One of America’s Favorites – BLT

January 18, 2021 at 6:02 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | Leave a comment
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BLT sandwich on toast

A BLT is a type of sandwich, named for the initials of its primary ingredients, bacon, lettuce and tomato. It can be made with varying recipes according to personal preference. Simple variants include using different types of lettuce, toasting or not, or adding mayonnaise. More pronounced variants can include using turkey bacon or tofu in place of bacon, or removing the lettuce entirely.

Variations on the BLT date to the early 1900s, but it did not achieve widespread popularity until after World War II, when the ingredients became more readily available year-round. Referencing the sandwich by its initials rather than naming the ingredients in full did not become common until the 1970s. Until 2019 the BLT has been ranked as the second most popular sandwich in the US and as the UK’s favourite sandwich, and is frequently referenced or depicted in media and culture. In 2019 the BLT dropped rank and was voted the sixth most popular sandwich in the US, with grilled cheese taking the lead as the most popular sandwich in the US.

 

Although the ingredients of the BLT have existed for many years, there is little evidence of BLT sandwich recipes prior to 1900. The 1903 Good Housekeeping Everyday Cook Book, a recipe by a Dr. Evan Mee for a club sandwich included bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and a slice of turkey sandwiched between two slices of bread. While the 1929 book Seven Hundred Sandwiches does include a section on bacon sandwiches, the recipes often include pickles and none contain tomato.

A BLT sandwich preparation

The BLT became popular after World War II because of the rapid expansion of supermarkets, which allowed ingredients to be available year-round. The initials, representing “bacon, lettuce, tomato”, likely began in the U.S. restaurant industry as shorthand for the sandwich, but it is unclear when this transferred to the public consciousness. For example, a 1951 edition of the Saturday Evening Post makes reference to the sandwich, although it does not use its initials, describing a scene in which: “On the tray, invariably, are a bowl of soup, a toasted sandwich of bacon, lettuce and tomato, and a chocolate milk shake.”

A 1954 issue of Modern Hospital contains a meal suggestion that includes: “Bean Soup, Toasted Bacon Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich, Pickles, Jellied Banana Salad, Cream Dressing, and Pound Cake.” By 1958, Hellmann’s Mayonnaise advertised their product as “traditional on bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches,” suggesting that the combination had been around for some time. However, there are several references to a “B.L.T” in the early 1970s, including in one review of Bruce Jay Friedman’s play entitled Steambath titled: “A B.L.T. for God – hold the mayo.”. The abbreviation used in title references a line of dialogue in the play in which God yells, “Send up a bacon and lettuce and tomato sandwich, hold the mayo. You burn the toast, I’ll smite you down with my terrible swift sword.” The coexistence of the shortened version and the full name suggests this was a period of transition as the abbreviation was popularized.

 

While there are variations on the BLT, the essential ingredients are bacon, tomatoes and lettuce between two slices of bread, often toasted. The quantity and quality of the ingredients are matters of personal preference. The bacon can be well cooked or tender, but as it “carries” the other flavors, chefs recommend using higher quality meat; in particular, chef Edward Lee states “Your general supermarket bacon is not going to cut the mustard.”

Iceberg lettuce is a common choice because it does not add too much flavor while adding crunch. Food writer Ed Levine has suggested that BLT does not require lettuce at all, as it is “superfluous”, a suggestion that Jon Bonné, lifestyle editor at MSNBC, described as “shocking”. Michele Anna Jordan, author of The BLT Cookbook, believes the tomato is the key ingredient and recommends the use of the beefsteak tomato as it has more flesh and fewer seeds. Similarly, chef and food writer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt believes that a BLT is not a well-dressed bacon sandwich; it’s a tomato sandwich, seasoned with bacon. For that reason, he argues that the BLT is a seasonal sandwich since it best made with high-quality summer tomatoes.

The sandwich is sometimes served with dressings, like mayonnaise. The bread can be of any variety, white or wholemeal, toasted or not, depending on personal preference.

 

BLT with avocado

The sandwich has a high sodium and fat content, and has been specifically targeted by UK café chains in an effort to reduce salt and fat. Due to this, low-fat mayonnaise is a common substitute along with low salt bread and less fatty bacon. A more visible solution is to use turkey bacon in lieu of normal bacon. One of the variations on the BLT is the club sandwich, a two-layered sandwich in which one layer is a BLT. The other layer can be almost any sort of sliced meat, normally chicken or turkey.

The BLT has been deconstructed into a number of forms; for example, Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock created a BLT salad in The Gift of Southern Cooking by cutting the ingredients into 1 inch pieces and tossing in mayonnaise. This variation was described by The New York Times writer Julia Reed as “even more perfect than a BLT”.

Vegans and vegetarians may replace bacon with tempeh or tofu as meat analogue instead. Alternatively they can use mock bacon.

 

 

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