Did somebody say bacon?
We were opening Christmas gifts last year when my much better half dropped a package on my lap -- a cold, heavy package. Curious (and suddenly chilly), I opened it. Bacon. Six pounds of artisan bacon, ranging from thick-cut hickory-smoked to jalapeno-spiced and apple-cinnamon, varieties hailing from Virginia to upstate New York, Texas to Tennessee.
Now if that’s not true love, I don’t know what is.
I’m a bacon fanatic. In or out of the kitchen, sometimes it’s all I can think about: the vibrant red as it cooks, the smokiness, the subtle crunch, the sizzle, the wonderful aroma that will not be denied.
And bacon works so well in so many dishes, from soups and salads to chili and stuffed pork chops. Layer it in burgers or use it as garnish, wrapped seductively around fillets or brats for a little extra flavor.
For Thanksgiving, I added bacon to a turducken -- a pound of it carefully lining the turkey breast just beneath the skin. Officially, it was to keep the meat moist as the 40-pound behemoth cooked. Secretly, I knew that turkey, duck and chicken weren’t enough -- that monster needed bacon, just because.
I’m not alone. Do a Web search and you’ll turn up forums and chat rooms, online shrines and bacon-of-the-month clubs. There are bacon songs and bacon T-shirts, custom grease containers and ornaments for the rearview mirror or the Christmas tree (I’ll have my decorations “low carb,” please). It’s enough to make Homer Simpson weep.
But nothing compares to the real thing. While technically it can be added to anything -- and it probably has been -- there are some natural pairings that are magic to the taste buds.
Try potatoes. Bacon and potatoes are a classic combination in that comfort food sort of way, and potato salad is a perfect vehicle for both. For a slight twist, toss some new potatoes with garlic and oil and roast them to golden brown. Meanwhile, fry a pound of chopped bacon. Combine the potatoes and bacon with some thinly sliced red onion, then stir in a whole-grain mustard dressing lightened with a little red wine vinegar. Throw in some capers -- their tartness cuts through the salad to highlight the various flavors, and they’ll add some bright color to finish the dish.
With all that bacon you’re frying, what about the grease? Save it. You can use it for everything from sauteing vegetables to frying chicken and searing meats. Oil your grill with it before cooking, and use it to season your cast-iron cookware. Or really have fun and substitute it for oil when making popcorn. Just think of it, bacon popcorn.
If you’re like me and have a lot, use it in a panzanella. For a twist on the Italian bread salad, toast cubes of stale bread in bacon grease with a few cloves of garlic until well-browned. With tomatoes out of season, combine canned crushed ones with sherry vinegar and bacon grease for a chunky vinaigrette. Mix the toasted bread with some thinly sliced onion, nicoise olives, fresh oregano and basil.
Soak the mixture in the vinaigrette until the bread is crisp-tender. Just before serving, toss in some tart, bitter lettuces -- frisee, mache and radicchio -- for a little zing and a lot of color. Serve each portion with crumbled bacon and a drizzle of reserved vinaigrette.
Obsession breeds creativity, and as bacon-rich as those dishes might be, they’re still fairly traditional. A true bacon fanatic pushes boundaries.
Let’s start with breakfast. If there’s one meal where bacon shines, it’s on the breakfast plate. It’s the quintessential, savory and -- let’s face it -- only way to start the day. But what about those who prefer sweet to savory? What do we bacon lovers do when they reach for doughnuts and sticky buns over eggs, potatoes and . . . bacon?
Convert them, of course. With coffeecake. A bacon and apple coffeecake.
OK, it may sound unusual, but hear me out. Start with a cinnamon roll-type dough. While the dough is rising, fry a pound -- no, a pound and a half -- of bacon bits. Saute tart sliced apple with cinnamon, a touch of maple syrup and a little amaretto (the almond is subtle and pairs well with both bacon and apple). Roll out the dough and sprinkle the bacon and apple over it, then roll it up and twist it into a wreath.
Slice the wreath into wedges, garnish the top with sliced almonds and let the dough rise again before baking. (You can also prepare the coffeecake up to this point and refrigerate it overnight; set it out to warm up slightly while you have your coffee, then bake it for breakfast.)
Lightly drizzle a glaze over the cake and serve it warm. Chunks of bacon and apple spill out -- it’s a wonderful play on flavors with just a hint of sweetness. Before you know it, you’ve bridged the divide. Sweet and savory at the same table, sharing a meal. Take a picture.
And for a finale? Candied bacon. Sprinkle some brown sugar over bacon slices, and bake until crisp and caramelized. Go ahead, make the whole pound -- trust me, it’s that good.
Serve the candied bacon on its own or as a cocktail garnish. Place some vodka and Applejack brandy in a shaker, with just a touch of amaretto and maple syrup. Shake with ice and pour into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the candied bacon and a thin slice of apple (we do have to be somewhat healthful). Voila. A candied bacon martini.
Serve it to friends -- they’ll toast your genius. And if they can’t appreciate your bacon obsession, quietly allow them the right to their opinion. At the end of the day, less bacon for them means there’s more for you.
Apple bacon coffeecake
Total time: 1 hour, 40 minutes plus rising time
Note: Grade B maple syrup is recommended for this recipe; the syrup is less filtered so it has more pronounced flavor. The coffeecake can be made through Step 10 the night before serving; loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight, then warm at room temperature for 1 hour before baking.
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/2 teaspoons)
1/3 cup sugar, divided
3 eggs, divided
10 tablespoons butter (1 1/4 sticks), at room temperature, cut into 1/2 -inch pieces
3 1/2 cups bread flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds thick-cut bacon, preferably applewood-smoked, sliced crosswise into 1/4 -inch pieces
1 pound tart apples, such as Granny Smith (about 2 large)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup maple syrup, divided
2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur
1/3 cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons cream cheese
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon powdered sugar, sifted
1. In a small pan, heat the milk over medium heat just until warmed. Remove from heat and pour the milk into a small bowl or measuring cup. Stir in the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar, then set aside until the yeast is activated and the milk is foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Whisk two of the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl with a hand mixer) until light and fluffy, about 1 minute. Stir in the yeast mixture and remaining sugar until fully incorporated.
3. With the mixer running, add the butter, one or two pieces at a time, until all of it has been incorporated.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together 3 cups of the bread flour and the salt. With the mixer running, add the flour mixture, a spoonful at a time, until all of it has been incorporated into the dough.
5. Remove the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead until it is soft and elastic with a silky texture, 5 to 7 minutes. Knead in additional bread flour as needed, up to the remaining one-half cup. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
6. While the dough is rising, cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently so the bacon cooks evenly and does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and drain the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate, reserving one-fourth cup of the grease for the remainder of the recipe.
7. Peel and core the apples, and slice each into eight pieces. Cut each slice crosswise into one-eighth-inch pieces.
8. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons bacon grease over medium heat. Stir in the apple slices and cinnamon and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 2 tablespoons maple syrup and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender, another 2 minutes. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the amaretto. Place the pan back over medium heat and cook until the liqueur is mostly absorbed, about 1 minute, stirring to scrape any bits of flavoring from the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
9. When the dough is doubled, punch it down and roll it out on a lightly floured surface into a 12-by-18-inch rectangle. Spread the apples and bacon bits evenly over the dough.
10. Roll the dough lengthwise into a tube (like a cinnamon roll), making sure the seam is on the bottom of the roll. Make 15 slits over the length of the roll, a little over 1 inch apart and three-fourths of the way through. Carefully transfer the dough to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Form the dough into the shape of a wreath, with the cut sides on the outside of the wreath. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and set aside until almost doubled in volume, 45 minutes to an hour. Alternatively, loosely cover and refrigerate the dough overnight; remove from the refrigerator about 1 hour before baking for the dough to come to room temperature.
11. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon maple syrup with the remaining egg. Brush the egg wash over the outside of the wreath. Sprinkle the sliced almonds over the wreath and place the pan in the oven.
12. Bake the coffee cake until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.
13. While the coffee cake is baking, make the glaze. In a medium bowl, whisk together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon bacon grease and maple syrup.
14. Remove the cake and brush the top with the remaining tablespoon bacon grease. Allow the cake to cool slightly.
15. Drizzle the glaze over the warm coffee cake. Slice and serve. The coffee cake will keep for up to two days, refrigerated. Cover and bring to room temperature before serving.
Each serving: 373 calories; 11 grams protein; 37 grams carbohydrates; 2 grams fiber; 20 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 80 mg. cholesterol; 427 mg. sodium.
Roasted potato salad
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Servings: 8 to 10
4 pounds new or fingerling potatoes, cleaned and halved lengthwise
3/4 teaspoon chopped garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pound thick-cut bacon
1 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons whole grain mustard, or to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or to taste
1/2 red onion, trimmed and sliced lengthwise into 1/8 -inch slices
1/4 cup capers
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, toss the potatoes with the garlic, olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper. Place the potatoes in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast the potatoes until golden brown and tender, about 1 hour, tossing occasionally. Remove and cool.
2. While the potatoes are roasting, cut the bacon crosswise into one-fourth-inch pieces. Cook the bacon in a large saute pan over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently, watching that the bacon does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Remove from heat and drain the bacon on a paper towel-lined plate, reserving the grease for another use.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard and red wine vinegar. Season with one-half teaspoon salt and several grinds of black pepper. Taste and adjust mustard, vinegar and seasoning if desired.
4. In a large bowl, combine the potatoes and bacon with the sliced onion. Gently stir in enough dressing to coat, then stir in the capers. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired.
5. Cover and refrigerate the salad for at least 2 hours to allow the flavors to develop. The salad will keep for 3 days, refrigerated. Allow the salad to warm slightly at room temperature before serving.
Each of 10 servings: 420 calories; 11 grams protein; 34 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 28 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 29 mg. cholesterol; 696 mg. sodium.
Total time: About 1 hour
Note: This recipe requires three-fourths cup bacon grease, probably more than you’ll render when cooking the bacon below. If you fall short and don’t keep any extra on hand, substitute best-quality olive oil. Frisee is also known as curly endive and chicory.
1/2 pound thick-cut bacon
3/4 cup bacon grease or best-quality olive oil or mixture of the two, divided
3 garlic cloves
1 stale French baguette, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 medium red onion, trimmed and cut lengthwise into 1/8 -inch-thick slices
1/2 cup Nicoise olives, or similar black brined olives
1/2 cup loosely packed torn basil leaves
2 tablespoons loosely packed oregano leaves
2 cups loosely packed torn radicchio leaves
3 cups loosely packed frisee
3 cups loosely packed mache or arugula
1. In a large saute pan, cook the bacon strips over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the strips are crisp, about 10 minutes. Drain the bacon on paper towels, reserving the bacon grease.
2. In the same skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease over medium-high heat. Add the garlic cloves and as many cubes of bread as will fit in a single layer (this may need to be done in a couple of batches). Toast the bread until golden brown on all sides, stirring frequently. Add additional grease as needed (the bread will soak it up as it toasts), up to 2 more tablespoons. Remove from heat and place the bread in a large bowl.
3. Make the tomato vinaigrette: In a large nonreactive saucepan, whisk together the crushed tomatoes, remaining one-half cup bacon grease, sherry vinegar, salt and several grinds of pepper. The grease will thicken as it cools; if necessary, heat the vinaigrette gently over low heat while whisking until the dressing is emulsified.
4. Pour half the dressing over the toasted bread and toss with your hands until the cubes are evenly coated. Add the onion, olives, basil and oregano and toss until evenly incorporated. Allow the dressing to soak into the cubes to desired tenderness, 10 to 15 minutes if you like the bread soft on the outside with a little crunch in the center.
5. When the bread is soaked, add the radicchio, frisee and mache; toss to combine. Add additional dressing as needed to lightly coat the leaves.
6. Plate individual servings of the salad or serve in a large serving bowl. Crumble the bacon slices over and serve immediately.
Each serving: 379 calories; 9 grams protein; 30 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams fiber; 26 grams fat; 9 grams saturated fat; 29 mg. cholesterol; 888 mg. sodium.