Photo by Donna (more comment from her here)
I don't think I've had more fun making a sandwich than for the BLT-From-Scratch Challenge. And it wasn't the from-scratch part. I do this stuff all the time—the from-scratch fun was sharing it with so many people and hearing your stories. That I don't do all the time. But the coolest part of this cooking challenge was how amazing the sandwich turned out to be.
I received dozens of entries in all kinds of forms, classic, reinterpreted, vegetarian. Every one of them inspiring. Donna will be reviewing all the photographs this week to choose this winner. I will be determining the winners of "best overall," "best vegetarian or vegan," and "best reinterpretation." All winners will be announced next Monday.
Donna and I made and photographed three different sandwiches, and they were all, well, not just fantastic. They were so beyond the realm of what normally stands in for a BLT, it made me want to reconsider every classic for what it might be. That was what was so surprising for me about this whole challenge.
These BLT's were some of the most meaty, delicious sandwiches I've ever eaten. With the mayo, the explosively juicy tomatoes still warm from the sun, thick succulent tender slabs of cured pork belly—these were BLTs times ten times ten. Pork fat, tomato juices and mayo dripping down the chin. They were so good and so surprising, had I served one to you, you might not have known you were even eating a BLT.
The key here is that the sandwiches featured the pork belly—the meat was thicker than the bread. This is really a pork belly sandwich, garnished with L, T and mayo.
Here's the critical cooking point for using bacon this thick in a sandwich. If you were simply to cook the bacon in a pan, it would be difficult to make it tender enough to eat without yanking it all out of the sandwich. Belly is a well-worked muscle that need tenderizing. Traditional bacon is tender because it's sliced so thin. The way to make slabs of bacon tender is through long gentle moist cooking.
I wrapped the slabs in foil drizzling a little water over them to make sure it would be steamy inside the foil, and cooked them in a 200 degree oven for 3 or 4 hours. I let them cool and reheated them to make the sandwich. Some I reheated on the grill over hot coals to get some smokiness, some I sauteed in a pan. The belly in the sandwich shown here (n.b. I did not grow the potatoes or harvest the salt for the chips), I braised till tender, then fried. Slow-cooking, cooling and reheating is a fabulous way to serve belly.
I want to do one more BLT from scratch, featuring not the belly, but the tomato—a green tomato sandwich garnished with strips of bacon, lettuce and a spicy mayo. I may even dredge the tomato in cornmeal as opposed to my preferred panko.
It turns out the BLT-From-Scratch Challenge has been just as much a thought experiment as a cooking challenge. And for me that's some of the funnest cooking there is.