as the foundation, with Pancetta and Speck (a type of cured ham similar to Prosciutto, but smoked) using green heirloom tomatoes, Organic Salad Greens and Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise. Pancetta is fully cured and ready to eat, and is a common sandwich filling when served on various roadside cafes in Italy.

Multigrain/Home Smoked BLT Under Construction

On the second BLT, we used Christine Nunn’s home-smoked bacon on New Jersey tomatoes, using a multigrain bread and Hellman’s Cholesterol-Free Canola Mayonnaise. BLT’s are on Christine’s lunch menu just about every day, and she’s a stickler for top quality ingredients.

I was pleasantly surprised by the Canola-based Hellman’s product, which had a higher acidic taste than the regular Real Mayonnaise. If after tasting your fresh tomatoes you find they aren’t quite at the peak level of ripeness I think this mayo compensates for that quite nicely.

The final BLT, and the one which I feel deserves the Ultimate BLT designation, is the Double Smoked, Extra Thick Cut Kocher’s Bacon with Jersey Tomatoes, and Hellman’s Real Mayonnaise mixed with fresh Parsley and Tarragon.

As you can see, we used plenty of mayo here. Mayonnaise is the essential “glue” of a BLT sandwich and is needed as an insulating layer between the bread and the wet components.
Blt Sandwich on Foodista

34 Responses to Podcast #42: Bacon, Lettuce and TomatoCAST

  1. ils vont says:

    Wow that looks out of control. Tomatoes are great right now and bacon is always great…anywhere in Manhattan or Brooklyn to get a kick ass BLT with those types of ingredients? Let me know.

    http://www.ilsvont.com

  2. Rachel Perlow says:

    I’m thinking Porter House might be putting it on its lunch menu soon. Michael?

  3. Rob says:

    I remember a while back, David Rosengarten did an episode of his show “Taste” devoted to building a perfect BLT. While not as extensively researched as your experiment, it may be interesting for you to check out that particular episode.

  4. Mimi Sheraton says:

    Say it isn’t so…a great piece, except for iceberg lettuce suggestion, good only shredded for texture in a tacos and even then can be approximated with shredded waxed paper..But, consider watercress, my own favorite for this sandwich and please no olive or nut bread..Pepperidge original or even a better white, or a good 7-grain.
    Another thought: When I can’t get great tomatoes, i.e. winter..I use Italian roasted red peppers..preferably home-roasted and peeled, then slivered and layered into the saandwich for easy biting..And by the way, tomatoes should be sliced very thin and layered in so they don’t pull out in big chunks when bitten into.

  5. Rachel Perlow says:

    I’ll try the thin slices next time, but I have a feeling that might be more important for less than ideally ripe tomatoes. The ones from my garden yesterday were perfectly ripe and yielding to the bite, so I enjoyed them thickly sliced. Although Jason mentioned iceberg as a possibility, the lettuce we’ve been using at home is a mesclun mixture consisting of green leaf, red leaf, red oak, arugula, curly endive and a few mystery leaves.

  6. Christine says:

    I like to use Boston lettuce. It is nice and buttery, mild, and doesn’t give any bitter flavor. I like to keep my tomatoes sliced thick, but that’s me. At Picnic, we use either Balthazar Bread or Brick Oven white.

  7. Rebecca263 says:

    OhMyHolyOats, kids! Those sandwiches look incredible. You really went all out. We appreciate your sacrifice to the gods of fat (who do you tihnk you’re kidding with that fancy mayonnaise, anyway?). I beg to differ on the lettuces, though. Butter, Bibb or Boston lettuce? Too slippery for MY sandwich. a Mesclun mix? Feh, too artsy. I prefer the crunchier varieties such as Iceberg or Romaine. Iceberg was MADE for sandwiches, I swear.
    Now, I wonder what that sandwich would taste like with some FRIED tomatoes in it. Oh, and please, make mine toasted.

  8. Sumi says:

    OK..this was killing me today…went to whole foods, got white bread, then

    got out my cast iron skillet-about 30 years of use in it

    fried up the bacon, lightly toasted the bread, ran out to the garden and got a tomato, got the mayo and the lettuce….

    my mouth had an orgasm and I was cring being too full for another…

    great idea!

  9. Hillary says:

    I JUST did a blog entry this week sampling a few of the tomatoes I’ve seen around the food blogs. It’s no coincidence, being summer and all, but it’s amazing how many beautiful tomatoes there are out there! I may just have to add you to the mini roundup! Check it out here if you’re interested: http://chewonthatblog.com/?p=221

  10. figswithbri says:

    Mmmmmm…..ripe heirloom tomatoes. It just isn’t summer without them. We are finally getting a good crop in Northern California.

  11. Sandy says:

    You said it all, Jason. It’s as if I taught you myself. Here’s one more tomato tip. For a sandwich, cut the tomato from pole to pole rather than across the equator. The latter cut is prettier if the tomato is to be laid out on a plate, but it is too drippy for a sandwich.

  12. Mememb says:

    With such fabulous vegetables, bacon and bread why are you using Hellmans mayo (filled with sugar and MSG – aka ‘natural flavors’) – when its so easy to make your own with cold pressed olive oil and organic eggs??

  13. Mememb: If you read the post, you’d understand why. :)

  14. Richard says:

    Great article. Agree on most counts. We used to live in northern NJ, so miss the tomatoes. Now we’re over in the UK, we have access to “real” bacon – back bacon, rather than streaky, which makes the most fantastic BLT. There are some great organic bacons readily available in the supermarkets, as well as at good butchers. You can’t really get sourdough over here, but a good white bread tends to be better than grain, as you want the bread to provide texture rather than strong flavour (IMO).

  15. [...] Bacon? “P”, L and T. Okay, so maybe you got left out of the Ultimate BLT post because you don’t eat bacon. Not to worry, my Kosher and porcine-averse friends. Do I have a [...]

  16. [...] Jason Perlow offers up a tomato- cast, as well as two different mouth watering posts on the BLT: this one and the P (pastrami) LT.  San Francisco’s Cooking with Amy also has a terrific spin on the [...]

  17. Randi says:

    I’d love a BLT, but I hate tomatoes( only raw, not cooked). What can I use instead of tomatoes? I’m not a fan of roasted red pepper either.

  18. Randi try avocado. Or you might want to consider cutting a tomato in half and roasting it on your outdoor grill. You could also confit the tomatoes using the method we documented in the Ratatouille post:

    https://offthebroiler.wordpress.com/2007/07/12/ratatouille-a-la-ratatouille/

  19. Christine says:

    Make a tomato confit, that way they’re cooked. I’d toast the bread well, cause the confit is a bit messy. But, also tasty.

  20. tony says:

    anyone know of a website for mail order Jersey beefsteak tomatoes??…I’ve been googling for a friend in Texas and the only thing I find are seeds !:-)

    Thanks..
    Tony

    there is nothing like Balthazar bread…….and that BLT gave me my menu for tomorrow

  21. [...] New York Times back in 2006 and we’ve profiled Picnic’s food many times here on OTB, here’s a post all about BLTs. When it came to planning the menu, I told Chris “brunch” and let her run with it. [...]

  22. carnality says:

    Wow.. I’m totally and literally drooling. But wait, untoasted bread? I don’t think I’ve ever had an untoasted BLT. (even when reduced to having to order them in restaurants and delis)

    Is this a where you live kinda thing? (like pop vs soda?)

  23. [...] sandwich insanity, particulary when competing with Nunn’s Rendev0us at Burger Mountain, the Ultimate BLT and the Foie [...]

  24. [...] is at the end of June, the beefsteak served in this sandwich still had a fairly white core. I admit to being something of a BLT snob when it comes to tomatoes and told Chef Carmine that maybe that until our beautiful Jersey tomatoes [...]

  25. [...] The Bacon and Lettuce and Tomato sandwich is a proper vessel for a large, ripe summer tomato. If you want to learn how to make the perfect summer BLT with Chef Christine Nunn of Picnic Restauran… [...]

  26. Mary Beth says:

    for great white bread, try Stan Evans’ bakery in Columbus, Ohio, lightly toasted — just like homemade.

  27. terri says:

    i’m with mimi on the iceberg lettuce….i’d rather eat the napkin and there’s probably more fiber in it. hellman’s is good in other recipes but for my blt…it’s miricle whip only!!

  28. Mary says:

    Were you thinking of prosciutto instead of pancetta? Pancetta is raw, uncured Italian bacon, not “fully cured and ready to eat”–please tell us you meant to say prosciutto, which is indeed cured and ready to eat. Or, you could use pancetta, but you must cook it first, just like any of the bacon varieties you mentioned.

  29. mbeezer says:

    Nothing says summer like our first BLT with our first brandywine tomato. Since I also have to follow low sodium, I have found the ultimate low sodium bacon, for supreme BLTs — North Country Smokehouse Fruitwood Smoked Uncured Bacon (55 mg/thick slice). Ah, summer.

  30. After a most un-sunny summer so far, my tomatoes are finally starting to ripen. I’ve had BLTs on my mind since the first sighting. Today might be the day. While I would prefer to have it on homemade bread, I just ate the last of that yesterday (toasted and slathered with homemade peach jam) and so will use Oroweat buttermilk bread, toasted. And a generous amount of Hellman’s mayonnaise (wish they would make an organic version). I agree with Mimi Sheraton’s comment that the tomatoes should be sliced thin. These gorgeous photos have me salivating!

  31. jack k says:

    First, to Sumi (aug 10) it should be refered to as a “tongue gasm”
    One added treat to the BLT is a touch of balsomic vinegar and fresh basil leaves.
    Hellman’s olive oil mayo works quite well.
    Perfect pickle : Pickled okra
    And to think, summer is almost over and we have to wait 7 months for the ultimate taste treat again!!

  32. BobTomDon says:

    Jason:

    Check out the Farm View Pork Store in Pompton Lakes…I think you will be pleasantly suprised !

  33. Wow Jason – a beautiful post! I tried to “reblog” it to Spoon & Shutter but to no avail. Finally getting to Picnic next week! And Kochers is very dear to my heart – Ted and I had one of our first photo shoots together there 4 years ago for an Oktoberfest piece!

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