There is a bacon obsession in our society today but for something so popular most people don’t know the first thing about the meat that makes everything better.
There are two main cuts of Bacon both are generally the cured and/or brined cuts of pork belly or pork loin. The fatty strips of bacon most commonly consumed in North America is usually cut from the belly of the hog. The pork belly is a ultra flavourful, cut of meat perfect for adding fat and flavour to a dish. Canadian bacon or back bacon comes from the pork loin which is leaner and more substantial but much less versatile compared to the belly meat.
Bacon* has two different types you will find at your butcher shop or super market.
Dry cured bacon, which is cured with smoke and salt in varying quantities depending on the flavour profile the butcher is trying to obtain. This bacon is generally sliced thicker, darker in colour, with darker colour fat. It also doesn’t sit in liquid. It comes out of the butcher’s paper dry and a little stiff.
Brined bacon** this is the stuff that you find in a store bought seal pack of bacon. The meat is injected with salt water, sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate*** and then wrapped in plastic. The bacon literally cures in the package. When you remove it, it’s flaccid, wet and usually not doing the best job in staying together as one piece of bacon. With that said, it’s cheaper, it’s easier to find, and it splatters all over the place when you cook it. Not all brined bacon is made with chemical additives it’s just the vast majority of brined bacon.
Bacon can also come in slab form which is great. Lardon (which comes from the fat cap above the loin) is great for flavouring sauces, as is Pancetta which is a popular pork belly based slab bacon from the Mediterranean.
So why does bacon taste so damn good? I mean it’s pretty much a universally beloved meat****, but what makes it taste so good. The answer is fat and salt. Pork is a naturally fatty and salty meat and the meat from the belly is especially fatty and salty. Fat carries and enhances flavour and salt is something our bodies need in reasonable amounts so we physiologically seek it out. As a chef bacon is a joy to work with, a little bit goes a long way in the flavour department. You can slice it very small and flavour a dish stealthily or just go over the top and wrap it around things.
The problem with people who love bacon is that like many things dumb North Americans do, they go overboard. Wrapping an entire turkey in bacon is fucking stupid. Using bacon in your stuffing or a little bacon fat in the basting process is brilliant. Making a pie crust out of bacon is for dumb rednecks but kneading finely chopped cooked bacon into a pastry can produce otherworldly results.
Bacon is an amazing thing, but it’s all about using it in subtle ways to enhance a dish rather than making it the focus of a dish. Try slicing a piece of bacon into your favourite omelette instead of having three or four pieces of bacon with your omelette. Use bacon fat instead of oil in your favourite dessert. But this culture of gluttony that has been built around bacon undermines what is great about the ingredient it’s versatility.
*As we will call it for sake of ease(not side bacon or american bacon)
**Also known as green bacon or wet bacon
***Potassium Nitrate: AKA. Saltpeter for those who have not read One Flew Over The Coo Coo’s Nest is given to prisoners and sailors to kill sex drive. Please let me have some of that with my Bacon.
****Unless you are Vegan, Vegetarian, Piscatarian, Kosher, or Halel.