Big Girls, Test Kitchen: Fried Green Tomato BLT’s
DISH: Fried Multicolored Tomato BLTs with Basil-Chive Mayo
MAIN INGREDIENTS: Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato
Growing up, on days when a turkey club just felt like too much work for my jaw, I tended to downgrade from the triple-decker to a plain old bacon sandwich with one lettuce leaf and a sizable slather of mayo. At age 11, when I made the personal ruling that tomatoes were indeed a vegetable instead of a fruit, I transitioned from turkey entirely and began a lifelong love affair with the BLT.
I’ve found over the years that my favorites in the BLT department owe their excellence to the quality of ingredients: perfectly crispy bacon, crunchy lettuce, and a thick slice of ripe, juicy tomato. I thought nothing could beat that description, until I discovered the Fried Green Tomato BLT at Slice of Life, a cozy little restaurant in Martha’s Vineyard. The fried tomatoes were a revelation: tart and firm, adding a whole new dimension of crisp, salty goodness sandwiched inside two pieces of house-made rosemary bread.
Once I find heaven in a sandwich, I usually end the search and delve into my singular addiction. Rarely do I have the hubris to attempt to recreate perfection in my own kitchen, especially when it involves deep frying. But back in New York City, a craving hit, and I found myself filling a Dutch oven with vegetable oil, crisping bacon on the adjacent burner, and wrecking havoc on my countertop with wayward cornmeal, four, and egg as I coated farmers’ market heirloom tomatoes in preparation for the fryer.
I knew the most likely letdown for my imposter BLT would be the bread; the rosemary had given Slice of Life’s version an added element of flavor. So to bulk up my rustic Italian loaf, I rubbed a little raw garlic on the toasted slices and added chives to the basil mayonnaise to give it another level of herbiness. For jaded me, the result gave the original a fair run for its money. But for my friends, my Fried Multicolored Tomato BLT reached revelatory standing. They can be happy with the imposter. I’ll just have to keep traveling to that island to the East for the real thing.
From my kitchen, where sandwich perfection is (sometimes) reached, to yours,
Phoebe, THE QUARTER-LIFE COOK
While most BLTs have a large leaf of crisp romaine lettuce, the Slice of Life version uses a handful of peppery arugula which helps offset the huge slices of fried tomatoes and intensify (instead of water down) the taste of each fresh ingredient.
1 loaf rustic Italian or country bread, sliced 3/4 inch thick
2-3 large heirloom tomatoes, preferably firm green or yellow
handful baby arugula leaves
6oz bacon (8 strips)
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup cornmeal
1 garlic clove, peeled
For the mayo:
Set a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the bacon in one layer and fry in batches until dark brown and crispy. Repeat with the remaining bacon. Set aside to drain on a plate lined with paper towels.
Fill a Dutch oven or skillet with 2 inches of vegetable oil and set over high heat. While the oil is getting hot, fill three shallow bowls with the flour, egg, and cornmeal, one ingredient in each. One at a time, dredge the tomatoes in flour, douse in egg, and then cover in cornmeal, shaking off any excess. Repeat with each slice.
Test the oil with one tomato—the oil should bubble vigorously upon contact and the slice should begin browning in less than a minute. Cook each tomato until golden brown and crispy, about one to two minutes per side, and remove with a slotted spoon to a plate lined with paper towels. Season generously with salt and pepper.
While the tomatoes are frying and draining, combine all the ingredients for the mayonnaise in a small bowl.
On a rimmed baking sheet, brush each slice of bread on both sides with olive oil. Place in the oven for a few minutes, until the bread is golden brown but not hard. Rub each slice with the garlic clove, and slather both halves with a thin layer of basil mayo. Top the first half with a small handful of arugula, two slices of bacon, and two or three slices of tomato. Top with the other slice of bread and push down to seal the sandwich.
Serve immediately, preferably with a side of coleslaw.