January 21, 2004
Is there any felicity in the world greater than perfectly cooked bacon? There is an article in the New York Times today about a bacon and wine tasting. THAT, my friend, is more glorious. The tasters sampled eleven different types of artisan bacons and noted their reactions as they chewed. My favorite comment comes from one of the tasters that called the New Braunfels Smokehouse Pepper Bacon "too conceptual."
Unfortunately, many people don't know how to cook bacon without burning it or themselves. The key to perfectly browned, crispy bacon is to cook it slowly over low heat. If you like cleaning your oven, spread the bacon out on a sheet pan and let it render to your liking. But I don't like to clean ovens. The easiest (and cleanest) method I've found is to put your slices of bacon in a cold pan and set over low-medium heat. Then stick a cover on it. Let it sit for five minutes then come back and check on it, flip, and sit for another 5 minutes. Tongs are essential. A good pair of 12 inch stainless steel tongs are your friend for life. Keep flipping two or three times for about 20-25 minutes or until the bacon is perfectly browned to your liking (I like to pull it off the heat just before the entire bacon strip crisps all over). Yes this takes a bit longer, but think of it as a process. You can sit down and read a book as the gorgeous smells of smokey pork waft in the air, gently preparing your senses for a taste explosion. More of the fat is rendered out with this slow cooking than if you seared it on high heat for 30 seconds, and the bacon is guaranteed to be really crispy without the constant gauging of the burn threshold.
When you are done with your feast, whatever you do, don't throw the bacon drippings away. After the grease has cooled down, pour it into a container with an air-tight lid and pop it in the fridge*. Don't strain out the bits of bacon either. Think of those delicious bits as extra seasoning. Then use it just like you would butter. You've never tasted pancakes so good that were cooked with a little pat of bacon butter. I also use it to fry eggs, make fried rice, saute vegetables, start soups and chilis, grease cornbread pans, pretty much anything that needs a little punch of flavor. I've even heard of cooks in the deep south using bacon grease to grease pans for dessert cakes. If you're worried about cholesterol, just add a touch of it as you are heating up your vegetable oil, and those little bacon bits you saved will add the nicest hint of salty, smokey flavor without all the saturated fat. But I dare say that a clogged artery is worth bacon.
SPINACH SALAD WITH HOT BACON VINAIGRETTE
6 cups of baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1 cup of thinly sliced red onion
crumbled bacon and crumbled blue cheese for garnish
2 Tbsps of bacon drippings
2 Tbsps of olive oil
2 Tbsps of balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp of brown sugar
1 tsp of salt
a few twists of freshly cracked pepper
1 Tbsp of grainy mustard
Place the spinach in a salad bowl. In a skillet, over medium heat, heat the bacon drippings and whisk in the oil, vinegar, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Add the sliced onions and heat til warm. Pour the hot dressing over the spinach leaves. Add crumbled bacon and cheese on top. Toss immediately and serve (spinach may wilt slightly). Serves 4-6.
*I've found no information on how long bacon grease can be kept. Since there is such high salt content, one would think it could be treated as salted butter and keep in the fridge for three months. But just to be safe, toss the unused grease after six weeks. It's also easier to dispose of in the garbage after it has solidified in the cold temperatures. I've heard stories of grandmothers continually pouring bacon grease in a collection tin right next to the stove and using it as she pleases, never throwing it out.Posted by yi at January 21, 2004 11:25 AM