Bacon - Gourmet Guide

June 12, 2019 | By Dave Mattingly

Bacon originated as a humble cut of pork belly that was brined as a way to preserve its life before the era of refrigeration. Today, Bacon has been elevated to the ranks of gourmet charcuterie, along with artisan salamis and confits. While just a few years ago Bacon was still the humble side dish served with pancakes or eggs, now Bacon is the star attraction at breakfast! Also enjoyed at brunch, in a sandwich, crumbled over salad or wrapped around Filet Mignon or shrimp, we are always looking for the best bacon on the market. So, go hog wild and get your daily bacon requirement, or better yet, send a glorious Bacon Gift Basket or Slab Bacon to a friend or relative.

The History of Bacon
Bacon began as a simple way to preserve fresh pork in times before refrigeration. Much like beef brisket and hams, Bacon is well suited to brining in a salt solution. This brine provided a measure of protection from bacteria that would otherwise quickly spoil the fat-rich pork belly. By raising the salinity of the water in the pork belly, the meat and fat became inhospitable to bacterial growth. Smoking Bacon offered another step of protection when it was discovered that the life of the Bacon could be even further extended when smoked. Combined, brining and smoking had the added effect of making the pork belly absolutely delicious.

Once people discovered how good Bacon tasted once brined and smoked, they started to get creative with it. They added black pepper, juniper, garlic, jalapenos, and all sorts of flavorings to the brine, and brought in sweet applewood and aromatic mesquite to smoke the pork bellies. Now, whatever your tastes run, there's a bacon to suit your palate.

Different Types of Bacon
Pancetta from Italy and Ventreche from France are also cured pork belly bacon products, but they're not smoked. They are often sold in unsliced rounds. You can unroll these rounds and cube the bacon to make what the French call "lardons". Lardons can be thought of as bacon croutons and are wonderful in salads (as in the classic Salad Lyonnaise), in casseroles, and as a decadent addition to Mac 'n' Cheese.

Irish Bacon, or "Back Bacon", comes from the loin of the pig, not the belly. It is not as fat-rich as belly bacon, but it is still brined and thinly sliced for frying as traditional Bacon. Canadian Bacon is another Back Bacon, also produced from the loin of the pig. Similar in style to Irish Back Bacon, Canadian Bacon is famous for being the key ingredient in McDonald's Egg McMuffin.

Traditional American Bacon is available pre-sliced or in its original form as Slab Bacon. There are a variety of smoke flavors available, including Maple, Hickory and Applewood. Bacon can also be sold in cured or uncured formats.

Cooking with Bacon
Bacon is made to be intensely flavorful, so there’s no better way to try it than on its own, simply pan-fried. If you have more time, some people prefer to bake the bacon in the oven on a jellyroll pan, to avoid grease splatters and to drain the bacon as it cooks. But bacon is also great at adding flavor to accent other foods:

  • Bacon-wrapped shrimp and scallops are one of the classiest hors d'oeuvres around. Just make sure you use top quality bacon on those pricy scallops and jumbo shrimp.
  • Filet Mignon is meltingly tender, but mild in taste compared to other parts of the cow. Give it some extra oomph by ringing it in a slice of bacon.
  • Crumbled bacon is a great addition to stuffing. Try it with bread crumbs, olives, and Pecorino Romano for stuffing artichoke hearts. Pheasant is lovely with bacon, prunes, and wild rice stuffing.
  • The fatty nature of bacon is also great in helping lean game meats stay moist and not dry out. By wrapping bacon around quail, rabbit, partridge, or other lean meats, the bacon will baste the meat as it cooks, preventing it from losing too much moisture. This is especially good for high-heat cooking methods, such as broiling and grilling.

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