Friday, September 18, 2009

BLT From Scratch Challenge

So a while back Michael Ruhlman issued a challenge on his blog: make a BLT.

From scratch.

Make the bread. Make the bacon. Make the mayo. Grow the tomato. Grow the lettuce. Of course, you have to draw the line somewhere. So while you'd get bonus points for raising the pig or growing the wheat, it wasn't required. Still, I did my best to make as many of the ingredients myself as I could. Here's my entry.

And here's what went into it.

Step one: put some Tom Waits on the stereo. I'm not sure why, but it's BLT music.

First, the mayonnaise. God I hate making mayo. It's not that difficult, it's just that if you screw it up it's back to square one. And it's murder on the wrist if you use a whisk. Which I did at first. It's old skool, you know?

Speaking of old skool, interesting fact. Mayonnaise is said to have originated in Port Mahon, on the isle of Minorca, off Spain in the Med. The island bounced back and forth between the British, Spanish and French during the colonial and Napoleonic wars. In 1756 the French fleet captured the island from the British without losing a man (the unfortunate British Admiral was later tried and shot for losing the port.) The French admiral was so ecstatic that he did the customary thing and ordered his chef to create a dish commemorating the victory, which he then popularized throughout France. Who doesn't like talking about the dish you ordered to celebrate your glorious victory? So we got mayonnaise from "Mahon". Oh the things I learned from reading all of the Master and Commander books. Anyhow, when I got tired I moved everything into my mini-prep cuisinart. Which promptly broke the emulsion. ARGH. Back to square one. The key is patience, a bit of luck, and an electric hand mixer. So once I dug that out, I began again.

Ok, for real this time. Mayo begins with an egg yolk. Mine came from my parent's chickens. Those lucky fowl live in the nicest coop in the NW. It has stained glass windows. No seriously. (My mom is a stained glass artist). So I had some eggs from their chickens, and cupped a yolk into a bowl. In went 1/2 t salt, 1/2 t mustard, a pinch of cayenne, a pinch of sugar. Whisked up, then in went about half of a mix of 2 t lemon juice, 1 T white wine vinegar. Whisk. Drip in, drop by drop, a mix of 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil and 3/4 cup vegetable oil until it gets kinda creamy looking. (The olive oil was too strongly flavored to use on its own.) Then slowly add in the rest of the oil. Add the rest of the lemon/vinegar when half the oil is in. Then continue whisking and adding oil until it's all in. Then add teaspoons of hot water until it's a good consistency. There you go.

Next up: the garden ingredients. It's been a rough year for my tomatoes here. I had them in too small a pot, and when it got really hot this summer, they got blossom end rot and I lost almost the whole crop of tomatoes. Fortunately, they recovered after I transplanted them to a bigger pot. Namely some totally grassless parts of my back lawn. Even still, they had to re-flower and re-fruit and are still mostly green. This set my BLT waaaaaaay back. Fortunately, Ruhlman's own tomatoes were still green nearing the deadline, so he extended it. Unfortunately it was the 15th, and even on the 15th none of mine were really properly ripe yet. Got one today that was ripe enough to use though. Whew. If it starts getting colder I may have a feast of fried green tomatoes in my future.

The next problem was a biggie. I didn't plant lettuce this year. Or ever. I just don't bother. We use about one head a week for salads and whatnot and I just never felt the desire sit and watch slugs decimate my lettuces before I finally felt like having a salad. I'm having enough trouble with cabbage worms and my bok choi. And yes, in a fit of desperation I did briefly consider using bok choi instead of lettuce for this. So I had to find a substitute that was not my going out and buying lettuce (even though we buy awesome lettuce from the Ballard farmer's market.) Well, interestingly my tomatoes came to my salvation. When I dug up the lawn to replant them, I disturbed (and watered and fertilized) the soil. Poof. Within a week I had dandelions popping up all over the place. It's been a war of attrition against them, but I've been weeding them out before they flower. And before they flower, they are soft and tasty! And chemical free because I don't put anything on the lawn. Even water... Which is probably why there are so many dandelions.

The next problem was bacon. I have plenty of my pancetta left over. But I also have guanciale... So I cut a few slices off it. Oh yeah, come to papa. I didn't raise the pig but it's from Sea Breeze farms over on Vashon Island, so it was a fat, happy little freeranging porker, as you can see in the ridiculous fat layer.

Finally the problem of bread. We've been trying to rehabilitate our sourdough starter but it's just being a right bitch at the moment. So yesterday's dough-soup came out as this morning's... dough soup. There's something wrong with either the starter, or our kitchenaid doughhook just sucks, or probably both. The glutens are not glutening like they should, and it's not rising as well as it should. But I managed to get the dough into some kind of shape, and flop it into a searing hot dutch oven. 25 minutes at 450 with the lid on, 25 with it off. Ended up with a sort of weird hybrid sour focaccia. It's actually not bad, but I was going to dice it and make panzanella (unlike our big tomatoes, the cherries have done excellently this season). Then I got the idea of slicing it like focaccia for this sandwich. Bingo.

Putting it all together.

Sauteed three slices of guanciale till brown and crispy. Then toasted the cut side of the bread in the rendered fat until golden brown and delicious. The last slice of guanciale went on the heat just until the white fat turned clear, then it went on the bottom slice of bread to sortof melt into it. (I was going for two different textures on it, guanciale is great crunchy but it can also just be eaten raw. Om nom nom.) Then dandelions, guanciale, tomato slices, slather of mayo on the top. Boom. BLT.

How was it? Amazing. Really, really good. Structurally it was a complete disaster, totally unsound, and made a huge mess. The bread was too crusty and dense and it just squished the tomato and mayo all over. But in the words of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, "it's what I've got to work with!" The tomato was delicious, the dandelions still tender and mellow, mayo wasn't too shabby and the guanciale is just out of this world. So I stood there smiling, eating it over the sink. Fun project. Now we just need to get the bread to shape up...


Melinda Hews said...

Okay...So it's operator error or the aforementioned Satan's Soulpatches, but here's my post that landed on the wrong page....

TIme to put the old people to bed. See below before you give up on us entirely.

Love you....Auntie M



As your mother and I would say, in a chorus, "I'd eat it!..."

I would love to be biting into one of these sandwiches, having returned home from a happy hour at the Zig Zag Cafe, complete with multiple "Satan's Soulpatches" along with family....

Keep at this. The foodie thing AND the writing about it.

Love you,

Auntie Minnow

Trish said...

One more reason I am so very glad you're my brother... now make me some bacon! :)

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