It’s Chanel No. 5 to the culinary world, fried bacon perfumes a room like no other food. Traditional and trendy at the same time, bacon continues to pop up in foods you’d never imagine having even a nodding acquaintance with it! Think Ben and Jerry’s Bacon Bacon ice cream, baconnaise and cupcakes. These days, even if you’re vegan, cholesterol-conscious or kosher, you can still enjoy the essence of beloved bacon in the guise of alternatives.
Let’s start with the genuine article
The ancient Chinese lay a solid claim to the creation of bacon as they started salting pork bellies around 1500 B.C. Today in the United States, 2 billion pounds of bacon are produced yearly, which translates to 43 billion slices, and nearly 18 pounds per person. Yorkshire and Tamworth pigs are specifically bred for making bacon, with different cuts used for preparing assorted styles of bacon. The popular “streaky” American-style bacon comes from the pork belly. The side cut is a meatier, less fat version than the belly cut, while back cuts include the fatback (almost a pure slab of fat), and the lean rib-eye loin, known as Canadian-style or back bacon that has a ham-like taste and texture. This is frequently coated with fine cornmeal called peameal bacon. Cottage bacon is lean shoulder cut oval slices, while jowl bacon is smoked pork cheeks. The continental pancetta is a pungent-flavored Italian version of American “streaky.”
Bacon is typically cured with brine or a dry packing mixture, giving it a mother lode of sodium, nitrates and nitrites with added flavors of hickory, maple, applewood, honey or mesquite.
Baconphiles defend the food on the positive nutritional aspects being a high-protein source rife with stress-busting B vitamins, and immune-boosting zinc and selenium, as they sweep the high saturated fats, sodium and additives (which also have a reputation for triggering migraines) under the dinner table.
Die-hard bacon traditionalists can now enjoy organic, low-sodium uncured varieties, free of hormones, antibiotics, nitrates and nitrates, both American- and Canadian-style.
The bacon craze has swelled into a kitschy cottage industry of products from bacon-infused vodka and bourbon and bacon salt to bacon peanut brittle and smoky bacon chocolate bars. It is a condiment, a side dish, a snack, an accessory, a topping (salads, sandwiches, soups and pizzas), a confection (bacon jelly beans, lollipops, gumballs), and a dessert.
Bacon is wrapped around meatloaf, hot dogs, scallops, burgers, hard-boiled eggs, pickles, asparagus and more bacon. It is incorporated into sweet and savory sauces, stews and jams, dipped in chocolate, baked in muffins, cookies, pies and cakes, and used to flavor popcorn, potato chips, roasted nuts and other assorted munchies. If any of these get caught in your teeth, you can always use bacon-scented dental floss or bacon toothpaste to do the trick.
Mark your calendar
Bacon Day is celebrated the Saturday before Labor Day (Aug. 31 this year), celebrity chef Bobby Flay has endorsed a “Bacon of the Month Club,” while food gurus have dubbed bacon the new “it” dessert ingredient.
Now for those imposter bacon foods to satisfy the cravings of those with dietary, health or religious restrictions, there’s low-fat turkey or chicken bacon made from chopped and reformed fowl, with goat, lamb or beef versions along with “macon,” a United Kingdom creation prepared from mutton.
Finally, for vegans and vegetarians, there’s bacon bits or strips (aka veggie bacon, “vacon” or “fakon”) made from fermented soy. This protein-packed, high-fiber, low-fat and cholesterol-free bacon alternative (with only 38 calories a slice), can be easily prepared at home by marinating and seasoning strips of tempeh and frying to a crunchy crisp.
Italian-Style Cobb Salad
1 head romaine lettuce (cut into strips)
1 head watercress, torn into bite-size pieces
1/4 pound crisp, grilled pancetta, crumbled
1 pound cooked turkey or chicken breast, cubed
1 vine ripened tomato, diced
1 ripe but firm avocado, diced
3 hard-boiled eggs, whites and yolks separated, diced
1/4 pound goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 red onion, diced
1/4 cup vinaigrette dressing (recipe below)
Ingredients for the dressing:
1/4 cup vinegar (champagne, red wine or balsamic)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons spicy mustard
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste=
Method: Blend the vinegar with the mustard. Whisk in the oil and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Toss with the lettuce and goat cheese. Place the mixture on a large platter. Decorate with the remaining ingredients making mounds or strips across the greens.
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