Why It Works
- Intended to showcase tomatoes at their peak, this sandwich works by keeping the trappings uncomplicated and minimal.
- This sandwich is cut in half on the diagonal, because triangles taste better.
When I was a kid, my mom would reminisce about her childhood in a tiny farming town on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. One of the memories she'd tell me about year after year, especially in the summer when the tomatoes we would get in 1980s Brooklyn were good but not great, was how there was nothing like plucking a ripe tomato off the vine and eating it out-of-hand like an apple right there in the field, each bite sprinkled with salt and still warm from the sun.
Only when I was older and flew off to Italy to work on farms for a year did I manage to experience the same thing myself, finally understanding just how perfect a perfect tomato could be. Here in the States, there may be no better celebration of that perfection than the classic Southern tomato sandwich. While it's not quite as minimal a treatment as salt and sun-warmth, it still holds tight to the same basic idea—that a great tomato at the peak of its ripeness needs very little. In this case, it's just white sandwich bread, mayonnaise, and just enough salt and pepper to make it pop.
The preparation is so simple there's not much to explain. Obviously, this sandwich is only worth making when tomatoes are at their absolute peak. Conventional specimens picked while green, gassed to turn them a vague shade of orange-pink, and intended to survive many days on a produce shelf will not cut it. The bread doesn't need to be anything fancy, and while one could decide to toast it, it doesn't really need it: The softness and sweetness of basic white bread is just what you want to soak up tomato juices as they drip and mix with the mayo. As for the mayo, passions can run high, though Duke's, a Southern brand that's famously thick and creamy, is the one many swear by.
Actually, given how easy a tomato sandwich is, maybe the next time I find myself in a field surrounded by tomato vines, I'll be ready not just with salt, but some bread and mayo as well.
- 2 slices white sandwich bread
- Creamy mayonnaise, such as Duke's
- 2 to 3 thick slices from a perfectly ripe summer tomato
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lay sandwich bread on a work surface and spread each slice with a generous layer of mayonnaise. Arrange tomatoes on top of one slice, and sprinkle all over with salt and pepper. Close sandwich, cut on a diagonal through middle, and serve right away with plenty of napkins.