Story and Photography by Mary Haymaker
As a food blogger, I share my food preferences with lots of people far and wide. So, my love for bacon is well known. People post bacon recipes, outlandish bacon creations, and even pictures of bacon tattoos on my Facebook page. I was once given a chef’s toque that had a picture of bacon emblazoned on the edge. A few years ago, my husband had his gall bladder removed; he feared he’d never eat bacon again. Fortunately his fears were unfounded, and we were able to return to our bacon-loving ways.
Bacon has been quite trendy in the food world for the last several years, so much so that I’ve seen people making fun of it, comparing the bacon fad to the cupcake fad. Bacon is a classic, though, and I don’t see it going out of vogue any time soon. Its salty crispness pairs so well with both sweet and savory dishes that I consider it to be one of the most versatile ingredients in my kitchen.
It’s worth it to spend a little extra money to get high-quality bacon. I like thick-cut bacon; in my opinion, it has the best texture and flavor and is the best value for the money. For a really special use, I will splurge on the house-made bacon at my favorite butcher shop, but for everyday use I just purchase thick-cut supermarket bacon. It’s hearty enough to stand on its own but also works well as a supporting player. At some high-end markets, you can purchase a whole slab of bacon that you can slice yourself; for ease of slicing, wrap the bacon in parchment paper and slice (very cold bacon) with a very sharp slicing knife.
Because of the high fat content, bacon does a wonderful job of adding moisture to other foods. Wrapping foods such as meats, fruits and breads in bacon (also known as barding) adds flavor as well as moisture. If the items being wrapped in bacon require a short cooking time, the bacon should be par-cooked first to ensure that it will be cooked through when the dish is ready.
Bacon drippings are also a very useful cook’s tool. As a good Southern cook, I keep a Mason jar of bacon drippings in my refrigerator. Most often, these drippings are used to make gravy to pour on top of my buttermilk biscuits, but I also use them for cooking breakfast potatoes, making cornbread, and many other applications.
So, can you see just how versatile bacon is? I don’t think the bacon “trend” is going anywhere any time soon!
Cooking bacon on the stovetop can be a messy and sometimes even downright dangerous proposition. Roasting the bacon in the oven makes cooking a large amount of it easy, safe and hands-off!
MAKES 1-1/2 POUNDS BACON
- 1-1/2 pounds bacon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place cooling racks onto two large baking sheets. Lay the bacon onto the cooling racks.
Place the pans in the oven and roast the bacon, rotating the pans halfway through, until the bacon is completely cooked—about 25-30 minutes. [COOK’S NOTE: The bacon will not be as crispy as it would if you pan-fried it.] Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
SWEET AND SPICY CANDIED BACON
If you’ve never had candied bacon, you are missing out on a true treat. It was made famous as “Millionaire’s Bacon” by the restaurant Sweet Maple in San Francisco. I’ve never had their version, but I have a feeling mine is just as delicious!
MAKES 1-1/2 POUNDS
- 1-1/2 pounds thick-cut bacon
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (omit if you prefer a non-spicy version)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place cooling racks onto two large baking sheets and lay the strips of bacon onto the cooling racks.
In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, maple syrup, whiskey or bourbon and cayenne pepper. If the mixture is too thick to be brushed onto the bacon, add a small amount of water or more whiskey/bourbon.
Brush the bacon on both sides with the brown sugar mixture. Place in the oven and bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the bacon is completely cooked—about 25-30 minutes. [COOK’S NOTE: The bacon will not be as crispy as you might expect.] Remove from the cooling racks immediately and serve hot or at room temperature.
When I first read about coffee bacon in Joy Wilson’s Joy the Baker Cookbook, I was awestruck by the idea. When I tried it, I was completely enamored. This version is adapted from her recipe.
MAKES 1-1/2 POUNDS
- 1-1/2 pounds thick-cut bacon
- 1/2 cup very finely ground coffee (if you don’t have a coffee grinder, you can pulse the coffee beans in a food processor)
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons water
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place cooling racks on two large baking sheets and lay the strips of bacon on the baking sheets.
In a small bowl, combine the ground coffee, chili powder, maple syrup and water. Brush onto both sides of the bacon.
Place the bacon in the oven and bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until the bacon is completely cooked—about 25-30 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
The first time that we were ever served bacon jam, my husband asked to hug the chef. Sweet, savory and tangy, bacon jam pairs well with cheese, is perfect spread on crackers or crostini, and makes an amazing burger spread.
MAKES 2 CUPS
- 1-1/2 pounds bacon – cut into 1-inch pieces
- 2 medium or 3 small onions – finely diced (should amount to about 3 cups of onions)
- 4 cloves garlic – minced
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 cup beer – any variety (I used a Hefeweizen)
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
In a large (12- to 14-inch) skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon, stirring frequently, until almost crisp—about 25 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate.
Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the bacon grease from the pan. Place the pan back over medium heat. Cook the onions until lightly caramelized—about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chili powder and paprika and cook until fragrant—about 30 seconds.
Add the beer and the maple syrup and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan to scrape up any brown bits. Add the brown sugar and the balsamic vinegar and stir until the brown sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced and syrupy—about 25 minutes.
Place the bacon jam into jars and store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. The bacon jam can be kept refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a month.
Several years ago I was given a Mo’s bacon bar from Vosges Haut-Chocolat. Every time I would tell anyone about the combination of bacon and chocolate, I would get strange looks and the occasional “Ewwww.” I can’t explain it, but bacon and chocolate complement each other perfectly. [COOK’S NOTE: You’ll need a candy thermometer to make this recipe.]
MAKES ABOUT 64 1-INCH PIECES
- 1 pound bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate – chopped into pieces (use bars, not chocolate chips; I used 8 ounces bittersweet and 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate)
- 1 recipe toffee (see below)
- 4 pieces bacon – cooked and chopped or crumbled into small pieces
for the toffee:
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter
Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil and spray liberally with cooking spray.
To Make the Toffee: In a medium saucepan, combine the heavy cream, sugar, brown sugar, and corn syrup. When the sugars have dissolved completely, place the saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil without stirring. When the mixture boils, use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down the sides of the pan. Cook the mixture until a candy thermometer registers 285 degrees, stirring every 2-3 minutes and brushing down the sides of the pan with the wet pastry brush after stirring.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla, salt and butter. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
To Temper the Chocolate: Place 2/3 of the chopped chocolate into a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at 50% power in 1-minute intervals, stirring after each interval, until the chocolate is completely melted and the temperature registers 115 degrees. Add the remaining chocolate and stir until the temperature is reduced to 90 degrees.
To Finish: Pour half of the chocolate into the bottom of the lined pan and carefully spread so that it covers the bottom of the pan. Pour the toffee over the top of the chocolate (you may need to microwave it briefly to loosen it to pouring consistency) and spread it over the chocolate. There will be some marbling of the chocolate and the toffee; this is okay. Pour the remaining chocolate over the top and spread. Sprinkle the bacon over the top of the chocolate.
Allow the pan to stand at room temperature for at least 4 hours—or overnight. Turn onto a cutting board and carefully remove the aluminum foil (some of it may get into the crevices of the candy). Turn the candy over and use a sharp knife to cut it into small pieces. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.