It inspires big-city chefs, down-home cooks and local food fans alike. It shows up at breakfast, lunch and dinner – even in dessert.
The secret ingredient? Bacon.
“It’s everything you could ask for in a food,” says Christopher Eley, owner of Goose the Market in Indianapolis. “It’s sweet, smoky, salty, rich. It’s so versatile.”
A recipe called Bacon Explosion on the Web site BBQAddicts.com, for example, took the Internet by storm.
“It definitely has become more popular,” says Eley. “You can use it in so many ways other than in bacon and eggs. Pork is generally a chef’s favorite because there’s so many things you can do with it.”
While supermarket brands can certainly satisfy, Eley offers a variety of house-made bacon at his meat-focused shop. His signature applewood-smoked bacon has become especially popular.
But what’s so special about the bacon that Eley smokes and cures himself, he says, is that he uses pork from Indiana-raised hogs. His method also makes a difference.
“It’s not so heavily smoked,” says Eley. “It’s balanced between sweetness, saltiness, smokiness and richness.”
What doesn’t go in is important, too, he says. “There’s no water added to it,” Eley says. “We have a six-day drying process. It really helps to concentrate the flavor.”
It’s that rich flavor that makes bacon so popular. A few slices crumbled atop a dish can add a delicious touch. Use the drippings for frying or to add smokiness.
Eley says, “(Bacon) can make a mediocre dish a fantastic dish.”
Pork fat rules
Coconut-bacon bars with poplar-whipped mascarpone
1 pound applewood-smoked bacon, diced in 1/4-inch pieces
2 2/3 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 ounces unsalted butter, melted
1 cup oats
3 ounces dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
13 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups coconut flakes, toasted
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and crushed
20 ounces sweetened condensed milk
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
2 ounces Hickoryworks tulip poplar syrup
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a 13-by-18-inch half sheet pan, bake the bacon until crisp.
Remove bacon from pan and drain grease, keeping a thin layer of drippings in the pan. Reserve the remainder for other use.
In a mixing bowl, combine graham cracker crumbs, butter, oats, brown sugar, vanilla and salt until mixture hangs together.
Press mixture onto sheet pan. Top with bacon, chocolate, coconut and hazelnuts; drizzle with sweetened condensed milk. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool for 20 minutes and cut into bars.
Whip together the mascarpone and poplar syrup. Serve bars warm, garnished with whipped mascarpone and additional chopped hazelnuts. Makes a half sheet pan.
Note: Hickoryworks’ tulip poplar syrup can be ordered from the Indiana-based company at hickoryworks.com. Real maple syrup can be substituted.
Shrimp and grits with pepper-smoked jowl bacon
For the grits:
4 cups whole milk
1 cup stone-ground quick grits
1 teaspoon sea salt
black pepper to taste
For the shrimp:
1 pound whole wild-caught American shrimp, peeled, shells and heads reserved
1 onion, peeled and sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon tomato paste
4 cups water
8 ounces pepper-smoked jowl bacon, cut into 1/4-by-1-inch strips
rendered jowl bacon drippings
1 cup white cheddar cheese
8 Brussels sprouts, blanched in salted water for 5 minutes, quartered
1/2 cup dry sherry
1/4 of a lemon, zested
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
black pepper and sea salt to taste
In a medium saucepan, combine milk and grits. Allow grits to settle and skim off any hulls that rise to the surface. Cook over medium heat 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
Lower heat and continue to cook grits until creamy, about 30 minutes. About halfway through, add 1 teaspoon sea salt and the black pepper.
Meanwhile, in a saucepan, combine shrimp peels, heads, onion, garlic, carrot, thyme, bay leaf and tomato paste. Cover with water, heat to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 1 hour.
In a sauté pan, cook bacon with 2 tablespoons water over medium-high heat until water has evaporated and bacon becomes crisp. Remove bacon from pan and cool on paper towel. Pour remaining drippings into grits, leaving a thin layer in the sauté pan. Fold bacon drippings and white cheddar into grits; season, cover and keep warm.
Meanwhile, in the sauté pan with the remaining bacon drippings, quickly sauté shrimp and Brussels sprouts over medium-high heat. Cook until shrimp is firm, pink and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove shrimp and Brussels sprouts and keep warm.
Deglaze pan with the sherry; reduce until almost evaporated. Strain shrimp stock into the pan, add lemon zest, heat to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Combine butter and flour, then whisk mixture into sauce. Cook for an additional 3 minutes or until sauce has thickened. Return shrimp, Brussels sprouts and bacon to the sauce and re-warm.
Spoon grits into shallow bowls. Evenly distribute shrimp, bacon and Brussels sprouts between the bowls. Serves 4.
Warm spinach salad with lamb bacon vinaigrette
8 ounces lamb bacon, diced
1 shallot, peeled and sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
2/3 cup black currant vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil
sea salt to taste
cracked black pepper, to taste
1 pound baby spinach, washed and stemmed
4 ounces gorgonzola cheese
1 hard-boiled egg yolk, chopped
1/2 cup toasted pecans
1/2 cup black currants
In a medium saucepan, heat the lamb bacon and 2 tablespoons water over medium-high heat. Cook until bacon is rendered and becomes crisp.
Remove bacon, leaving the renderings in the pan. Sauté shallot and garlic until tender, then deglaze pan with the vinegar, half at a time. Scrape bottom of the pan with wooden spoon in between each addition. Reduce heat and add honey and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm. In medium bowl, combine spinach with hot dressing until spinach wilts.
Put on warm salad plates and top with the crisp lamb bacon, gorgonzola, egg yolk, toasted pecans and black currants. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
Know your bacon
We have it with our eggs for breakfast; with lettuce and tomato on a sandwich; and in a crust with cream as quiche Lorraine. But just what is bacon? According to James Villas, author of “The Bacon Cookbook” (Wiley, 2007, $35), “the term refers basically to the fatty meat from a pig’s belly, side, back and breast that is cured with salt or other preservatives and/or smoked.”
Villas noted that “one cooked slice of streaky bacon contains between 35 and 40 calories, 100 milligrams of sodium and about 3 grams of fat.” However, he also pointed out that “an average slice has about one-quarter fewer calories than a tablespoon of butter or margarine, roughly half the total fat” and about a third of the cholesterol of butter. A few common varieties he notes:
• Canadian bacon: Oval-shaped cut from pork loin; looks like ham; lean, cured, lightly smoked; called “back bacon” in Canada.
• Country-style bacon: Can refer to any thick-sliced bacon; can also be salty, cured, heavily smoked bacon from the same hogs as country hams.
• Jowl bacon: Typically a Southern variety cut from pork cheek; cured and smoked like regular bacon, but contains more fat.
• Pancetta: Dry-cured pork belly, typically not smoked; often from Italy, but also made in the U.S.; usually rolled and sliced quite thin.
• Streaky bacon: British term for typical American supermarket bacon.
• Salt pork: Mostly fat, with a little lean, from cured pork belly; not smoked; sometimes called “streak o’ lean;” used mostly for flavoring.