BBQ·BLT | Slow-Roasted, Dry Rub Barbecued Bacon Sandwich with Lettuce Slaw, Tomatoes, Cider Mayo | Black-Eyed Pea Salad

SUMMER EATING IS THE MOST evocatively nostalgic of all four seasons' gourmand-izing. When we were no longer in school, we had our parents make an extra meal—or two—for us a day, at home. Sometimes that made our parents want to lighten their own cooking load by treating us to dinner out, usually for a burger, some fries, and a milkshake. And almost every weekend someone somewhere was, and still is,  grilling all sorts of tasty, meaty goodies.

The genuinely American tradition known as barbecueing might be the most ubiquitously common eating culture country-wide, and usually involves events that bring the most remote of family relatives together, happily.

Last Friday, I woke up hungry and somewhat resentful that, since I am otherwise vocationally obligated every weekend, I miss out on a lot of barbecues, either familial or more city-centric and grand. So I decided to offer myself some pre-weekend barbecue of my own.

I had a package of bacon in my fridge, having not yet gotten around to making the BLT I was craving the day before. I then realized that, generally, bacon—the actual strips of bacon—is the one part of the pig that never gets the full-on barbecue treatment.

Pitmasters boast their own "slow & low" roasting, cooking the pork over low heat for a long period of hours. But that technique seems to be used least commonly on the most universally appreciated, "gateway" part of a pig: bacon. So I would apply that technique to some bacon, and use it to finally sate my appetite for a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich.

The regular sliced bacon I already had wouldn't work, though. So off to the supermarket I went to get some thick-cut bacon, as well as some pre-chopped lettuce for a slaw I would make, some tomatillas (since the green tomatoes I wanted to use are not in season), a box of dry cornbread mix I would use as my bread, and a can of black-eyed peas I would use for a cool side salad.

Once home, I laid the bacon strips out on an aluminum pan, and dry-rubbed them with salt, fresh cracked pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, brown sugar, and cinnamon.

Those slices then went into the oven, preheated to 200°, where I let them slow-roast for almost two hours before taking them out and letting them sit for a few minutes.

In the meantime, I started slicing some tomatillas, known as green tomatoes,  and part of the gooseberry family.

I rinsed the black-eyed peas with cold water, then tossed them with some chopped scallions, olive oil, white wine vinegar, white pepper, red pepper flakes, dried tarragon, salt and pepper. That all went into the fridge to cool.

The chopped lettuce with carrots then got mixed with a teaspoon of mustard, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and honey. Two slices of toasted cornbread received a smear of mayo with cider vinegar stirred in, the butter-sautéed slices of tomatillas, the BBQ bacon slices, and slaw, with the pea salad spooned on the side.

I had already tried a bite of the bacon before it was implemented in this dish, and it was excellent! Just imagine all of the pleasurable qualities of pork ribs, just in bacon form. The low heat let the fatty parts of the strips not fully render into liquid as much, and the long roasting time made it unusually tender, completely removing any chewiness to it. I could easily bite right through it without any effort or fight at all.

The slaw was bright, cool, crisp, even a little punchy with vinegar, and fully flavored. The black-eyed peas maintaining their inherent texture in cold form, with their natural nuttiness in flavor complemented nicely by the sweet piquancy of the scallions and bursts of heat from the red pepper flakes.

However.... The choice of substituting tomatoes with the tomatillas and the decision to use cornbread as my toast were both—dare I admit it?!—major mistakes! The cornbread didn't hold the sandwich well at all (which is why I had to make it open-faced after failed attempts to make a genuine, handy sandwich); this meat needed to be between two firm pieces of toasted bread, sturdy but airy on the inside and crispy-crunchy on the outside. The tomatillas, already citrus-y in taste before cooking, were overwhelming so once they were cooked, even overpowering and outlasting the barbecue spices and concentrated pork flavors in the finishing notes of each bite.

I can always admit when I've made a mistake, and I am always eager to fix it once I've made it. So, after spending the weekend working, I set upon Monday morning with the mission to get the architecture of this recipe right.

So after doing the same prep on some more thick cut bacon slices, and recreating the slaw with just a little less mustard and a bit more vinegar, I slapped all the goodness between the two halves of a toasted Kaiser roll with the same cider mayo to add the requisite "wetness" to the hearty bread.

Jackpot! This tasted and felt like "summer", "home", and "barbecue," having a wonderful threesome of comfort food ideology. The barbecue spices and prominent pork flavors got to shine and be the star this time, supported nicely by the—this time—regular red tomato's earthiness and moisture, the dry, bright crispiness of the slide, the slight sweetness and viscosity of the cider mayo, and the jaw-rewarding chew of the lighter but crunchier roll.

As I had been bragging about the success of the BBQ bacon while working at the bar (just below my apartment) over the weekend, I made extra for my co-workers and two of their customers to try. It was a big hit among all of them, and they didn't leave a trace of a leftover within just a few minutes time. Some even remarked how it kind of took them back to an earlier time in their lives, as well, and to someone's backyard grill.

X's and O's to them...!

Bun Apple Tea!


BBQ·BLT | Slow-Roasted, Dry Rub Barbecued Bacon Sandwich with Lettuce Slaw, Tomatoes, Cider Mayo | Black-Eyed Pea Salad