Genius Recipes

A New Perfect Tomato Sandwich

As quick as the Southern classic, but oh is it fancy.

August  7, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin; Food & Prop Styling by Sarah Jampel

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

You’ll never know how protective people are of their favorite sandwich until you write about it on the internet.

“Just. NO.” or even an actual “Humbug!” are just some of the reactions you might see if you suggest tweaks to the humble tomato sandwich, which, to a (surprisingly passionate) crowd, must be nothing more than a just-right bread, a just-right mayo, a very good tomato, and salt (1).

I admire the people who feel this much joy and nostalgia about their favorite foods. I feel similarly about biscuits and gravy and a certain genre of weird ice cream float that doesn’t get a lot of competing variations, for some reason.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

So I am here to say, yes, eat your beautiful, summer-warmed, elbow-licking (2) tomato sandwich your way. And again tomorrow! But maybe on day three, instead of the inevitably diminishing returns of having that same sandwich, take a break and try this Tomato Toast from the Estela cookbook and Chef Ignacio Mattos instead. It feels entirely new—bolder, richer, juicier, crunchier—for virtually the same number of ingredients and movements in the kitchen. In a sense, this recipe is simply a way to have more tomatoes, in the precious fleeting time that they’re good.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“"Just right" up your... It's ridiculous that preferring even a slight alteration to a basic sandwich is cause for argument and my-way-or-the-highway posturing. And ironic, given that people visit this site to see new recipes, techniques, etc. It's not even good-natured arguing anymore. I've seen multiple arguments and name-calling on social media this year over people's minor food differences. Know what's great? Tomato on fresh, crusty bread, with butter. Tomato and bread with a slice of cheese. Grated Pan con tomate. Roasted tomatoes on toast. Ground tomatoes on dough, covered with cheese. Tomato, lettuce, and mayo on white bread....”
— M

The food at Estela is famed for looking deceptively plain—a loose heap of endive leaves hiding cheesy granola crumbles and streaks of chile vinegar like pine needles covering the forest floor; bison tartare pebbled with sunchoke chips and pickled elderberries, all served in a messy jumble. Deceptively plain lasts until you take a bite. A loud, hot, bright, vibratingly delicious bite.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

Even when cooking from Estela at home, you’ll be surprised at how little you have to do to conjure the same, thanks to Mattos’s subtle but decisive layering in each dish. (Or you'll have to mince bison or make squid ink stock with six kinds of dried seafood, but you're mostly doing much less.) To find out how he and his team carefully nudged the classic tomato sandwich just out of our comfort zone, I spoke to Chef de Cuisine Sam Lawrence. Here’s what I learned:

The Bread

While the purist’s tomato sandwich relies on the squish of cheap white bread, Mattos leans crisp, taking some borderline fanatical measures to get there.

He slices a long, skinny plank from the bottom of a loaf of pumpernickel (or something similarly dense and seedy), lops off the side crusts, then singes it in a hot cast-iron pan in a little olive oil, pressing the bread against the smoking pan till it resembles a very large cracker. The last little chef’s kiss is a gentle scrape of the raw garlic clove over the toast, leaving just a hint of it behind—like bruschetta, like the easiest-ever garlic bread, like we should be doing to most pieces of toast we make.

Of course the Estela team use the abandoned bits of bread elsewhere—as breadcrumbs in the aforementioned cheesy granola crumbles; in romesco-like sauces and the cod roe spread taramasalata—but if you don’t want to have to find a use for them, feel free to do this same squish-’n’-griddle move with a normal slice of bread.

The Goo

Some of you will say Hellmann’s mayo is perfect for tomatoes (3). (Which is why Emma Laperruque’s BLT salad from Big Little Recipes, with a dressing of just cherry tomatoes crushed up with mayo, is its own kind of genius.)

But Fromager d’Affinois, a double-cream, mellow, Brie-adjacent (4) cheese is also perfect. (You can use any other slightly funky soft cheese whose creamy middle spreads like butter at room temp, workaday Bries included.) It floats above the crispy toast as a soft bed for the tomato instead of sinking in, and makes a lustier, saltier foil for the tomato’s bright siren juices. It skews more meal than condiment.

And, as ceramicist and writer Marian Bull, who tipped me off to this recipe, wrote for Saveur about the goo, “A benefit of the edge-to-edge coverage is that the toasts can sit for a second without turning soggy, and therefore are a perfect thing to make for company.“

Photo by Bobbi Lin

The Tomato

The best you can find. The kind you picked up at a roadside stand or carried home from the farmers market holding your breath or plucked from the twisting green vines in your garden, you lucky devil. Now is the time to make lots of toast, before the tomatoes can only be sauce. Mattos slices heirlooms barely 1/8-inch thick (using a fine-toothed serrated knife like this will help) then plates them across the toast like scales on a big shimmering fish.

The Salt

Gray salt (or other fancy finishing salts) is great for big crunch and bursts of flavor. But what about the bites without it? Just a little bit of your standard seasoning salt makes sure the toast tastes its tomatoeiest on the places in between (while keeping the fancy bites exciting, too).

All of this care and thought from Mattos’ team will come swiftly to you, in shattering, lush, juice-stained bites. Maybe one day soon you’ll be fighting for their honor on the internet.

(1) None of this stopped us from messing with it before.


(3) See: Vivian Howard’s elbow-lick sandwich.

(4) Creamier than Brie! With a “flawless rind”.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Perhaps something perfect for beginners? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to writer and ceramicist Marian Bull for this one!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Parrish Nored
    Parrish Nored
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I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Parrish N. September 3, 2020
Carla August 6, 2020
Growing up in the south. My mother always made home made loaf bread, none of that store purchased for us and grew home grown tomatoes. Toasting it was nothing and when money was tight, she would make mayo in the summer months. She would toast the bread in the oven. Spread mayo, lay tomatoes and add salt and pepper. Today I find myself doing it for my child.
Jeanne February 3, 2020
Dukes is the best. Better than Hellman’s
Robin L. August 15, 2019
I have had 4 perfect tomatoes for this and have had this for brunch or lunch every day this week. It is delightful. I also bought his cookbook and have enjoyed many recipes out of it already this week. It was a wonderful purchase.
Luciana August 12, 2019
We brought the fixings to whip this up at the beach this weekend. It was the perfect refreshing light bite to enjoy between swimming and long walks on the beach.
Jacob August 10, 2019
North Carolina checking in. Dukes Mayo or another Civil War.
Donna T. August 10, 2019
Sorry, you will lose again
Gammy August 10, 2019
Jacob, I truly feel so sorry for those outside of the South who have to rely on any mayonnaise other than Dukes (or homemade of course). Hellmanns/Best Foods in a pinch, but why tamper with perfection?
nancy L. February 27, 2020
Dukes is the best followed by Blue Plate, then Sauers, Then Kraft and Hellmans.
Pam S. August 8, 2019
I love tomato sandwiches. I like the classic - white bread, mayo and salt - but I'm not opposed to fancying them up a bit. When I'm feeling fancy, I add fresh basil, very thinly sliced red onion, and Maldon salt. I've also eaten them with avocado smashed with lemon juice instead of the mayo. Tomato plays well with others, and so should we. ;) That said, I'm not a fan of pumpernickel bread, but I'm intrigued by Basil B.'s version with sourdough and parm or gruyere. I'm going to try that!
M August 8, 2019
"Just right" up your...
It's ridiculous that preferring even a slight alteration to a basic sandwich is cause for argument and my-way-or-the-highway posturing. And ironic, given that people visit this site to see new recipes, techniques, etc. It's not even good-natured arguing anymore. I've seen multiple arguments and name-calling on social media this year over people's minor food differences.

Know what's great? Tomato on fresh, crusty bread, with butter. Tomato and bread with a slice of cheese. Grated Pan con tomate. Roasted tomatoes on toast. Ground tomatoes on dough, covered with cheese. Tomato, lettuce, and mayo on white bread....
Brenda S. August 8, 2019
Hear, hear! I love the debate and reading about everyone's preferences and different ideas, especially since there was little variety in our menu growing up. The nasty tone in some of these threads is off-putting...
Sharon I. August 11, 2019
I think we're in a time of needing praise, needing someone to say, 'There you are!' -- especially when it comes to cooking which we're good at and attuned to. So we speak up, hoping someone will agree or say something nice about us. Forgive, please. Things will get better as we age, I can promise you from my pinnacle of 75. I do miss my Mom a whole bunch at these times!
Burghgirl August 8, 2019
At the very tender age of 4 ( which is as early as I can remember) every summer brought thoughts of all the amazing veggies and fruits from my Grandfather's garden. But especially for the fantastic heirloom beefsteak tomatoes for tomato sandwiches. Some of them were so huge that one slice covered an entire slice of bread! And the best way to enjoy those sammie's was on white bread (Town Talk if you were from the Pittsburgh area) butter on both slices of bread and the tomato. Very simple, very delicious. It is after all a TOMATO sandwich and the tomato should be the star. No need for salt as the butter provided that and pepper was just a matter of taste. Sixty six years later and I still eat them the same way every summer.
Suzanne B. August 7, 2019
My favorite goo is and always will be goat cheese. With the crusty bread, garlic and heirloom tomatoes I am in heaven.
Suzanne B. August 7, 2019
And basil. Gotta have basil.
Virginia August 7, 2019
OK, skip the mayo, toast some really good fresh bread (I like country levain). Lightly butter the toast, top with slices of summer's best tomatoes, drizzle with high quality olive oil, sprinkle with your favorite salt. Couldn't get tired of that!
Mary A. August 7, 2019
Start with the best local, ripe tomato you can find, soft white bread like Sara Lee’s Artisan, Duke’s mayonnaise, of course, baked Wright’s bacon (380 degrees for 20 minutes, the dark leaves of Romaine, watercress, or butter lettuce, your choice. Kosher salt and cracked black peppercorns. Pile high. Cut on the diagonal. If company shows up, offer them the “deluxe BLT” - just add Philadelphia cream cheese and sliced cucumbers. Sweet ice tea and key lime pie for dessert!
Blair W. August 7, 2019
pinar A. August 7, 2019
i think i would eat this sandwich on ply wood. it is my favorite sandwich: ripe tomatoes, cheese or mayo-and thinly sliced onions for me. I would love to be in the Dukes controversy, but Dukes is not sold out here in sunny CA. so Best Foods it is. I use the German Heath Pumpernickel, or Toasted Semi Freddy Odessa Rye, or.... Can there be any bad way to eat this iconic sandwich. (yes even on crappy white bread-this is still my go to sandwich). And simple is the best. no avocado, no basil, no fancy pesto shit. just tomato, mayo, onion, S&P. summer in a sandwich.
Donna T. August 7, 2019
Basil is nectar of the Gods. But please no onion
Basil B. August 7, 2019
Enjoy reading all the good ideas from reviewers too!

Good with or without mayo if all is fresh. Never was much into mayo, but there's a difference between Hellman's and Dukes'. Both are good but if one is substituted for the other, taste recipe first. Dukes is much tangier and adjustment is needed. Found that out in chicken salad recipe where I swapped without tasting.

Tomato toast is great too. If you have time - sourdough, layer 1/4" tomato slices all over bread to slightly over edge (so crust doesn't burn), lightly salt and pepper, grate parm or gruyere over that, add some basil snips and bake for 30-45 minutes on 325 (top with foil as needed) or until tomatoes almost congeal. If using cheddar, adding some mustard between the bread and tomato is tasty.
Brenda S. August 7, 2019
Your tomato toast combo sounds awesome, will definitely try after getting 'good' bread at the farmer's market tomorrow.
Gammy August 7, 2019
Read this article just before lunch and it inspired me to have a tomato sandwich for lunch. Rounded up what I already had: garden fresh homegrown tomato, DUKES mayo and a loaf of olive oil and rosemary bread (I know, not traditional, but it is the loaf we are eating right now). Toasted 2 slices as there were enough slices of tomato for 2 open faced sandwiches, did the garlic rub on one, slathered both with a generous helping of Duke's, loaded on the tomatoes and finished with fresh ground pepper and some Maldon sea salt. Delicious! Well the one without the garlic was anyway.... Add to the many ways to ruin a tomato sandwich.. rubbing the toast with garlic. Never again!!! Maybe fresh basil the next time!
Rhonda35 August 7, 2019
Goo? Ugh, I think you could have come up with a more appetizing word. This sandwich is reminiscent of the Brie and tomato on baguette sandwiches I used to get when I lived in the UK - so good!
Kathy August 7, 2019
For me, the perfect tomato sandwich is the one from my childhood - white bread, tomato and Miracle Whip.
Roger D. August 7, 2019
This is terrible. A restaurant appetizer fronted as a worthy replacement of a summer staple.
In the South, we use Duke's mayo. It is the staple for tomato sandwiches. How Hellman's got put in the article I have no idea.

I haven't seen a bottle of Hellman's since I had lunch at my friend Mike's house who married a young lady from Pittsburgh.
charlieo August 7, 2019
I agree with your first statement, totally!

In the North, we use Hellman's. Recently tried Duke's and honestly, I didn't find a notable difference.
Rachel M. August 7, 2019
Don't find a noticeable difference? blasphemy! :) Dukes for life. Or homemade if you have time. Nothing will ever beat homemade mayo
gourmet B. August 7, 2019
You're ridiculous.
charlieo August 7, 2019
Perhaps it's the individual with the closed mind that's ridiculous. We all have "our" opinions. That doesn't make anyone of us ridiculous.
pinar A. August 7, 2019
sad face no Dukes here.
Eric K. August 7, 2019