Gabriel Pascuzzi of Stacked in Portland's adds a pink peppercorn aioli to this classic sandwich. Enough said.

By Alison Spiegel
August 17, 2018
@Meatballssmama (Kari Young)

Tomato season means many things, from caprese salads to panzanella, to the humble BLT. The classic combination of bacon, lettuce and tomato is a simple one, but that doesn't mean there's not an art to it. Leave it to chef Gabriel Pascuzzi of Portland's Stacked Sandwich Shop—Eater named him Portland's Chef of the Year in 2017—to know just what to do to turn out an irresistible version of this summertime staple. Pascuzzi only makes BLTs when tomatoes are in season, and when they are, he pulls out all the stops.

At Stacked, the BLT comes with avocado—it's aptly called a B.L.T.A.—as well as house-smoked thick-cut bacon, heirloom tomatoes, butter lettuce, and a pink peppercorn aioli made with bacon fat. It's served on sourdough from Portland's Pearl Bakery.

"We didn't want to mess with it too much," the chef—who has a background in fine dining, having staged at Noma and worked at the likes of NYC’s Colicchio & Sons and DB Bistro before launching a popular pop-up back in Portland—says, respecting the inherent integrity of the simple sandwich. Since there are so few ingredients, he makes sure each one shines. He plants his own tomatoes in his father's garden, and he makes the bacon in-house, curing it for up to seven days before letting it sit overnight, exposed in the walk-in, and smoking it for four hours.

 And about that pink peppercorn aioli... Pascuzzi hand grinds and toasts the peppercorns, which he mixes into a blend of three parts bacon fat and one part canola oil, and a traditional aioli base of Champagne vinegar, Dijon, egg yolks, salt and a pinch of sugar. The oil is crucial, because it keeps the bacon fat from congealing. The result is a "floral, peppery note that plays well with the tomatoes," the chef says. 

It's a condiment that represents the elevated but downright delicious twists that Pascuzzi puts on the classics at Stacked. Take his beloved Oxtail French Dip or Smoked Turkey Reuben with Granny Smith Apple and "2000 Island spread," which show off his sophisticated technique in fresh but familiar, utterly crave-worthy creations. (Pro tip: Order the chicharrón, which Pascuzzi makes from leftover turkey skin. They're drizzled with honey and a dusted with a spice mix of fennel and cayenne, and naturally, they sell out fast.)

It helps that the chef keeps it personal. The pork and bison meatballs are a third-generation family recipe, and the Roasted Lamb Leg sandwich was inspired by a dish his dad used to make when he was growing up. There couldn't be a better approach for a sandwich shop—where people go seeking both comfort and innovation.

If you can't get to Stacked while it's still BLT season, make your own version at home, with a few helpful pointers from the sandwich guru:

Always season your tomatoes.

It's "the biggest thing people are messing up," Pascuzzi says. All you need is a sprinkle of sea salt and some cracked black pepper, and you're good to go. 

And only use good tomatoes, of course.

Pascuzzi uses whatever heirloom varieties are ripe in his garden, and suggests using bigger ones, simply to make it easier on yourself.

Choose the right bread.

"Sourdough, for me, is the obvious choice," he says. We'll settle for whatever your preference is, so long as it's lightly toasted, which Pascuzzi also suggests. 

Use thick-cut bacon, all the way.

If you're not making your own bacon, Pascuzzi recommends Benton's or Nueske's. Or, "if you've got a local spot that makes their own bacon, go there," he says.

And cook that bacon in a cast iron skillet. 

The debate over the best way to cook bacon is real—in the oven, on the stove, with some water... But Pascuzzi prefers to keep it traditional, frying up crispy, thick-cut bacon in a skillet. "No fucking water." 

Layer up.

Start with a healthy spread of mayo—pink peppercorn or otherwise—on the bottom slice of bread, then add the bacon—he uses six stips. Next, add the tomatoes, because they hold on well to the bacon, and then add a big leaf of butter lettuce. Spread a light coating of aioli onto the top slice of bread, stick those slices of avocado onto that, if you're using it, and sandwich it all together.

For more BLT inspiration, check out these recipes.

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