The bane of vegetarians and health nuts alike, bacon is that one food that inspires an “mmmmm,” when read on a restaurant menu.
We explore how it’s made, how creative chefs are using it in dishes, and the best way to put bacon to work at home. Plus, we talk with a nutritionist for the real facts on the salty treat.
Good luck getting through this article without drooling.
How it’s made
Strictly speaking, bacon is a cured meat that comes from the back, belly or sides of a pig. You knew that. What you might not have known is that it can take days or weeks for that slab of meat to resemble something you want next to your pancakes.
For dry curing, a mix of salt and spices is rubbed into the meat, and it rests for a week in a cooler room. Then a chef will rinse it and hang it up in a smoker for at least 36 hours.
Wet curing calls for the bacon slab to hang out in a salty brine solution for a week or so. The rinsing and smoking process is the same.
Then there’s trimming, slicing and other preparation to get that food ready.
Standard bacon and its turkey, soy and other variations are in every grocery store. But for something more local, fresh bacon is sold at Lakewood Meats and Sausage on Ham Lane in Lodi and at Lockeford Meats and Sausage in Lockeford on Cotton Street.
Bacon health: The salty underbelly
No one is living under the illusion that bacon is a healthy food. A fried, fatty meat that produces its own oils when cooked? That’s not going to be in any nutrition guidelines.
But it will remain on American breakfast (and lunch and dinner) plates.
To help keep bacon lovers in moderation, Chad Edwards, the clinical nutrition supervisor for Lodi Health, shared the skinny on bacon nutrition.
In each 40-calorie slice, there’s about two or three grams of protein, three grams of fat, and between 150 and 180 milligrams of sodium.
For perspective, most doctors recommend consuming less than 140 milligrams of sodium a day.
“If you look at the calories and the grams of fat, it’s clearly a high-fat food,” said Edwards. “But more often than not, it’s the sodium that causes problems.”
The other issue is that fat from animal products is higher in saturated fats than many other foods, which contributes to high cholesterol and blocked arteries. Overdose on bacon over a lifetime, and you’re heading to some clogged arteries.
Some health-conscious chefs might swap pork bacon for turkey. Edwards says that’s not necessarily a better choice.
“It’s still gonna have the salt,” he said. “It might reduce the fat by about a gram per slice, but the turkey bacon is much more heavily processed than normal bacon.”
If you’re trying to get away from bacon, look in the deli for a cut of low sodium, lean ham. Slice it thin and fry it up on the stovetop, and you can pile it on a sandwich like your more familiar fried friend.
Can I get an upgrade?
Bacon is good in the hands of the uninitiated.
It’s great under the direction of a determined amateur.
But when bacon is lovingly prepared by an experienced and talented chef, there’s an elevation to the food that can’t be faked.
Chef Iradh Herrera adds pepper bacon and smoked bacon to many of the entrees on the menu of Rosewood Bar and Grill.
“As a chef, the bacon just calls to us,” said Herrera, who has cooked at Rosewood for six years.
But two dishes are actually wrapped in bacon before cooking.
One is a chicken roulade. That’s a pounded out chicken breast, stuffed with goat cheese, spinach and button mushrooms. It’s rolled up and cut into pinwheels before each round is wrapped in a bacon slice. The broiled rounds are served on dollops of mashed potatoes with a side of peeled baby carrots in a poached pear wine sauce.
The ultimate in bacon cooking, however, is the bacon wrapped meatloaf. Herrera creates a freestanding meatloaf and covers it in 20 slices of bacon. After some time in the oven, the loaf is sliced and served with mashed potatoes and zucchini ribbons.
Herrera loves the effect bacon has on a dish.
“With the roulade and the meatloaf, it creates a casing for it,” he said. “It adds a crispy texture and seals in moisture.”
Cooking it up at home
Put your heavy-bottomed, cast iron fry pan to use with a few thick slices of bacon to pair up with eggs or potatoes in the morning.
Or if you’ve got more time, line a baking sheet with bacon strips and top them with a sweet blend of brown sugar and maple syrup. Set the oven for 350 degrees, and slide the sheet in for 10 to 20 minutes. Turn them over, add more glaze, and finish them up. It’s a whole new level of bacon-flavored wonder.
But if you haven’t got the patience or the cookware to deal with either of those processes, try a microwaveable technique.
Meyer Puzon, owner of Lodi Cooks in Downtown, sells three different kinds of easy bacon gadgets.
One is a simple griddle with tall ridges to drain the bacon grease. A small version (four to six slices) costs $9.99, while the larger one (seven to nine slices) runs $12.99. A similar griddle comes with a vented cover to prevent splatters for $13.99.
The most interesting bacon gadget and the one Puzon uses at home is the WowBacon ($19.99). It looks like a simple pitcher, but inside are tall slats radiating out from a center post. Bacon strips are laid over them, and a lid placed on top. The whole thing goes in the microwave, and bacon grease drains into the bottom.
“The griddles are nice because they are versatile pieces,” said Puzon. “But I’ve sold a few WowBacons, and they haven’t come back.”
An enthusiastic home cook, Puzon is a fan of saving that bacon fat to use later.
He recommends storing it in a ceramic ramekin with a silicon lid to hold in the flavor.
For a dash of smoky, salty seasoning, Puzon adds a scoop of bacon grease to canola oil when he’s making fried rice, or adds the fat to a pan of sautéed green beans with garlic.
“I make my own thick-cut bacon, too, and sometimes I barbecue it,” he said.
Wow. On my way for lunch, thanks.