There’s a case to be made for not eating a tomato before mid-August, and then you have maybe a month and a half before they’re pretty much gone.  

Right now, we’re in the heat of tomato perfection, and a walk around the Oak Park Farmers’ Market confirms that you don’t have to look very far to see a lot of wonderful tomatoes.

I’m Italian, but my favorite use of tomato is not in a sauce or on a pizza. My favorite use of tomato is in a sandwich.

The classic tomato sandwich is slices of tomato with salt and mayo on bread. As I was making a tomato sandwich the other day, I wondered if, perhaps, I could improve the sandwich by salting the mayo instead of the tomato. So I snapped a picture, put it on Facebook and asked the hive-mind what it thought: should I salt the tomato or the mayo?

I received some provocative responses.

My friend Joel Finkel suggested that I “salt the tomatoes, pepper the mayo,” which was a good thought as I never peppered the tomato sandwich. Not sure why I didn’t, but I do now.

Nick Kokonas, co-owner of Michelin-three-star Alinea, suggested that I salt “both” the mayo and the tomatoes, but that sounds like a lot of salt for even a salt fanatic like me.

Professor Subha Ranjan Das suggested, “if you want the burst of salt, keep salt flakes in oil, when you pick up the pinch it is already coated in thin smear of oil and won’t dissolve in. You won’t over salt but still get the high salt taste bursts.”

With a red tomato, I salted the mayo and spread it on the bread, and that actually worked pretty well.  The flavor of the tomato seemed to come through nicely.

With a yellow tomato, I added salt to olive oil and then spread the salty olive oil on bread. That was too salty of an approach and I believe the salt needs to be distributed more evenly; also, I miss the creaminess of the mayo that contrasts so well with the acidity of the tomato.

Former Oak Parker and current Forest Parker Tim Berthiaume said, “I like to mayo the tomatoes. Mayo right on those guys, I think it makes a difference.”

This seemed like a good idea, but I wanted to apply my previous learning and take it one step further by salting the mayo and then putting the mayo “right on” the tomatoes as Berthiaume suggested.

Three times turned out to be the charm, and this third version was excellent. Layering in the mayo balances out both the sauce and the tomato. Because I added salt and pepper to the mayo before I slathered it on, the distribution of both condiments was more consistent. I did not put any of the seasoned mayo directly on the bread.  For the time being, this, for me, is the perfect tomato sandwich. 

With all sandwiches I tested, I toasted the bread and endeavored to cut the tomato more thin than thick.

One final word about mayo: Mayo can definitely be abused when it’s used in larger quantities or too frequently on everything. But mayonnaise itself is a fine sauce, and I read last week in the Wall Street Journal that Unilever is bringing suit against a San Francisco startup that offers Just Mayo, which contains no eggs. While it may be a worthy product (particularly for those with an egg allergy), it seems the name Just Mayo is designed to confuse buyers. At any rate, it’s always best to make your own mayo; it’s not hard and you will appreciate the difference.

Join the discussion on social media!

Avatar photo

David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...

2 replies on “Perfecting the Tomato Sandwich”