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The Evolution of a BLT

August 20, 2009 | Frank Bonanno

I’m going to sneak into the dining room at Mizuna in a couple of weeks–not as a line cook, and not as the proprietor, but at table tucked into the back and set up as a makeshift cooking station. I won’t sell it as a “Chef’s Table,” because revenue’s not what I’m after, and I don’t want to focus on fancy, over-the-top cuisine, because I don’t intend to show off, either. What I want to do is use this table as a vehicle to connect with diners whom I love and basic foods that I love to cook. To create a setting where we are all inspired.
Lately, my nightly meditations have turned to what those foods should be. How can I change something very simple to make it extraordinary?
Last night I was consumed with the thought of a BLT.
Here’s how it works for me: a simple bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich is such a perfect snack, but if I’m going to cook it for someone else, it has to evolve a bit. I have to take ownership of the design, the presentation, the textures, and of course the flavor.
Bacon, for example, is so wonderful, so flavorful–and even though we cure beautiful bacon right here at Mizuna, I actually prefer the whole belly–roasted and shredded (rather than smoked, thinly sliced and crisped up). So the bacon on the BLT becomes shredded pork belly. The texture is so much richer and creamier, the flavor sweet and nutty. A decadent sandwich meat.
The iceberg lettuce goes next, because, although it’s a textural match for pork, it does nothing to enhance the flavor. Arugula–well, that would add a crispness and at the same time enhance the saltiness of pork belly with its own earthy pepperiness.
The perfectly round beefsteak tomato becomes a more nuanced heirloom–German Johnson, say–but especially ripe with a smat of sea salt to bring the moisture and flavor to the surface. Consider: warm smear of chopped belly lying against the fat salty tomato ripeness.
That’s a lot of richness and wetness, so another protein’s in order. Something as rich as pork, but not as fatty and full in the mouth. Something with a cool and crunch to enhance the warm and moist. Shrimp. Cold poached, thinly sliced.
For the sauce, what about a Louie? The classic to pair with shrimp, and brings out every other flavor in the sandwich as well.
Finally the bread needs to change, because Wonder wouldn’t work at all here. A thinly sliced brioche, I think, crisped up in clarified butter.
This is much how I work all of my recipes through, in my head in the dark. Then written in the funky glare of a midnight bathroom. Worked through my head and through again, until it sounds so good I have to try it myself–and so I head to a restaurant kitchen to cook it up and do just that.
And right now, I think I’ll go make myself that SBLT.