08 March, 2010

Hitting the spot.

Outside of Laramie, I had a late lunch at a near-empty diner. It wasn't a great diner--it was the only option. But it was clean--and it wasn't only a diner, either, being a (busier) tavern (with a separate entrance), gas station, and mini-market, all in one. There were the swivel chairs at the counter and the fry cook with a beer. And there was me, hungry.The obvious choice, among the burgers & company crowding the menu, was the classic BLT. This stands for Bacon Lettuce Tomato, if you are one of the uninitiated. The BLT is as basic as it gets: between two slices of dead-plain toasted square sandwich bread, throw a lick of mayonnaise, a few rashers of bacon (no matter the sort, as long as it's crispy), thin slices of tomato, and some crunchy Iceberg lettuce. That's the lettuce with virtually no nutritional content. If you're nouveau, you use Romaine or Bibb lettuce. But don't even suggest arugula.

You may not know it, but human beings are genetically programmed to respond very positively to this dish. Lick-their-fingers positively. (Those who eat pig, anyway). It's a noisy, down-home party in your mouth, just try it and see. Some'll try to gussy it up, turning it into the multi-layer club sandwich, with its addition of chicken breast. Over the top. On the other extreme, you have the English, who apparently sorely lack imagination if their minimalist bacon sandwich is anything to go by. This is inexplicably popular despite being only bacon...crammed in bread. With brown sauce. (Hangover food?) Sometimes life brings you a question mark. But what do you do if you live other places, say France, where sliced bacon/rashers aren't easy to find? You could ask your butcher for a custom cut, but you can also satisfy this deep-seated craving you never knew you had by making a BLT salad.

This salad finds its perfectly bacon-y equilibrium in the yummy somewhere between crisp-sauteed lardons (small cubes of bacon, sold everywhere and all but ubiquitous in French cooking), home-toasted croutons and some mouth-filling toms and lettuce. This salad isn't what you proudly describe to your doctor as she's checking your blood pressure, nor might you advertise it to either your vegan friend or the one who (masochistically?) pinches calories. All the same, this BLT salad will earn you friends, recipe requests--and an aura of respectability that the lowly (if spectacularly satisfying) BLT sandwich simply cannot.

This salad, this bowlful of backyard USA, is what's for lunch tomorrow; this may be because life threw us another question mark(/exclamation point), here in the sunny south of France.
Yes, folks, that is my backyard Français today, March 9 (and that is the elevated hen house pictured below). Making this salad might just be my calorific form of denial: spring and its salad fixin's are too on the way!
A shoutout to the recently dearly departed Gourmet Magazine, whose 20th century recipe was my starting point, with input from many along the way, including an old friend in Chicago, Sheila Lukins and Martha Stewart. (Oh dear, I think that sound liked a draft Oscar acceptance speech. Not as good as Sandra Bullock's, but hey, when it's this good...) Salade a l'Americaine (BLT Salad)

Serves 4.

200-250 g lardons
4 cups cubed, stale but not hard baguette
4-5 ripe tomatoes, cubed
7 cups lettuce, preferably Romaine or Bibb-style

3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/3 cup buttermilk (in France, get the Arabic fermented milk, available in most markets)
1 teaspoon pesto
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons fresh garlic chives or green onions, minced
optional: one or two handfuls crumbled blue cheese

Preheat oven to 350F.

Clean and air-dry lettuce. You don't want wet lettuce diluting the luscious kick of this salad. Tear into manageably bite-sized pieces. Especially if this is for a date.

Saute the lardons in a pan over medium heat golden and crispy. Drain them on a paper towel, setting aside 3 tablespoons bacon drippings and discarding the rest.

Toss bread cubes with bacon fat. Season with salt and pepper, spread in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake until golden, 12-15 minutes, shaking the pan once. Remove and set aside.

In a separate bowl, emulsify the dressing ingredients with a fork. Drizzle over salad, toss well, add tomatoes and croutons. Sprinkle with chives and optional finely crumbled blue cheese.


  1. (((shudder)))

    WHAT?! There's no thin-sliced bacon in France?! Forget what I said today on my blog:


    (Only kidding. I still love France.)

  2. You live in the middle of nowhere.
    It is beautiful!

  3. Nice! I would've gone full out and made a Cobb salad.

    I can't believe you got so much snow in the south of France. It's windy in SoCal tonight!

  4. Rose, ha! Bacon is a good thing, whether cube-shaped or sliced. The house smelled AMAZING while I was putting together the salad...

    Nadege, it's a bit of a change after SoCal, that's for sure! The nearest village is only five minutes away, we aren't as isolated as the views might lead you to believe.

    Hi WC, Cobb salad, hmm. But then you've got that chicken breast business coming up again--takes away from the bacon perfection!! Snow, in March, in south of France = very weird. But the sun is blazing away, so it'll be gone fast.

  5. Ah, but then you add avocado, bleu cheese, and chopped eggs and you get perfection. :P

  6. Ooh, blue cheese. Eggs. Hmmm. Your argument has its merits!


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