In our house, bacon is serious stuff.
We have extended conversations about bacon. We discuss the merits of different styles & different brands the way OC families might discuss fashion. We consider, savor and discuss a new pack of bacon like teenagers might talk about a new song, or that guy that what's-her-name was seen with last week in the mall.
We are judgmental and picky. Though truth be told, it's hard to find a bacon that we we won't let back into the house, even after a less than stellar review. (There are notable exceptions: the house brand at Whole Foods. It's just sadly unflavorful. And do not utter the words "turkey" and "bacon" in the same sentence in my daughter's presence).
Bacon in our house is divided into three distinct categories:
- American bacon. This is the streaky stuff made from the belly of the pig with a dry rub of salt and potentially a few other flavors (e.g. maple, smoked, etc.)
American bacon is only good when put on top of other things. A salad. A good burger. Candied and crumbled on top of oatmeal. (trust me on this)
American bacon is the co-king of "makes things better when put on top". It shares this glory with a fried egg. (Trust me on this one as well. If you see something on a menu topped with a fried egg, I guarantee you it will be one of the best dishes on the menu. I would not lie to you about this. Other things, ok maybe. But not about a fried egg. We're friends like that.)
- Italian bacon. Also known as pancetta. It's made from the same cut of pork belly as American bacon, but with a different cure approach. It's indispensible in a good pasta carbonara, risotto, or diced and fried with a mess of shredded brussel sprouts. (Ok. You can switch out for guanciale - made from the streaky pork cheek - but the effect is nearly the same.)
I have a great recipe for pancetta. It takes about 6-8 weeks to cure, and considering that I can get a decent Oscar Meyer bacon for a few bucks, but good pancetta costs me more than $20 a pound, all the bellies of my annual autumn pigs are cut & reserved for pancetta, instead of more typical bacon.
- and best of all: English bacon. Which is the only kind of bacon meaty enough to stand up on its own as a breakfast main in our house.
So sayeth the Critter. And so it must be true.
British bacon comes from the loin of the pig, not the belly. Where you get pork chops (without the bone). It's also called 'back bacon', because of where this is located along the pig - It's along the upper side - usually cut (as ours is above) to extend down and include a little of the upper belly (along the left hand side of the picture above). This is the same cut used for Canadian bacon - usually found on pizza here in the lower part of the continent. (Canadian bacon is cured with more sugar, typically smoked, and is just as often treated as ham here in the U.S. and doesn't rightly belong in the "bacon" category at all, at least in our household).
I took a picture of this cut above after curing it for about 8 or 9 days. Most American bacon is cured with a 'dry' cure - essentially rubbing it with salt, probably sugar and a few other spices, and maybe smoking it.
The best traditional British bacon is cured in a wet 'Wiltshire cure' - a brine that the cut is submerged in to soak in all of the delicious flavors. About half of British bacon sold in stores there is smoked after curing. The rest is sold 'green' or unsmoked. I prefer the unsmoked - both because of the simpler taste, and because it's easier to make.
The cure is pretty straightforward - I've listed my basic recipe below.
- 1 gallon of water
- 1 lb kosher salt
- 1/2 lb brown sugar
- 1 heaping tsp pink salt
- A few crushed juniper berries
- 1 bay leaf
- Anything else I happen to grab out of my spice drawer: 10-12 Black peppercorns. A hefty pinch of dried thyme. Nothing if I'm feeling lazy.
Add the salt, sugar & spices to the water in a large stock pot and heat until the salt & sugar are dissolved. Let cool to room temp (I often cover the pot and stick it out on the porch or in the fridge to accelerate things). Add the meat and ensure it is fully submerged (with a plate on top or some other weight) and put into a cool place (basement or garage). Don't bother it again for 5-8 days. I tend to leave mine for 8 or 9.
At this point, your bacon is ready to slice, cook and eat.
A couple of years ago, I called my Bride a few days before Father's day and told her I knew what I wanted to celerbate my father-ness. A meat slicer.
There was silence on the other end of the phone, and then, "I'm not getting you a meat sli- .... You already have one picked out, don't you?"
"I'm one click away from having one on our doorstep, baby."
I picked up the one above off of eBay for a two or three hundred bucks, and it's more than adequate for most things. This little deli slicer makes quick work of the bacon. But you could just as well do it with a sharp knife, slicing what you need. (and I have)
I could write a whole other post about what I've learned about meat slicers since buying this one. But as a good, home-use level slicer, it's perfectly adequate. If a pain in the ass to break down and clean afterwards. But hey. Good bacon demands some sacrifice. And I'm ok with that.
I lay out the bacon on easily sorted sheets of wax paper. You can pick them up in a decent grocery for next to nothing. It keeps things tidy for breakfast, when I have kids clamoring for the stuff.
The only thing I'll point out about this particular batch of bacon is the extra-thick layer of fat. This pig was beautifully fatted, and I hated to lose too much of it. It could have been sliced off and used to make lardo, but I kept most of it. I sometimes end up trimming that fat off before I cook a slice, or throw it to the dog. But just as often, I end up eating it. Don't say 'ew. gross.' Think of what percentage fat your Oscar Meyer bacon is. That's just flavor.
Note: If you cut it thicker, you end up with gammon. One of my first lunches with the team in the Liverpool office, I was trying to decipher the menu, and asked someone what this 'gammon' thing was.
'It's like a bacon steak,' one of the guys said.
Bacon steak. Holy shit. You just combined two of my favorite concepts in one fantastic meal. And they serve it with a fried egg on top.
A half inch slice of Wiltshire cured pork loin (bacon), griddled with an egg and served with good pub chips and taken with a pint of beer, and you're in heaven, my friend. It is not to be missed.
However, this is how I like my bacon best. Griddled in a pan, and put between two pieces of good toast, buttered and hot. A good, traditional 'bacon buttie'.
Lots of Brits top it with a bit of brown sauce (the HP stuff behind it - we keep it around because my Bride likes it). But I'm a simple man.
This right here - this is good bacon. And is one more example that the Brits - despite the rumors - do know what they're doing in the kitchen.
I would write more. But my bacon buttie is getting cold.