On the Table You Say Tah-MAH-toe, I Say Tuh-MADDA
By Deborah Salomon
Bypass the artisanal sourdough at $4 per loaf. Shun the ciabatta, the whole-grain, the rye. The season is now for Southern -communion: the tomato sandwich on mushy white.
Do I hear an "amen"?
Unlike other culinary -darlings, the Romans did not invent the tomato sandwich. In fact, explorers returned to Italy with tomato plants from the Americas.
Credit for the combo is up for grabs, although I haven't seen many Yankee guys - who otherwise measure a sandwich by the amount of red meat piled thereon - swoon over this simple pleasure.
Simple ... yet nuanced.
The classic tomato sandwich has but three ingredients: bread, tomato slices, mayonnaise. Each ingredient in the holy trinity must contribute perfection. Tomato sandwiches are only possible late summer to early fall. Don't even think about making one with tomatoes shipped from elsewhere.
Extensive research meant sampling a lot of bread, tomatoes and mayo. My biased conclusions:
BREAD: Tomato -sandwiches are a bread snob's only reason for buying commercial white bread. Even then, not all white bread measures up. I shopped name brands, then store brands. I tried round-top loaves and squared-off sandwich loaves.
Texture was paramount - and Bo's Our Family sandwich-sliced store brand triumphed with a soft, fine texture, slightly sweet flavor and enough preservatives to keep it cottony for days. All the round-tops were too coarse-textured.
If you want a good -texture in thicker slices, go with Texas Toast at Walmart. Whichever, DO NOT REMOVE CRUSTS or the sandwich will flop apart.
TOMATOES: Must be locally grown, heavy with juice and slightly overripe. Ask for "canners" at the farm stand. Or, ripen tomatoes for a day or two in a tightly closed brown paper bag containing a speckled banana.
Tomatoes must be at room temperature (or warm from the garden) and should be large; I love the misshapen ones that yield irregular slices. Cut thick slices with an ultra-sharp knife. A dull knife will squeeze the tomato, causing it to bleed juice. Cut slices in half, if necessary, so the bread is covered with a single layer. Ripe tomatoes need no added salt but a little black pepper won't hurt.
MAYONNAISE: The Hatfields like Duke's. The McCoy's want Hellmann's. I'm a McCoy although, truth be told, once spread I can't tell the difference. Save light varieties for the other 10 months.
Flavored mayos have no place on a tomato sandwich but in the spirit of disclosure, I've tried and loved Kraft Chipotle Mayo.
Fat be damned: Spread a moderately thick layer on one or both slices of bread.
THE METHOD: Tomato sandwiches don't keep. Salt in the mayo leaches juice from -tomato. Bread absorbs the juice, creating a soggy mess. So, the rule is make one, eat one. Repeat.
WARNINGS: Don't even think about lettuce. Or toast. Some folks add freshly cooked, very crisp bacon, which is -delicious - but a whole 'nother ball game.
I suspect tomato -sandwiches were -invented by farm wives who didn't have much else for lunch. Since Julia Child voiced approval, upper-echelon foodies may indulge the craving in public.
But the opportunity is fleeting. Eat one today. Or maybe two.
On the Table, dealing with many food subjects, will appear monthly in The Pilot. Contact Deborah Salomon -email@example.com.
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