After my return to New England, I stumbled across one of the best-tasting foods on the planet, and was astonished that I’d managed to live seventeen years in the South without ever hearing of the Redneck 'Mater Sammich, a longstanding and truly great Southern tradition.
The original, traditional sammich is a fat slice of vine-fresh tomato between two slices of plain, untoasted, supermarket white sandwich bread, with lots of mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Articles on this abound, for example, here and here. If you haven’t tried this, you must. Some amazing combination brings out exquisite flavors never hinted at by the simple ingredients.
That said, who can resist tinkering and improving? While most improvements fail, since tampering with near-perfection is risky, many experimenters have found variations that suit their own tastes even better.
My own preference centers on the bread. Freely admitting that plain white bread might well exist solely for this purpose, others work well, too. I make my sammiches open-faced, so more tomato, and I like crusty breads, typically but not necessarily whole-grain, either toasted or fresh from the oven. Two favorites: Potato Rosemary Bread and Hardwick Loaf from Rose32 Bakery in Gilbertville, MA. Also quite good are baguettes, torta and ciabatta breads. Disappointing is any bread that’s any more than very slightly sweet, like many bagels.
Don’t be stingy with salt, pepper and mayonnaise. Some basil or lovage doesn’t hurt, either.
If my admittedly minor departure from tradition hasn’t put you off, consider a more radical variation I came across while isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic: Melissa Clark, iconic NY Times food columnist, describes a variation of the classic 'mater sammich, adding elements of the Catalan pan con tomate and the tomato and sweet onion tea sandwich. A feast for all the senses.
Update, Summer 2022
And now, a couple of years after writing the above, I know my own favorite. As in Melissa’s recipe, I start with a good country bread, toasted enough to make a rough surface onto which I abrade perhaps half of a good-sized clove of garlic, then drizzle it with olive oil. I don’t rub the tomato into it; instead I spread mayonnaise right on the bread, add fat slices of ripe tomato, sprinkle generously with coarse salt and pepper, then top with basil.
Update, Fall 2022
Turns out this arrangement works with green tomatoes, too—who knew? Proceed as above but this time slice the tomatoes thinner, say a quarter-inch or so, and add them in two layers, with some salt and pepper in between as well as on top. Certainly a different flavor from summer vine-ripened fruit, but zesty and tasty in their own right, with a juicy crunch. Flavor and texture change in interesting ways as the green tomatoes redden and soften on the kitchen counter. Basil disappears with the first hard frost but lovage hangs in there a while and nicely complements the tomatoes.