“Too few people understand a really good sandwich.”
Ask me how many sandwiches I’ve made in my life and I couldn’t tell you. As a mother of three (two of them very large boys), I admit to a chronic case of sandwich boredom. Though I do always spread the mayo, ketchup, jelly, peanut butter evenly over the bread slices so that each bite contains the requisite amount of filling, I haven’t spent as much time thinking about the perfect sandwich as I have about the perfect chocolate chip cookie or beef bourguignon. But the scales have been brushed from my eyes and I find myself in love…nay, besotted with the perfect BBLTA. That’s a basil, bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich, sigh.
It all began with a really fine August tomato from a local grower. It demanded center stage, no supporting actor status as in a salad, but focused star quality. I happened to have a fresh loaf of sourdough from my local bakery, a ripe avocado on the kitchen counter, a pound of bacon and the remnants of a head of iceberg lettuce in the fridge. Slowly it all started to come together. Tart, sour, crispy, rich, salty and crunchy, oh yeah.
I pulled 4 slices of bacon from the slab and cooked them up quickly in my go-to cast iron skillet. I love to cook bacon in that skillet. There’s something about coating it in bacon grease that just makes me happy. While the bacon cooled on a paper towel lined plate, I sliced the sourdough into thin, less than 1/2-inch slices. I think this is a very important step because if the bread is too thick 1) it can be hard to wrap your mouth around it. 2) the crispy toasted edges are more likely to shred the roof of your mouth, and 3) the bread dilutes the flavors of the delicious inside of the sandwich. So, I advise you to slice your bread once you get it home with a serrated bread knife, preferably offset (see picture). Toast the bread until lightly golden.
OK, now for the fun part. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and twist it apart. Remove the pit by gently tapping it with the sharp edge of a knife, twist and pry it loose. Carefully remove the pit from the knife and dispose of it. Peel and thinly slice the avocado. Rinse a few leaves of the crunchy lettuce and fresh basil and pat them dry. Slice the tomato thinly.
Now we are at the crossroads of the perfect BBLTA. Does one use store bought mayonnaise on a sandwich of such transcendent purity? That, my friends, is a question that only you can answer. For those of you willing to go the distance, I’ve supplied a simple recipe for mayo which whips up in only a minute or two. It is so delicious, you may never go back to the jarred variety. Since we are talking about a perfect sandwich here, I advise you to give it a try. It will be so much easier to make than you think.
Now we’re in the homestretch. Spread the lightly toasted bread slices with a generous slathering of mayo and lay down the basil leaves, covering one slice. Top the basil with the bacon, avocado and tomato. Salt and pepper the tomato (fleur de sel and coarse ground black pepper is best) then top with the lettuce. Top with the other slice of bread so that the mayo side is down. The mayo acts as glue to hold the slippery lettuce side of the sandwich together on one side and the mayo holds the slippery basil on the other. The avocado is between the bacon and tomato because it will mash somewhat and its richness tastes best between the salty bacon and zippy tomato. These are important points if you don’t want the insides of your sandwich squishing out when you bite down on it.
Press lightly and cut the perfect BBLTA in half with the serrated knife. Share with your best friend or favorite child.
Kitchen Counter Point: There are a few points that that lead to mayonnaise success. 1) Start with pasteurized eggs to be sure that they are safe to eat in a raw state. Pasteurized eggs have gone through a heating process that kills bacteria but still leaves the yolks and whites liquid. 2) Take the egg out of the fridge about 30 minutes before using it so that it loses its chill. Warmer eggs absorb the oil and emulsify better than cold. 3) All spouts are not created equal. Because you have to pour the oil through the feed tube very slowly, some measuring cups will dribble and you will have vegetable oil on your counter instead of in your mayo. I find that the more pointed the spout, the better it pours.
Makes about 1 3/4 cups
2 pasteurized egg yolks at room temperature (save the whites in the fridge for up to 1 week)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups grapeseed oil or safflower oil
Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper and cayenne in the bowl of a food processor or blender and pulse a few times. Measure the oil in a measuring cup with a good spout that pours cleanly and doesn’t dribble (see Kitchen Counter Point). Turn on the machine and pour the oil very slowly in a fine drizzle into the work bowl through the feed tube. It should take a few minutes to pour all the oil into the bowl. After about half the oil is added the mayo should begin to thicken and emulsify. If for some reason the mixture doesn’t emulsify, just remove it from the work bowl, add another egg yolk to the bowl and reintroduce the mixture slowly through the feed tube again. Taste and adjust the seasoning with more salt and pepper and thin with more lemon juice or water if desired. The mayonnaise keeps for up to 5 days refrigerated. Feel free to use the leftover mayo in tuna salad, pasta salad, potato salad, etc.