Anatomy of a Classic

Tomato and White Bread Salad with Mayonnaise Dressing

Tomatoes two ways—fresh and pickled—star in chef Edward Lee’s ode to a Southern summer staple

tomato and white bread salad

Photo: Johnny Autry. Food Styling: Charlotte Autry

When Edward Lee was a young cook in Brooklyn, he lived with a girlfriend who loved tomatoes. He didn’t. “I was like, ‘Koreans don’t eat tomatoes,’” he says. “But she had spent time in Italy, so she was obsessive with them. She kept them at room temperature on the counter in the apartment.”

They started to fight. She’d storm out and slam the door by the kitchen, sending the smell of those ripe tomatoes through the shoebox-sized apartment. She eventually dumped him. He moved to Louisville, where he has risen to the top of his game, first at 610 Magnolia and then at MilkWood. He also runs Succotash in National Harbor, Maryland, which he will expand this summer with a downtown Washington, D.C., location.

Photo: Johnny Autry

The ingredients: Anchovies add a salty punch to tomato-sandwich basics.

A lot of good things came from his move: television shows, James Beard Award nominations, a book, a marriage to Kentucky native Dianne Lee, and a baby. He built a training program for young people who can’t afford culinary school. And he fell in love with Southern vegetables, including tomatoes. But as any Southerner who loves them will tell you, the summer crop can be overwhelming. “They’re so abundant,” Lee says.

He has devised a number of ways to preserve them. One is the quick-pickle. The method produces deeply flavored brine Lee uses as the base for the vinaigrette that dresses a salad that mimics a classic Southern tomato sandwich. The result is reminiscent of panzanella, the Tuscan bread salad. Cool lettuce provides the crunch; flattened, butter-crisped white bread the canvas; and tomatoes the color and tang.

Photo: Johnny Autry

Pickling some of the tomato haul brightens the flavor.

“When I do tomato dishes, I want them to be very tomatoey,” Lee says. “The pickled tomatoes give you another way to do that.” You can use them in other recipes or as bar snacks, too.

Having a plan that allows you to enjoy half your crop raw and preserve the other half is Lee’s first rule of the road for tomato season. That, and never, ever refrigerate them—a lesson he learned from the long-gone girlfriend. “They really are better on the counter,” he says.


  • Tomato and White Bread Salad with Mayonnaise Dressing

    • 4 slices white bread

    • 2 tbsp. butter

    • 2 1/2 lb. ripe tomatoes

    • 1 1/2 lb. pickled tomatoes and

    • Kosher salt, to taste

    • Black pepper, to taste

    • 4 marinated anchovies, packed in oil

    • A handful of lettuce greens

    • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (Lee recommends Duke's)

    • 2 tbsp. sour cream

  • Pickled Tomatoes

    • 1 1/2 lb. red tomatoes

    • 2 cloves garlic

    • 2 bay leaves

    • 1/2-inch knob ginger, peeled

    • A few sprigs parsley

    • 2 cups water

    • 3 tbsp. distilled white vinegar

    • 1 tbsp. salt

    • 4 tsp. sugar

    • 1 tsp. coriander seeds


  1. For the Tomato & White Bread Salad with Mayonnaise Dressing: 

    Preheat oven to 350º F. 

  2. Flatten the bread with a rolling pin. Trim off the crusts but do not discard. Cut bread into 1-inch squares (you should get 6 squares per slice). Arrange bread squares on a sheet pan. Take half of the trimmed crusts and add to the side of the pan; discard the rest. Cut the butter into small pieces and scatter on top of bread. Bake for 3 minutes. Flip the squares and bake for another 3 minutes. Remove and let cool to room temperature.

  3. Slice the fresh tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Strain pickled tomatoes, reserving liquid, and add to bowl with fresh tomatoes. Toss with 2 tbsp. pickling brine. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

  4. Finely chop toasted crust trimmings. Place in a small bowl. Dice anchovies and add to the bowl. Gently mix with lettuce leaves and set aside.

  5. Place mayonnaise, sour cream, remaining 1 tbsp. pickling brine, and pepper into a separate bowl and whisk until smooth. 

  6. Divide the tomatoes between 4 plates. Add 6 toasted squares to each salad. Distribute anchovy, bread-crumb, and lettuce mixture among the 4 salads and dollop small spoonfuls of the dressing over each.

  7. For the Pickled Tomatoes: 

    Chop the tomatoes into large chunks and layer them with garlic, bay leaves, ginger, and parsley in airtight glass containers with tight-fitting lids.

  8. Place the water, vinegar, salt, sugar, and coriander seeds into a small saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and steep for 2 minutes. Gently pour the hot liquid over the tomatoes, put the lids on the containers, and let come to room temperature (about 1 hour). Refrigerate overnight.

chef edward lee

Meet the Chef: Edward Lee

Hometown: Brooklyn
His four-year-old daughter’s name: Arden Rose. “My wife named her after I rejected Daisy.”
Favorite kitchen tool: A santoku knife given to him by a sushi chef who used to come to the Manhattan restaurant where Lee cooked. One day, the chef quit his job and gave Lee his prized knife. “He used it for fifty years.”