I detest Wonder Bread and pretty much every other kind of loaf found in the pre-packaged bread aisle of the grocery store—unless we are talking about grilled cheese, but that’s a story for another day. My aversion is primarily to the smell. It turns my stomach. Unsurprisingly, I have the same reaction when passing the wheat tortillas in the “international” aisle. What can I say? It’s one of my quirks.
You may be wondering why I’m fixating on mass-produced bread. My reason is this: Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato sandwiches, or more commonly known by the acronym, BLTs. This simple sandwich is such a summertime treat, but I never really enjoyed it until I was an adult, specifically because my parents like to use that kind of freaking bread in their assembly.
Growing up, we always had an abundance of fresh tomatoes from the garden. Summer dinners always included this wonderful, savory fruit. Seriously, if you have never tasted the complex, earthy sweetness of a sun-warmed freshly-picked tomato, dusted with just a hint of salt, you need to go buy a tomato plant right now. But I digress. One of the many ways we enjoyed our tomatoes was by making BLTs. I always loved those dinners because I got to gorge on ingredients that I truly enjoy. However, I couldn’t bring myself to actually make a sandwich. I piled my plate with the B, the L, and the T, but ate them separately, carbohydrate free, because I couldn’t get past my aversion.
Fast forward to the present. During a recent trip to one of my two home towns, Richmond, Virginia, I decided to try a Fried a Green Tomato BLT from the Strawberry Street Cafe. It was life changing. I realized how incredible those three beautiful ingredients were together—between two slices of lightly toasted artisanal bread. Sadly, this fine establishment closed its doors this past March after over forty years of operation, but I will forever be indebted to it for this delicious discovery.
When I make my own BLTs, I start with artisanal bread from the bakery. Sometimes I toast it, but if I’m feeling lazy, I don’t. Using fresh tomatoes is imperative. If you don’t grow them, buy them at a local farmers market. If you must buy them in a grocery store, only make this sandwich when tomatoes are in season, otherwise, you’ll have a bland sandwich. Bleh. As far as lettuce goes, I like to use butter lettuce because of its soft, delicate texture and sweet flavor. The fresher it is, the better it tastes—so, once again, hit up your garden or farmers market. Regarding the bacon, I am an equal opportunity consumer; use your favorite brand. But, I should note that I prefer cooking the bacon in the oven rather than on the stovetop because the pieces remain flat—much better for building sandwiches. My husband strongly dislikes plain mayonnaise, so when I serve this sandwich, using a mayo replacement is necessary. Enter Roasted Garlic & Basil Aioli. This rich spread takes just about anything to the next level, BLTs included.
Please note that the measurements of ingredients in this recipe are just estimates. Only you can decide how much of each ingredient you wish to use. If you are serving these sandwiches to a group, it’s fun to put everything out in separate serving dishes and allow them to build their own. Adjust the amounts of everything based on the number you are serving.
8 slices white artisanal bread, lightly toasting optional
1 1/2 lbs bacon
3 large, ripe tomatoes (the fresher, the better), thinly sliced
4-6 butter lettuce leaves, torn into large pieces
1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, line two rimmed baking sheets with aluminum foil. Distribute the slices of bacon in a single layer on each baking sheet. The slices should not be touching. Bake the bacon for 16-20 minutes, until completely cooked. Remove the bacon from the baking sheets to paper towel lined plates to drain.
2. If you are toasting the bread, do it now.
3. To assemble a sandwich, set out two slices of bread, with the bottom edges aligned. Spread the top slice of bread with the desired amount of aioli (I usually go with 1-2 Tbsp depending on the size of the bread). On the bottom slice of bread, place a layer of lettuce, followed by a layer of tomatoes, and finally, a layer of bacon. Place the aioli smeared bread on top (aioli side down). Repeat this process to make the remaining sandwiches. Cut each sandwich in half and dig in.
🥓 After cooking the bacon, allow the rendered fat to cool completely, then transfer it into a jar and save it for later use. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a month or in the freezer for up to a year.