Photo: Lucy Schaeffer / Man Made Meals
Shop: You know the drill: ripe heirloom tomatoes and thick-sliced smokehouse bacon. Baguettes from an artisanal bakery. Excellence lies in the details.
Gear: Your basic kitchen gear including a large (10- to 12-inch) skillet, slotted spoon, and a plate lined with paper towels, plus a salad bowl
What else: For the best results, make your croutons from scratch. If you were sensible, you'd toast the bread with extra virgin olive oil or melted butter. But you're not sensible and neither am I, so we'll use the fat from the bacon and keep it between us. Of course, to save time, you could use store-bought croutons, but let's pretend I didn't say that.
If the BLT ranks as one of the world's great sandwiches, imagine what the combination can do for a salad. It's one of the rare occasions when iceberg lettuce works better than a designer green like arugula. To make a red-blooded American twist on the ubiquitous Italian bruschetta you can spoon the salad on toasted slices of French bread instead of mixing croutons with the greens. Salad is good for you. Bacon is about to make it taste better.
- 4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slivers
- 4 slices French bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or butter (optional)
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably Hellmann's
- 2 tablespoons buttermilk, heavy (whipping) cream, or half-and-half
- 1 tablespoon distilled white vinegar or rice vinegar
- 1 small or 1/2 large head iceberg lettuce
- 2 large or 4 medium-size luscious red ripe tomatoes
- Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
1. Place the bacon in a cold heavy large skillet and heat over medium heat. Cook the bacon until it is crisp, browned, and most of the fat has rendered (melted out), 4 to 6 minutes, stirring often. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Leave the bacon fat in the skillet.
2. Add the bread cubes to the bacon fat and cook over medium heat until well browned, stirring often, 5 to 8 minutes. If bacon fat sounds excessive (or there isn't quite enough, say 1 1/2 tablespoons), wipe out the skillet, add the olive oil or butter and toast the bread cubes in that. Do not let the bread cubes burn. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bread cubes to the plate with the bacon.
3. Place the mayonnaise, buttermilk, and vinegar in a salad bowl and whisk to mix. Set the dressing aside.
4. If you are using a whole head of lettuce, cut it in half. Remove and discard the core and coarsely chop the lettuce. You should have about 4 cups. Remove and discard the stem ends of the tomatoes, then dice the tomatoes. Place the lettuce, tomatoes, croutons, and bacon in a large bowl but don't toss until serving.
5. Just before serving, gently toss the salad with the dressing (use the slotted spoon or a rubber spatula). Season the salad with salt and lots of pepper to taste; remember, the bacon is salty already.
Variation: BLT Salad Bruschetta
Prepare the BLT Salad, omitting the croutons, but do not toss the salad. Cut 8 slices of French bread sharply on the diagonal and about 1/2-inch thick, and brush the bread on both sides with bacon fat or olive oil. Bake the slices of bread in a 350°F oven or toaster oven until crisp and golden brown, about 5 minutes per side, or brown the bread slices on the grill. Lightly spread each piece of toast with some mayonnaise. Toss the salad and spoon it onto the toasts.