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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jersey and Heirloom garden grown tomatoes, freshly sliced for BLTs.
BLT, the breakfast of champions.
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.
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.
Kocher’s Bacon sliced nice and thick.
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.
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.
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.
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.