A great BLT was a long time coming this summer, as local tomatoes ripened late. My first of the year was at last weekend’s Book Festival. It was actually a BLAT–Bacon, lettuce, avocado and tomato–and it was from Fork Catering’s very cool truck.
I’d had several BLTs before this one, but none were what they should be: Good bread lightly toasted, mayonnaise slathered with a heavy hand, great tomatoes sliced through the equator, tender lettuce and crisp bacon with snap. That snap is essential and you get it only by cooking the bacon until it is very crisp (but not burned).
It seems that as artisan bacon has become more readily available, cooks have lost their way when it comes to preparing it. This has happened at BLT parties at top restaurants that offer a choice of half a dozen hand-crafted bacons. The bacon has been flabby, rubbery and chewy. Now, I am of the mind that it is almost impossible to screw up bacon. Bacon in any stage of doneness is enjoyable in the right context. But on a BLT, the bacon absolutely must be crisp. A BLT made with flabby bacon will fall apart but it’s more than convenience that makes crispness essential. That snap provides an irresistible burst of flavor that makes the sandwich soar. It is like an exclamation point in your mouth and it heightens the flavor of all ingredients. Without it, a BLT is just another sandwich, good, perhaps, but hardly a reason for living. A BLT with crisp bacon will cure almost any ill.
It is, of course, easy to make a great BLT at home. But with so many bacons now available, which should you choose? Yesterday, I tested five brands, employing three cooking methods, stove top in a frying pan, 17 minutes in a 475 oven and in a 475 oven with the bacon dredged very lightly in flour, a technique recommended by a butcher at Oliver’s Market. Here are the results.
- Black Sheep Farm, Potter Valley-excellent snap and flavor from stove top cooking and in the oven, without flour. Overall best. Available at local farmers markets.
- Black Pig Meat Co., Healdsburg-Great acidity when cooked in the oven with or without flour; flour decreases snap; snap was best with stove top cooking, though the edges burned before the rasher was fully crisp.
- Platter Bacon, Oliver’s Market-Recommended by an Oliver’s butcher as the best bacon in the world; surprisingly, it did not do well with oven cooking; it had almost no snap with or without flour; excellent snap on top of the stove.
- Daily’s, a national brand-excellent snap in the oven without flour; great snap on top of the stove, though bacon developed a slightly burned taste before it appeared burned
- Niman Ranch, founded in Marin, now a national brand-perhaps the most widely-known specialty bacon; no snap when cooked in the oven; great snap on top of the stove but somewhat bland flavor
After cooking all the bacons, I made several small BLTs using Costeaux Bakery’s Ciabatta, a Marvel Stripe tomato from The Patch, tender butter lettuce from Three Ox Farm and Best Foods Mayonnaise.
The best one included all brands of bacon. The best single brand BLT was with Black Sheep bacon but all were good. Conclusion: Cook bacon all the way to crisp and you’ll have a great sandwich.
If you have a passion for BLTs, here are some favorite recipes from the archives of Seasonal Pantry: